18 February 2016

I don't have a bucket list

(detail from photo below)  
It was a startling moment when I realized that I have no before-I-die wish list. 

It happened when I was looking at a gallery of beautiful photos taken by Julia Dvoretskaya, one of the Russian Friends at the Friends World Committee's recent gathering in Peru. She documented the extraordinary site of the event, Písac, as well as the nearby town of Cusco and a visit to Machu Pikchu. Some of her photos were so vivid that I could almost smell the trees and feel the wind.

At that moment, I realized that I was enjoying this vicarious visit enough that it was almost as if I'd been there. I was grateful that Julia and the other Quakers could have this amazing experience, and could bring their enjoyment home with such warmth and care that I didn't feel envious. If some day I could visit Peru, it would be great, but it doesn't seem likely. And that's OK, too.

I can take quiet pride that I was born in an extraordinarily beautiful country (Norway) but the truth is that I've probably seen less of my native country than many tourists. I spent most of my childhood and teen years in the Chicago area, and have glorious memories of Lake Michigan, Roosevelt University, the Skokie Lagoons, as well as some less glorious memories -- the Nike missile base, the Cook County Hospital (and the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute, where my sister Ellen and I told family secrets to a wonderful team of doctors). Some landmarks might be glamorous only to me -- the El (photo above), for example, or Buddy Guy's Legends. I'll never forget the fabulous Aragon Ballroom where, a few days before my 16th birthday, I saw Sam the Sham and Baby Huey and the Babysitters.

The first blues album I ever owned, from which the
El photo above was taken. From the very first track,
my life changed forever.
Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson had this amazing
view -- on my behalf as well as her own....
Many years later, I find myself teaching English in a gritty industrial town east of Moscow, Russia, but even here I see beauty and drama all around. Some of that beauty is the natural surroundings -- for example, the forest just a few blocks west of where I'm sitting -- but every day I observe the beauty of our intelligent, inquisitive, and kind students, colleagues, and neighbors.

Shortly after I saw that gallery of photos from Peru, I went to an Orthodox-Protestant discussion group, where the conversation flowed for over three hours, until I felt almost faint from joy at the freedom we had to discuss the most important topics I could imagine. Not that we only talked about sweetness and light; the topic of the evening was repentance, and I reflected that in my own life on this planet, I'll probably never see either Hiroshima or Auschwitz. [Update!] But neither have I tried to avoid knowing about them, or what they reveal about each of us.

I would be a hypocrite to pour cold water on anyone else's bucket list. After all, as someone who once confessed preferring the Discovery Channel to a real nature preserve (see my post on tourism), I may be esthetically challenged, my self-ascribed mysticism notwithstanding. Even simple house plants are in danger when they're left to my care. But more importantly, as your bucket-list wishes come true and you tell me about them, I benefit, too. I may be a terminal introvert, but even so, I know that in community my world becomes so much bigger.

I've spent my whole life on my favorite planet, and beyond that, the details don't seem as important to me as they once did. 

Update: Two and a half years later, I did visit Hiroshima.

Last week I wrote about the meeting about to take place between the Russian Orthodox patriarch and the Roman Catholic pope. Here's their joint declaration in English and Russian. We're planning to look at it together at our next Friends meeting.

John Jeremiah Edminster proposes a Friends testimony of harmless speech. I think such a testimony would be a worthy companion to the discipline of not bearing false witness.

Noel Leo Erskine on the sacred territory in rap and reggae. (And, as evidence, note the amazing gospel heart throbbing in the harsh and profane "God is Gangsta" by Kendrick Lamar.)

Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards.

From BBC: Living and loving on Ukraine's front lines.

From one of the great partnerships in blues music, Bnois King and the late Smokin' Joe Kubek, telling you their favorite place on earth:

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