Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday reflections...

We went to Quebec City on Thursday - a 3 hour trip from Montreal - and it was stunning. One day in the ancient fortified town is clearly not enough, but it was sweet to stroll the grey and white stone streets in the gentle rain. There were buskers and artisans everywhere, open cathedrals filled with tourists and a host of folk who were ready, willing and able to help us with our mangled French.

I realized that one of my apprehensions about this trip was my limited language ability: I began French classes in fourth grade and loved it but by the time high school rolled around, French had become an exercise in passive/aggressive behavior. (Same was true with the sciences as I was clearly an "arts" kinda kid: marginal, smart but lazy and totally opposed to doing anything that would make me become like "one of them!")

By the time I studied Spanish, however, the story was different: I LOVED the Latin American revolutionaries, I worked with Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers and later I was into liberation theology (and went to study for 6 months in Costa Rica!) And I could speak Spanish on the streets of Nueva York - or Cleveland - and certainly Tucson, AZ.

But the people in Quebec - the MOST intentionally French city in this province - were charming, helpful, willing to endure my butchered syntax and speak English when it was helpful. I guess a lot of my concern was shaped by the early and militant Quebecois days of separatist anger... but we didn't encounter that at all. Which reminded me of the old story about a stranger pulling up to a country general store and asking one of the old men sitting on the porch about the people in his town. "Well, what are they like where you're from," was the local man's reply.

"Well," said the stranger, "they are crabby and cynical and can't be trusted - and they will cheat you just as soon as look at you." To which the old timer said, "The people here will be a lot like that, too, I suspect." But when another guest arrived and the same questions were exchanged, there was a different attitude. "The people in my town? Well, mostly they are kind and willing to help you. They are generous and patient and souls with good hearts." To which the old man said, "Well, then, I bet you mind folks are much like that here, too."

Perspective and patience makes so much of a difference when travelling, yes? I've been in groups where I saw the appellation "Ugly American" reborn, I've seen bureaucrats in Soviet Russia, Costa Rica and Great Britain treat people with all the disdain that George Orwell could imagine and then I've seen strangers go out of the way to share compassion and tenderness. Truly angels in disguise and I've come to believe that... more often than now what you see and get is deeply connected to what you bring into the moment.

Made me think both of the words of Jesus about being careful how we judge and... that crazy Irish rapper, Everlast, and his tune: What Its Like...

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