Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Are You Eating Alone?”

That same Tuesday that I went cavorting around St. Mary’s with camera in hand, I got hungry. Wow, totally enlightening about my personality right?! A girl’s got to eat and not only is my boyfriend is used to living in permanent bachelor mode (that is, until I came in and stocked his filing-cabinet-sized fridge with goodies) but he’d also recommended that I take a stroll into the village to a little sandwich shop called Webb’s. So, after I was finished with the church I headed in that direction, only taking a single wrong turn (hmmph!)

As I entered the cramped, low-ceiling shop–through the wrong door, I found out later–I found a table and sat down alone. On my way in I’d seen a well-dressed, white-haired old man laboriously climbing off his motor scooter, leaning heavily on his cane–and entering through the right door. I didn’t think much of it, and tried to ignore the looks my bright blonde hair seems to attract in this country while I waited for the waitress. The old man I’d seen outside sat down at a table across from me, also alone.

Suddenly, an idea crossed my mind. An idea that made me sweat a little bit and something I knew my girlfriends would think I was crazy or stupid for doing.

I was going to go sit with the old man.

Truthfully, I almost didn’t do it. But then I thought, WWJD? No, not “What would Jesus do?” but “What would Jonas do?” Jonas is my high school English teacher who I almost solely credit for my love of writing, and also one of the few people I’ve met in my life that seems to have lived to the fullest. I consulted him before embarking to Europe, and he told me that I needed to really experience things while I was here. So I listened. I almost chickened out, but I listened.

I got up from my little wooden table and stepped over to his. “Are you eating alone?”

“What?” (He was a little hard of hearing)

“Are you eating alone? Do you mind if I sit with you?”

“Oh yes, of course. You can sit here.” He had a proper British accent and up close, he reminded me a bit of an old wizard–with his wiry grey eyebrows and white beard. His face was kind and etched with wrinkles.

“I’m Chelsea,” I said, stretching out my hand.

“What?”

“Chelsea!”

“Oh hallo, Hugh,” he said, taking my hand.

I noticed a pin in the shape of a small airplane on his lapel and I asked him about it. Turns out, he worked for the British Royal Air Force when he was younger–in Communications, the same job that Jason has–except Hugh dealt in Morse code rather than radios. Morse code! I asked him if he still remembered it, and he said that “funnily enough” he did.

We ended up eating our meal and drinking tea together and talking for more than two hours.

(The shopkeeper kept coming by and joking that “Father Christmas” had a date and waggling his eyebrows at Hugh, who of course, was properly indignant. And, as it turned out, who was actually Father Christmas during the holidays for the little kids).

He told me all about his life and what he did in his youth. He’d not only served in the BRAF, but also had worked for Rolls Royce and gone to art school. He still paints and told me about the art classes offered down the lane at Jubilee Hall. He was orphaned as a child and he told me about his years as an altar boy for the Catholic Church, after he’d left his foster home at an early age because of a domineering step-mother. He told me about the free “football” matches he used to go to because he friend worked for the Chelsea soccer team–which helped him remember my name.

He told me about the night that he went to a boxing match in London and the entire sky was alight with red fire across the horizon, because that was the night of the Blitzkrieg in Britain. He simply called it the “blitz.” (“Blitzkrieg” is German for “lightning war” and was a period between 1939-1940 that the Germans were bombing Europe by air).

It made me think about how one day I’d be explaining to my grandchildren that I’d been alive (if not present) when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place–just like when my great-grandpa told me he remembered reading the newspapers alerting the public that the Titanic had sunk. Amazing what living relics of history that the elderly are, and how we unfortunately forget that.

He told me about his wife, who’d died of cancer a decade before. (He was still wearing his ring). And his fashion-designer daughter who’d died a few years later. Both of “the Big C” he called it.

I asked him to tell me the story of how he and his wife had met, and he said it’d been through a church outing he’d agreed upon going on because he “hadn’t anything else to do that weekend.” He remembers uncharacteristically singing along to road trip songs with his friends on the train to the countryside and a “pretty girl” (he raised his tufty eyebrows) sitting next to him. They talked all the way there and played games together once they’d arrived.

On their way home, after getting off the train, she linked her arm through his and he thought, Oh, well this is quite nice… and that was it. He said they took a long time to get married, because things were hard during the Depression, and even after marriage they were forced to live with her parents for six months. That is, until they were unceremoniously kicked out by his crotchety mother-in-law.

And so they began their life together.

“Oh, that’s so nice! I’m such a sucker for a good love story,” I said.

He laughed and said, “Oh, aren’t we all?”


St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary’s Church is only a short stroll away from our flat and I believe it was the first real “Ooh, what’s that?!” moment I had upon arrival in Mildenhall. Something about the structure just drew me in immediately and begged to be explored. Look at that architecture! Things just aren’t built like that anymore.

It was my first day out wandering around on my own, trying not to get horrifically lost–which I’m famous for–and St. Mary’s called to me. It’s strange how even walking around on the grounds makes you feel different, because as soon as I stepped on the the verdant lawn, it’s as if there were a hush in the air.  You could still easily hear cars and people on cell phones going by, but all of that is somehow dwarfed by the immensity of this church.  

I spent quite a while treading lightly through the graveyard. I wanted to be respectful of the medieval human remains there, but I was also very curious to read all the tombstones. Most were so old they were hardly legible, and the “new ones” still dated back to the mid-1800’s. My favorite was dedicated to John Sterling who died in 1857  at the age of 57. (To put this into American perspective, he was born in 1800 and died around the Civil War period). His tombstone added that five of his children lay nearby, having died in their infancy and also offered:

“Weep not for me, my wife and children dear,

I am not dead, but sleeping here.

My debt is paid, my grave you see,

Prepare yourselves to follow me.”

Huh. Hopefully not anytime soon, Mr. Sterling…

The grounds were alive with wildflowers and bees. Daisies, poppies, dandelions, and beautiful purple flowers that I have no name for. (For those of you that aren’t aware, I’ve been a beekeeper since January and *sniff* had to leave my queen and her daughters in the care of my friends until I return. So, seeing a bee this far from home automatically warms me to the area.)

I will confess that I was a bit nervous about entering the church because I didn’t know what I would find in there. Not to mention, I was wearing shorts and Converse and I’ve been raised Catholic enough to know that it isn’t appropriate church attire–especially in a church that was built in part from the 1100’s to the 1800’s.  Sheesh. No need for gnarly medieval plagues or curses to befall my unwary American head!

To get in, I had to push open a door that had to be 15ft high and looked as though it hadn’t been replaced…ever. It was so cool. I felt like I was entering a dungeon in a video game. This is the first view through that door. 

Absolutely enormous.

Like, huge.

But the BEST part was that the whole thing smelled like one giant old book. You know, that musky-yet-sweet smell you can only find whilst burying your nose in the crease of a long-forgotten novel. Yum. This place was like where books go to perfume themselves after a long life.

The stained glass was by far the biggest and most ornate that I’ve ever seen. There were a handful of them scattered throughout.  They were glorious, especially with the afternoon light filtering through. It felt almost divine. Especially when the three other people who were in there left via colossal door, and I was all alone in this standing piece of history, religion, and art. I’m not, nor ever have been, a very religious person, but this place made me instinctively breathe quietly or step lightly. I can’t claim to have felt some sort of presence there, but I’d say it was more like the church itself was the presence. 

The ceiling was my other favorite. It was covered in angels. I can’t begin to estimate how tall it was, but it was tall enough to crane your neck to the very limits of its hinge. The angels were so amazing, with gargantuan wingspans that would probably be life-sized were they on the floor. What totally boggled my mind was that this church is so incredibly old, yet so incredibly well-crafted–not just for functionality–but also for aesthetic purposes.

And it was all done by hand.

 

I was actually inspired to sit for a few moments and thank God, Jesus, the Powers That Be, whichever–for the charmed life I have led thus far. I’ve been SO lucky with the direction my life has gone and is still going… Perpetual forward motion. The strength and courage of conviction that I never knew I had. To change my life in an instant and not look back. That’s what I’m thankful for.

When people pray, it seems as though it’s always asking for something and not thanking the Divinity for what has been already offered to them. I didn’t ask for anything for my own behalf, only the happiness and health of my family and friends. I did get a little misty-eyed, I will admit. 

I can’t describe the feeling I had inside St. Mary’s other than to note that it is one of those rare places were time stands still. It’s hard to believe that just outside these ancient walls cars speed by, digital cameras click, and text messages ping through the air. To stop and think about how much life and death, love and grief, happiness and anguish that has passed through this place is unfathomable. What has been before us, will be there long after us.

On my way out of the church and off the grounds, I was stepping through the graves and directly in front of me, a pure white feather was spiralling to the ground. For once, there wasn’t a bird in sight.

So I kept it.

 


Quote of the Day: Benjamin Franklin

“If you would not be forgotten,

As soon as you are dead and rotten,

Either do things worth reading,

Or do things worth the writing.”

-Benjamin Franklin

 


The Greatest Speech Ever Made… Ironically, by silent film star Charlie Chaplin

My cousin initially introduced this to me about a year ago and I immediately loved it. It is still one of the most touching and poignant speeches I have ever heard.

I entreat you to start your day by listening to it, and maybe it will inspire you to commit one random act of kindness–which I would love to have you comment about. Listening to this never fails to refocus my perspective each and every time.

(And, if by chance it doesn’t make you a little misty-eyed… Well… You’re a stronger person than I am.)

Enjoy 🙂


St. Michael’s Scales by Neil O. Connelly

St. Michael’s Scales was a very strange piece of fiction.

The protagonist Keegan Flannery was born one-half of a set of twins. The other–his brother–Michael, died at birth. After his mother is committed to a mental hospital and his older brother runs away from home, Keegan is left with two brothers who ignore him and a father who doesn’t remember he exists. The only attention he gets at school is negative because of his extremely small stature. When he realizes that his father has been telling people his mother is dead rather than face the embarrassment of owning up to the facts–Keegan begins having dreams of his dead twin. All at once, he knows how to right the wrong done to his family.

He must kill himself before his 16th birthday.

But when a fluke absence allows him a spot as a featherweight on his high school’s wrestling team, things begin to change. Not only is he dreaming of his brother Michael, now he is beginning to hallucinate fighting with him. He knows that Michael was the brother that should have lived, and the thought haunts him every day.

Being raised Catholic, knowing that suicide is a mortal sin…will Keegan go through with his plan to kill himself, or has wrestling given him something to live for?

SMS was a very weird novel. It reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany, not only because of the religious aspects but also because Keegan and Owen both fit the same physical description. They also both had a mission they were planning on carrying out, and both knew that it would lead to their untimely demise.

I never truly felt attached to Keegan, and while I felt sympathy for his family situation, I didn’t understand why or how he thought his suicide would rectify the tribulations his family had gone through. Also, with a history of mental illness in his family, he should’ve begun to realize that he wasn’t in his right mind when he began to see visions of his brother. Rather than him viewing his dead twin as some sort of spiritual guardian, he viewed him as a malevolent force to be reckoned with.

All the blame for those feelings should be placed solely on his parents shoulders, especially his father’s for ignoring him.  AND not only did his mother always get a dually-named cake–she also would force Keegan to pick out one of his presents and bring in to the cemetery each year on his birthday. It’s understandable to want to remember a dead child and keep him a part of the family, but not to the detriment of the living children. No wonder Keegan felt he played second fiddle.

I wasn’t a fan of this book, and I would not recommend it.

2 wrong-hearted Jesus of 5


Snapshots from Mildenhall 7-23-12

Only been in the UK a few days and have done a little exploring around our home base. So far so beautiful.

 

Finally figured out what this all meant!

10 Pound Note front and back–so colourful compared to American money! (Yes, this British computer spellchecks and forces me to add U’s to words like “colourful.”)

Hilarious sign! Wish they would’ve had this in my home town. That building to the right under the sign is where our flat is 🙂

Our flat 🙂 It’s amazing. The wooden beams supporting our ceiling  have runes carved into them and embedded nails so old Jesus would cringe.

*sigh* I took care of my roommate’s cat for quite a long time. He was an 18lb black and white noisy bastard. Now I’ve come 4,000 miles and have this face staring at me every time I walk downstairs… Guess I will be buying cat food on my next stroll…

Who says the sun never shines in England? This is the little muddy “river” downstairs.

Everyone has gorgeous roses in their postage stamp-sized yards. There is a lot more COLOUR (smh) than I anticipated.

Look at all that ivy–another common theme here.

St. Mary’s Church across the street. It looks incredible from the outside. I can’t wait to explore it! It has a really cool graveyard around back that’s so old the tombstones aren’t legible anymore. It was built in the 15th century–MEDIEVAL TIMES, PEOPLE! The age of everything here is absolutely mind-boggling. To put it in perspective, this church was built towards the end of the Black Plague… If you walk down the main street of shops, you can almost imagine the streets being cobblestone again, horses and carriages, and merchants selling their wares. The façades may have changed, but the history is still there.

Off to do some more in depth wandering 🙂


Hello from England, my loves! <3

I just landed early this morning in London, and now I’m residing in my boyfriend’s oh-so-posh flat in Mildenhall. This building is almost 1100 years old! Isn’t that incredible?? The weather is beautiful today, and not a cloud in the sky. I can actually see a tea garden here from my window.

Just wanted you to know that I made it here safely and give you a small glimpse into my new world 🙂