Inevitable Surrender

25 09 2016

This blog piece is about surrender.

This is where we are.

Flashback to the holiday season two years ago. In London, the Cardinal had invited me into his house. Over tea we discussed traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. We discussed multiple topics from health, behavior, relationships to one’s inherit need for conquest.

I still recall vividly the Cardinal’s questioning of humanity’s impulse to wage war.

“What makes us want to fight battles?,” he asked. “Why do we feel the need to prove ourselves? What are we fighting for??”

Missionaires

Missionaires

This was, of course, before the rise of Trump. The U.S. presidential campaign had yet to begin and I was on a solo mission to Europe for self discovery — fresh from a successful summer in Montana. I met the Cardinal at a ceremony in London’s Mayfair District with my good friend, Jim. Later, I went alone to his house in London’s outer zone, curious as to where the church in Europe stood on what I considered to be important, vital issues.

Question after question was met with ultimately one answer — surrendering to a higher power.

The Cardinal told me of his situation. How he was taken care of by both his job and his government. He was older and well into the entitlement stage of his career. He also shared of his personal battle with cancer. At some point in life one must recognize that to turn over control to another is essential, he told me.

“No one goes through life alone, John,” he said.

Surrendering to life’s circumstances is inevitable, the Cardinal told me.

“We all need someone or something to help us through. For some it’s the church for others the government. For most it is the family,” he said.

Two years later the Cardinal’s words ring in my ears as if I were still knocking on his door in that humble British neighborhood. I have reached a place of acceptance in my life. There are things I can change and things I cannot. This, after 40 years of searching, I know to be true.

Walking through poverty, suffering defeat and loss, climbing out of debt and learning to forgive have bolstered what were deficiencies in my character. I am stronger for experiencing hardships. Wiser to know they will come again and confident I can cope without panic.

Moving forward in the next 40 years, if I am lucky, I intend to put lessons I have learned to good use. For not one, but for all. Not to make myself feel better, but because it is the right thing to do. Surrender teaches us many things. Yes, we can control our own choices and ultimately are responsible for our own decisions but it takes two or more for an agreement to be reached.

A new chapter in American history will soon begin. Having experienced good times and bad, I am ready for whatever presents itself, knowing that I am not alone in this journey.

Strength, courage and wisdom shall prevail.

Looking through my photos and notes from that visit to London, I came across a quote from Catholic writer Thomas Merton which sums up my reflection point best.

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does the most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

 

 

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Chocolate Surprise

9 05 2015

My conversion with the Cardinal reached many levels. It was a moment in time.

We spoke of the Church and its role throughout history, a dark role, particularly when it came to priests who had abused — in some cases, sexually – young alter boys. I found this part of the Church disgusting. The Cardinal acknowledged a medevial element to the Church and its archaic ways of only men serving in the priesthood and the elaborate outfits they wore and the fact the could not marry or have sex.

We also talked about AIDS and the disease that was taking a horrible toll in Africa and globally. He was working on a film project, a preview of which was presented following the mass we attended in Mayfair. In the film, many Church patrons and clergy speak of AIDS and tell their story of living with the disease. In Africa, sadly, there are many stories.

Some even produce tears.

I left the Cardinal’s flat and returned to the Underground, Oyster Card in hand and minding the gap. On the train back to Victoria station, a young man wearing a American Navy jacket sat across from me. He was younger than I and smaller. On his brown leather jacket was a patch identifying his fleet assignment. I wrote the number down and did the research. They were docked in southern Italy.

We parted ways at the Victoria station. I power walked down the Strand in order to meet JB at King’s College for our scheduled appointment. His office has an incredible view of London with an impressive collection of books and a detailed map of Europe that was distracting to say the least. We walked down to the ice skating rink and discussed Paris. It was cold but the spirit of the holidays made for a cheerful spirit, not to mention we were close to the theatre district.

058

On a previous visit, JB and I had enjoyed the musical Avenue Q, puppets and all. There was no budget for such a luxury this time around. I was reminded just how poor I was when we entered the Burberry store and none of the sales staff would look my way. Eventually, I was able to engage a young lady about the cost of a signature Burberry scarf. She quoted something absurd in pounds which prompted JB and I to depart rather quickly, JB with a subtle shot as we left.

“That’s half the cost of your airfare, John,” he grinned.

We joined Chris and David for drinks that night at the local cocktail bar in Bloomsbury. I explained to Chris the fascinating party I had attended in Paris as the guest of a Moroccan man. There were thousands of men inside the building and I had been privileged to a small sampling of how arabian men enjoy the nightlife. I was guarded with the details as this had been an entirely new experience for me and I was still unsure of what it all meant. I was, however, grateful for the hospitality Chris, David and JB had shown me during my visit to London.

In the morning, I would hop on an American flight back to Miami. First purchasing a gift for Mom at the Harrod’s in Heathrow. I had it wrapped by a local charity in purple colored paper and bows. In Miami, Homeland Security asked what the box contained.

“Truffles,” I said.

“What are those?,” he asked.

“Chocolates,” I replied.

Yes, the holidays in Alabama this year would be much sweeter.228

 

 





Tea With The Cardinal

21 03 2015
All Aboard

All Aboard

My Hammam experience was far from thought on the train ride back to London. I was preparing for my next important interview — with an Irish Catholic Cardinal. I met the Cardinal a week earlier during a World AIDS Day mass in London’s Mayfair District. I approached him after mass during an informal coffee and conversation session inside the fellowship hall of the Church of the Immaculate Conception Farm Street. I gave him my card and disclosed my Catholic hertiage and interest in the Church. Much to my surprise, he responded a few days later, via e-mail, requesting I visit with him at his home in southwest London.

I left Paris before the break of dawn. The Euro Star is worth every penny. It is fast and connects people swiftly under the English Channel on a daily basis. This particular car was full. The man sitting next to me was a French businessman who shared his copy of “The Spectator” Magazine. I found the content, while obviously conservative, quite interesting. He asked about America, I said the country appeared headed for a re-run of the 1992 election. I asked about France, specifically the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Ms. Le Pen was quite the talk back at the Paris hostel where I had camped out for the weekend. Many of the young ladies I polled in the kitchen one evening during dinner had rejected the notion that Ms. Le Pen was a feminist. I found this fasnicating as I did most of the Parisan culture.

The French businessman dismissed any assertion that Ms. Le Pen was not a woman. He seemed only interested in my thoughts on Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. I said an election between the two would be costly. After that we said nothing more on that subject. Once we arrived in London, he made a quick dash for the door, saying he was late for a business meeting. I was in no hurry, my appointment with the Cardinal was later in the afternoon, so I hung around the train station and took a few pictures. Much like Gare du Nord, London’s St. Pancras station is fascinatingly put together with a mix of modern conveniences built into old world architecture.

The Cardinal lived south of the River Thames. I got off the tube in Stockwell, directions in hand, and proceeded past an Irish corner pub and into a section of government housing projects. Once I arrived at the apartment, I noticed a sign on the front of the door which declared, “Sonny Does Not Live Here. Nor JD nor Taylor. Wrong Door!! No Sex No Drugs.” I found this quite interesting even though I was after neither, instead seeking simple counsel. Back in the south of Florida, I had begun writing about AIDS. The subject was challenging and broadened my journalistic abilities. It has traditionally been written about in the American media as a horror story and yet I was discovering more and more remarkable tales of bravery.

Cardinal Warning

Cardinal Warning

I was hoping the Cardinal could give me the United Kingdom’s perspective. I knocked on the door and Vincent invited me in.

“Come in, John, I’ve been expecting you,” he said. “The kettle is on.”

His apartment was full of books. It was small, humble and somewhat disheveled. I was there for almost three hours. Talking, sharing life stories. It was amazing. During our visit, a man and his apprentice came to check on the water line. Vincent was the building superintendent and the men needed direction. I said hello but nothing more. Once they left, I began my probe.

The Church, Disease, Power, Charity and, most important of all … Surrender.

 





Thanksgiving at Gordon House

18 01 2015

On our first night in London, JB took me to a Bombay Cafe in an emerging neighborhood near King’s Cross. It was good to catch up. I filled him in on the details of summer in Glacier and challenges of my first management gig. I was delighted to learn JB had been nominated for a teaching honor at his college. Being recognized for excelling at what you love is always a time for celebration.

Dinner was wonderful, the waitor made sure to explain how each sauce complimented our entree. I drank a lot of hot tea that night, hoping to unplug my sinuses. Preparing for this trip and finally getting across the pond was not easy. I was concerned about traveling alone into Europe and attending a Thanksgiving dinner party at the Gordon Square House where I would finally meet some of JB’s closer comrades.

There is a fine line in showing self confidence yet not arrogance. This would be my challenge in London.

As I got ready for the party, I recalled my departure from Glacier, driving across the country in an experience that made my world seem quite small. On the first night I slept in the Jeep at a reststop just outside the Little Bighorn Battlefield. The next morning I awoke and went to the National Monument, getting in just as the gates opened. I walked through the cemetaries and exhibits dedicated to this memorable moment in American history. Moved by such powerful historical moments, I called my father with a progress report.

Custer's Last Stand

Custer’s Last Stand

“I should be home in a week, Dad,” I told him. “We’re going to spend a few days in Denver.”

“Where are you now?,” he asked, the AT&T service coming in crystal clear on the southeast Montana plains.

“I’m at the Battle of Little Bighorn,” I responded, explaining to Dad how incredible a presentation the Park Service had put together at the Battlefield and how moved I was by the stories of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, the U.S. Army’s 7th Calvary, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and the warriors of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne.

Dad’s next words struck a nerve.

“Ego,” he said. “You see what happens.”

I did. Custer marched his men right into a massacre — unknowingly, blinded by his perceieved strength.

Back in London, as I prepared to meet JB’s best friends, I was conscious to present a confident young man new to this uppercrust world he had been invited into. Chris was my shepherd. There were 12 of us.

I wore my Kenneth Cole Reaction sports coat. The one from the ill-fated campaign for the Florida House. It fit much snugger now. Chris and I chatted before the other guests arrived. He owns the Gordon House with his husband David. They are a wealthy couple, both very handsome, distinguished and quite sucessful. Americans — raised in New England and now thriving in London.

JB would not attend the dinner as he would be accepting his teaching honor at the college down on the Strand. Eleven new men, I would be meeting and eating with. Nervous, you say? without a doubt … Yes.

Troels and his partner Peter were the first to arrive. A tall man from Denmark, Troels, I would find to be a fascinating person to converse with. He was quite stylish too, wearing plaid designed long trousers made of a tweedish material. Thanksgiving was irrelevent to Troels.

He peppered me with the fact that a majority of Americans were obese and stupid and when I asked him about our President he offered a skeptical remark, “He’s weak on foreign policy.”

This I took without mustering a defense, noticing the room was beginning to fill. I was introduced by David to Marco, a very handsome Italian, whose looks distracted me from Troels’ insults. Marco was with Evan, an American Jew, who like Chris and David, is a successful businessman living in London.

We all were served wine and champagne by a sweet young lady whose name I do not recall. After Marco and Evan, I met the Spanish representatives, Phillip and Javier, very friendly guys. There was laughter in the air and smiles all around. We would proceed downstairs to the dining room where our dinner awaited. There I met Stephen and Daryl, another incredibly handsome couple, Stephen, a New Jersey ex-pat and Daryl, his British boyfriend, a fellow politician from Cambridge. Joining me as a solo participant was Grant. JB warned me about this young Scotsman. His story later.

Gordon House

Gordon House





Hello, London

25 12 2014
London's Heathrow Airport.

London’s Heathrow Airport.

I arrived in London with a lot to prove.

American. Southern Democrat with a love for nature and history and rebuilding confidence despite a poor showing during the midterm elections in the U.S. The President’s men and women cannot always win, so it seems.

David insisted I carry a bag that was too heavy for me. He describes it as a Toumi folding suit bag. I hauled it out of the airplane into Heathrow and onto the underground tube. It took up a lot space on the train and yet people did not complain despite tripping over it which, no doubt, inflicted a few cramps. I was so embarrassed. The shoulderpad was practicially deteriorating on my shirt, leaving black marks on a fine fabric. But I was glad to be here.

At the Russell Square station, I had one more uncomfortable surprise awaiting as the masses unloaded and filed toward the exit. There was a lift to the street and a lot of people waiting for just two cars. Tired of being in the herd, I opted instead to climb stairs. One hundred and seventy-five of them — Toumi folding suit bag, laptop briefcase and all. Signs warned to not attempt this unless one was in tip-top condition. I considered myself just that.

Russell Square Underground Tile.

Russell Square Underground Tile.

I beat the crowd upstairs. One of the taller, younger lads, who had opted to wait with his family and take the elevator instead, shot me a contemptuous glare as I proceeded in the opposite direction. From the station, I headed into the Bloomsbury district where JB was housed in a charming building on Gordon’s Square. Bloomsbury is an intellectual zone, full of thinkers, young people and sophisticates It was quite different from our previous rendezvous in Walthamstow.

London already has an air about it. It is cold but not damp. I arrive at the Gordon Square House to JB’s warm greeting. He immediately offers to help me with my luggage. I was relived as we climbed the stairs, another five flights, into the attic. JB has come a long way since our first meeting in Houston. And so have I.

We chat briefly before he must leave for the college and I need some rest. I slept little on the plane, watching two movies and eating everything they offered. Food, for the next two weeks, would not be a priority. I had trained and fed all summer for this moment.

JB was in great shape and just a few years my senior. I was glad to see him again. He is the only soul from Houston I have remained in contact with. That was such a dark year.

Things would go much better in England. This I was sure of.