Saturday, February 25, 2017

Building Bridges to Russia

Troitsky Bridge across Neva River

     I'm very curious when I look at the stats on my blog and see that I have a huge fan base in Russia. Since these readers don't leave comments, I have no idea who they are and why they are interested in "Building Bridges of Oneness." 

     For most of my life the United States and Russia - or the Soviet Union - have been political enemies. I have never thought of the Russian people as enemies, and I've always been interested in Russian culture and literature. When I was fourteen, I wrote my first letter to the editor of a newspaper about the space race, and how we could achieve more if we were to work together with the Soviets rather than trying to beat them into space. I thought then, as I do now, that we should be looking for ways to cooperate and learn from each other.

     In the early 1980's, Mark and I were active in the peace movement, seeking an end to the arms race. We started to take a class in Russian at East Tennessee University, and were saving our money for a trip to the Soviet Union where we hoped to make connections with some Russian people. Then, on September 1st of 1983, a South Korean airliner, in flight from New York City to Seoul, was shot down by a Soviet Su-a5 interceptor. After that we cancelled our travel plans and used the money we'd saved to purchase a piano. 

     Mark and I never did get to Russia, but our niece studied at the Performance Art Theater in Moscow for two years, and sent us some beautiful decorated eggs and a bowl. I love Russian art, and have several sets of Russian stacking dolls displayed in our home. 

     I also have a friend whose daughter, Emily, went to Russia as an exchange student in 2009 and loved it so much, she went back and worked at the Anglo-American School in St. Petersburg for a year and a half. My friend. Debbie, and her husband, visited their daughter there in 2011. Debbie says that the country was beautiful, and yet she felt a heaviness, as if the people were all weighed down by the centuries of oppression their ancestors had known. However, Emily explained to her mother that while Russians do not smile a lot in public, it doesn't mean they aren't happy. They tend to be more joyful in their private lives, so while they may not be smiling on the subway, they are probably smiling in their homes and at the jobs they enjoy. 

     Debbie and Bruce stayed in an apartment overlooking the ethereal Neva River, and she enjoyed watching the men clean their boats every morning, in preparation for the tours they would give later. She got a lighter feeling while watching them take breaks to jump into the water, and seeing an artist who was painting the scenes below their window. 

Debbie and daughter, Emily, in St. Petersburg

     During her visit, Debbie found the shopkeepers to be very friendly, and Emily certainly found friends during her time in Russia - in fact, one of them has recently moved to the United States to marry her! I like to think that the American and Russian people would find much in common on which to base friendships, if given the opportunity. The quarrels between our governments should not influence the way common people feel about one another. It is up to us, the people of the world, to build bridges when our governments attempt to build walls. 

     I really hope that some of my Russian readers will comment here and tell me a little bit about themselves and their interest in building bridges of oneness. мир

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Build Bridges, Not Walls

Emily VanLaeys 1-21-17

    Recent studies show that 61,000 bridges in the United States are in need of repair. One might wonder if it wouldn't be more beneficial for the American people to have our bridges repaired rather than to build a wall between our country and Mexico. The cost of the wall proposed by Donald Trump would be phenomenal, and its future success in making our country more secure is doubtful, as explained in this article: Estimating the True Cost of Trump's Wall

   When I decided to join the Oneonta People's March for human rights on January 21st, I knew my sign would say: "Build Bridges, Not Walls." Building bridges between different faiths, cultures, and groups of people has always been my passion. Now, more than ever,
it is time to think about ways to build bridges and promote understanding with people we may not have a lot in common with. I am proud to live in a community where people are working to build bridges, where we frequently have forums to promote understanding between people of different faiths or races, where my UU minister traveled to Standing Rock to support the Native Americans in protecting their land and water, and where the Presbyterian minister is co-teaching a class with a Muslim friend: Muslim Women: Myths and Realities.

     One thing I have come to realize over the past year is that I cannot build bridges by discussing politics with people of different persuasions. These discussions turn into arguments which generate bad feelings between friends and create walls between people of different opinions. So it is my intention to focus my efforts on peaceful work, whether demonstrating for human rights, sending messages to my representatives in D.C., or praying and focusing on Love and Light in my meditations. 

     Changing the world for the better takes both action and spiritual work. Some people are better suited to one kind of work more than the other. I try to do some of each, but political work is harder because it requires that I stay focused on Love and Light while thinking about the devastating decisions being made by leaders who have no compassion for anyone who isn't lining their pockets with more money. Perhaps this is the main challenge for my life: to remain a beacon of Light no matter what tempest is swirling all around me. 

     We hear over and over that gratitude is the key to a blessed life. Despite the horrors I see in the world around me, I am continually buoyed up by the way negative actions beget actions of love and compassion. We see this with the outpourings of assistance that come from neighbors when disaster strikes.  We saw it when thousands of people from all walks of life, including at least 2,000 vets, travelled to Standing Rock to support the water protectors. We saw it when over 2 million people around the world demonstrated for human rights on January 21st. We saw it when tens of thousands of people rallied in U.S. cities and in airports to protest the order to prevent immigrants and green card holders from coming into the country. I am grateful for all of these outpourings of compassion, and hope to see even more demonstrations of love and unity as we, the people of the world, seek ways to build bridges of oneness. 



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