I'm currently in the process of bridging the following:
First: Malcolm Gladwell, Mitch Albom, David Sedaris, Orson Scott Card, Ayn Rand, my mother, my father
Second: conocimiento, mabuhay, aloha, yoroshiko onegaishimasu
Third: Judaism, Buddhism, the Bahá'í faith
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Regarding the first...
These authors and people have captured my imagination by bringing together seemingly unlike concepts and comparing them in interesting and even humorous ways. They are introspective and investigative about human nature. They are reporters and artists. They write captivating stories, fictional and nonfictional, that allow others to think differently about the world and imagine a different world. They do it without being outright political, sensational, or activist in nature. In fact, I wonder how political some of these authors are at all. I don't share many, if any, of these authors religious or political beliefs, yet I admire their writing and their creative minds.
My mom is one of the -- if not the -- best listeners I know. She's quiet, yet extroverted. She meets strangers at storefronts and store check outs, on airplanes and in airport lobbies, at church and at work, and everywhere in between. She walks away having learned entire life stories of strangers, many times without disclosing much information about herself. She quietly listens to me as I verbally work out my life plans: to move away or stay in one place; to teach, or not to teach; to date and marry, or to stay single; to have a career, or have kids, or have both... She listens without judging me and without lecturing me. After I finish my long, one-person-yet-two-or-more-sided debate, she shares her own experiences and her own thoughts. She's a great listener.
But she wasn't always that way. I remember growing up and trying to let my mother into my life as a teenager, a feat made difficult enough by the simple fact that I your typical, run of the mill, closed off and depressive suburban American teenager. My mom was a full-time working woman with a fifteen-year-old teenager, an eleven-year-old preteen, and a ten-year-old child. Her husband was off at war in Iraq. My only snatches of one-on-one time with my mother was while she was driving and I was in the passeger seat. My drama-filled stories were often interrupted and punctuated with responses like "Do we need milk?", "I can't remember if I turned off the stove", "Help your sisters with...", "Shoot, I missed the right turn", "Can you turn down the music, I can't concentrate on driving", "I can't focus on what you're saying right now, I need to concentrate on driving."
I would pout, slouch in my seat, and give up on my story.
Fast forward a few years. I'm now 23, one year out of school, and living with my parents. My mom has lived in Hawaii for about three years. She's a changed woman. She spent one year has a stay-at-home mom, attending to her youngest daughter as she finished out her last years of high school, before returning to work. During this time, her two older daughters are somewhat grown up, or at least, away at college and not living at home. My mom started spending much of her day exercising, gardening, preparing and eating healthy meals, and reading and watching TV shows about healthy living habits.
A few months ago, I stumbled upon a small, plain, unimposing notebook. Being the paper and notebook collector that I am, I rifled through a few pages of the notebook, assessing its previous use and deciding whether or not to take it and stash it with my personal pile of diaries, legal pads, and stationary sets. I came across a page titled "Goals" in my mom's handwriting. I immediately felt guilty and unforgivably nosey. I recalled how I felt the time that my parents found and read my diary in high school. I didn't want to violate my mom's privacy. And yet...
1.) Listen to my daughters. Really listen.
My mom's number one goal was not about herself, but about her daughters.
All of this to say, my mom has lived up to her goal and then some. She elicits personal stories from people and coaxes them into sharing their wisdom while examining the paths they've carved.
My father and I spend the better part of our time together either disagreeing or bonding over shallow, materialistic things. We have a lot in common interests-wise. We have too much in common personality-wise to have a smooth-sailing relationship (ha ha). My dad is an introvert. He's thoughtful and critical. He's a man of few words in conversation, but of many in personal letters. He writes letters to express his love for his wife and daughters. He writes letters to explain his frustration with me to me and writes letters of apology to respond to my letters of frustration with him to him.
When we finally have a conversation, though, it's about politics and war tactics. It's about trends in history and society. It's about the places he's seen around the world. It's about the inspiring chaplains and people of God he meets. It's about language and culture. It's about our family history -- the mysteriousness of it due to repressed memories and untold stories over generations and the people in our families whose lives were either taken by or deeply affected by war.
All this to say, my father is compassionate and curious about human nature. He's awed by the goodness of people and quiet about his own. Conversations with him are few but thought-provoking. Hes' an excellent writer.
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Regarding the second...
Conocimiento, mabuhay, aloha, yoroshiko onegaishimasu. All of these are words in other languages whose meanings continue to develop in my understanding. We don't have direct translations for these words in English.
Conocimeniento - acquaintance with a person (place, or thing), compassion, understanding, oneness, solidarity.
Mabuhay - long live, cheers, hello, God and life be with you, welcome, peace be with you.
Aloha - hello, love, kindness, peace be with you, I acknowledge the life within you, I acknowledge your humanity, may there be compassion and mercy between us.
Yoroshiko onegaishimasu - nice to meet you, let's be kind to one another, thank you for helping me, please help me, best regards to you.
While it's important on an interpersonal level to learn new languages in order to better understand and (obviously) communicate with each other, it's also helpful personally and spiritually. It'd be arrogant to think that every thought, every emotion, and every idea can be expressed in one language alone. Every culture has a history of philosophers and followers who, over generations, develop explanations about God, humankind, and the universe. Only by learning each other's languages can we begin to conceptualize ideas beyond our own language's (and culture's) limits.
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Regarding the third...
I am a born and raised, baptized, and active Catholic parishioner. I'm sometimes quiet about my faith, sometimes defensive about it, and always welcoming about it. I question it, am weary of the Church (capital "C", as in Rome, the Pope, the Bible...), am liberal, have not read the Bible in its entirety, do not abide by all Catholic doctrine, sometimes daydream during sermons, and robotically cite memorized prayer and gesture motions because I don't understand what I'm saying or doing. I find community in some Catholic churches, but not all. I find peace in some Catholic churches, but not all, and in some non-Catholic churches, but not all.
I've had trouble finding a church in which I truly feel the presence of God since I arrived in Hawai'i. I say this after having tried at least five Catholic churches. My faith began to falter or fade, I'm not sure which. Most churches were too "conservative" for me (mostly in denouncing women's right to choose her live above her unborn child). Many churches were led by old white guys whose sermons were difficulty for me to relate with. Some churches were either bare and lacked history or a personal touch; some churches are ornate and have been here for over 150 years.
Last Sunday, I attended yet another Catholic church. It was my first visit. The pews and decor were warm and welcoming. It had two parallel walls of endless bay view doors to let in natural light and natural airconditioning. Most of the parishioners were locals, Filipino, or of descents unfamiliar to me. The priest was young, funny, self reflective, wise, and kind. He's from Zimbabwe. The lectors and cantors greeted the congregation with Hawaiian words -- "aloha", "mahalo" -- and traditions -- leis for newly anointed eucharistic ministers and warm greetings of aloha and gifts of rosaries to newcomers of the parish. Everyone who spoke from the pulpit or podium had accents from Africa or parts of Asia. Even members of the church with accents of parts of the mainland were foreigners in this mixing pot of a church, out in the middle of the Pacific ocean. As a newcomer and outsider, I felt just as much as an insider as everyone in the church. Surrounded by strangers, bathed in Hawaiian sun and cooled by the gentle cross breeze, I felt God's presence in my prayer.
Between church hoping, I've also been learning about the faiths of others. I've engaged in long conversations with coworkers, students, friends, and strangers about their religion, their personal history with their religion, and God. I'm never looking to convert anyone, nor am I looking to change my own faith. I know that the latter sounds closed minded, but after two decades of slowly developing my own faith -- learning what the Church believes, deciding what I believe, and mixing the beliefs of others in with my own -- I'm not ready to jump ship and start from scratch with an entirely new religion.
I visited a Japanese Buddhist temple for (surprisingly) the first time yesterday. I visited it with a Korean Buddhist friend of mine. I've dropped in on a Thai temple once before -- I dropped in with non-Buddhist friends, meandered about the statues and ornate fixtures, and then shoved my feet back into my shoes and made my bad over to the cheap, Thai temple brunch -- but that was the extent of my Buddhist experience. I bought a book about Siddhartha a few months ago, but I'm too ignorant about Buddhism to understand any of what I was reading.
Before arriving at the temple, my friend laid some groundwork for my understanding. I should mention, she's an English language learner. She's grown up as a Korean Buddhist and knows the basics about other sects of Buddhism. She also speaks Japanese and has lived in Japan. In fact, she's even lived in the Philippines (this only came up when we were browsing books in the temple souvenir shop, and to our delight, we found a book about Buddhism in English, Korean, and Filipino translations). We compared notes about our own upbringing, differences and commonalities in the languages we share, and our religions in order for her to begin explaining to me the history and fundamentals of Buddhism.
She was so sweet as to buy me a book about the Buddhist faith and even bought one for herself in the Korean translation. She asked me if I wanted the Filipino version, but after quickly thumbing through the table of contents and a few chapters, I quickly realized that I would give up reading the book after stumbling on $5 Tagalog words such as the words for "glorified", "faith", and "wisdom". I was proud enough to understand the phrase walang hanggan (eternal) but I only recognized it because that's the title of the Filipino soap opera that I'm currently following with my mom.
She promised that we would study Buddhism together. I pointed out to her that she probably already knows everything in this book, which was essentially a beginners guide or the ABCs of Buddha. She insisted that she's interested in learning more.
I want to continue this study of religion with other faiths as well. Judaism is one that I've had the opportunity to partake in some rituals and celebrations in with close friends and have recently been reading about (in the book I'm currently reading, it's actually being Juxtaposed to a Christian Baptist experience). The Bahá'í faith is brand new to me. I learned about it from a British coworker of mine. He is ethnically Iranian, but has lived the bulk of his life in England and many years in China (he speaks Chinese). He tells me that the Bahá'í faith acknowledges all religions and believes in one God -- one God in the universe and one God for all religions. The faith encourages religious discussion between faiths.
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Unfortunately, I don't have a way to neatly tie and unify these three thoughts together. Maybe these chapters all belong in three different books. Regardless, it feels good to iron out some of these wrinkled, newborn thoughts on white paper.