A refugee child seeking asylum in Gronau, Germany.
News headlines have recently been shouting about the refugee crisis and Germany’s prominent role in welcoming them. Estimates are that more than 1.5 million refugees will enter the country by the end of the year, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Since I live in a small town in Germany, I thought I might share my personal experience and reflections.
The town where I live is a poor one by German standards and a rich one by world standards. Gronau has a beautiful heated community swimming pool, a Jazz Festival every May, and a well-stocked public library. But the town also has many boarded up factories with smashed windows. Gronau was once a boom town centered around the textile industry. But by the 1970s, all the jobs disappeared, first to Eastern Europe and then to China.
This week the world’s first Empathy Museum is opening in London. I have to admit that when I first learned of this, I had to wonder. Do we need to put empathy in a museum to preserve it? Like an ancient artifact, is empathy so rare that we have to start visiting it in a museum?
Well, no. Obviously, I have turned this around. The international touring exhibition has been designed and created by Roman Krznaric to help us to “appreciate other people’s viewpoints, experiences and feelings.” He and his team of collaborators want people to step into the shoes of other people – literally. One of the exhibits invites you to enter a shop where a sales assistant will help you select a pair of shoes to wear, for example, the sandals of a political refugee or shoes belonging to an Etonian banker.
Ramadan this year started on June 18th. In 2001, my husband and I were living in Giza, right in front of the pyramids. A few months after 9/11, Ramadan began and we were blessed with a special experience.
The days before Ramadan in Cairo are filled with anticipation. Paper and tinsel streamers appear across inner courtyards and wide roads. Lanterns and miniature mosques made of everything from crepe paper to recycled tin are hung and lit at night. Everyone waits for the sliver of moon to appear and to hear the official news announcing the start of the 30-day fast.
“Ten days eating. Ten days cake. Ten days new clothes. This is what they say about Ramadan,” Mr. Ashraf told us the night he drove my husband and I to his home for Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daylong fast.
Nepal aid piles up while our prayers arrive instantly.
Perhaps you find yourself overwhelmed at times with all the requests for financial help that seem to bombard you. Walking downtown in a major city, you might be asked for money from a stranger or find a beggar sitting along the road with a sign for help. At that moment, we are often besieged with existential questions. What should I do? How can I really help? How much money is enough? Will the money help at all?
Soon after the news of the earthquake in Nepal, my husband and I did send money (along with our prayers) to an organization that was helping with relief efforts. As you may know, humanitarian aid is still having trouble reaching those in need, as NGOs face massive logistical difficulties, including Nepalese custom regulations. It does seem that our prayers have become more valuable than our money, able to arrive instantly beyond the roadblocks and border controls.
Currently, I am a support member of an international Christian fellowship, and we are working through financial requests from various charities. There seems to be no end to the need for money! Money to rebuild homes in flooded Malawi, to pay for a young man’s education in India, a school for orphans in Indonesia, Ebola health workers in Senegal. And, of course, now for those suffering in Nepal. The list seems infinite. How can we possibly choose what cause to support?
Immediately before dying by firing squad in Indonesia, eight men convicted of drug trafficking sang Amazing Grace. On the same day, across the globe in Baltimore, Maryland, a large crowd gathered in the riot-torn streets of their city to also sing Amazing Grace. I was moved to learn about these simultaneous events and particular struck by their media coverage on BBC news.
These past days, I have been praying for the Nepalese people caught under rubble, trenched by rain and hovering in makeshift tents in the middle of Kathmandu, fearful every time another aftershock unrattles their trust in the earth under their feet. Last Christmas a good friend who just returned from Nepal on business brought me a stream of colorful prayer flags. Since then, these prayer flags have hung across my terrace roof tagging along with the white grape vine that is just starting to burst with leaves.
I imagine my prayers leaping off my lips onto these colorful square pieces of cloth and then flying home to Nepal. In the Tibetan tradition, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, but rather the prayers are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion to all.
Someone is holding a large plastic globe over my head while I stand in front of about 750 people and welcome them in English to the Friedensfest or Peace Festival. The afternoon has started with various citizens welcoming the crowd in German, Arabic, Turkish, Aramaic, Kurdish, Dutch, Russian, French and Persian. During the past year, 700 refugee families from Syria and Iraq have descended upon our small German town of Gronau, nestled against the eastern Dutch border. More than 90 languages are spoken among a population of 45,000. In stark contrast to the anti-immigration movement of Pegida in Eastern Germany, today we celebrate our differences as well as try to raise money for those left behind in Sengal and Kobane.
Outside in the drizzling rain, men from the Yazidi community are grilling meats while the women fill plates with cut tomatoes and onion salad. I am struck that ‘Yazidi’ is no longer an idea but suddenly a smiling human before me. Inside the hall, Turkish children are circle-dancing to traditional songs. Other children bob their heads to the music while folding paper into origami birds or dipping their hands into paint and printing their palms.
A discarded ship container is recycled into a children’s library.
One of my friends in Japan emailed to wish me a happy birthday. “In Japan, turning 60 is a special birthday,” she wrote. “We call it “Calendar Round” or 還 暦 (kanreki).”
“More like Body Round!” I wrote back jokingly. But this idea of coming full circle intrigued me. Calendar Round comes from the sexagenary cycle of the Chinese calendar dating back to 2000 B.C. This calendar has 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches. Since 60 is the first number that both 10 and 12 can divide, the cycle is considered complete after sixty years.
Assagioli wrote little about dreams or how to interpret them. Despite being a student of Freud’s and colleague of Jung’s, he felt that dreams reveal only a partial aspect of the human personality. He also believed that only part of the unconscious is able, or willing, to express itself through dreaming. He wrote that dreams that occur during the psychosynthesis process reveal the dreamer’s energetic forces, environment, and the inner world that birthed the dream.
In the last blog, I wrote about symbols and how we can consciously use them to further our personal and spiritual growth. We can also use the symbols that unconsciously appear to us in our dreams. Dreams are expressions of our life force, and the symbols that appear in them can be interpreted a multitude of ways from both a personal and collective perspective. Jung was once asked for advice from someone who had the idea of publishing a dictionary of symbols. His response was not to do it, since each symbol would require an entire book!
Jung’s general advice about how to look at a dream is:
“Treat every dream as though it were a totally unknown object. Look at it from all sides, take it in your hand, carry it about with you, let your imagination play around with it.”
While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.”
This week and next, posts will feature short excerpts about her struggle with serving a penniless man.
He went right over to a couple eating their leek and potato soup-of-the-day. Bloodshot, whiskered, he wore a tattered coat over tattered clothing. I ran over to rescue the young man at the table, his face twisted with unknowing what to do and guilt for not wanting to do anything at all.
“Can I help you?” I faced the man and was struck by an inescapable heat wave of drink. All I could see was grey. Grey face, grey clothes, grey mouth, empty except for a few grey teeth.
“I don’t have any money. No money at all. But could I have a cup of tea?” His eyes were pained with the asking, (How many times that day, that lifetime?) and his face vulnerable with the fear of my response.
Two days later, he was back, the grey man with no money or teeth. He took a seat at an uncleared table and surveyed the remains of chips and rice from the lunch curry special left behind.
The other waitress ran over to me. “He’s back,” she whispered. “He can’t be coming back all the time. He came in the other night looking for you and I sent him away. He’s a wino, you know. He’s always like that.”
It was a busy night and really no where for him to sit. I went and told him he’d have to go.
“Please can’t I have this food?” he begged. “You’re just going to throw it away.”