Dinner has taken on a new level of significance for me on this Great Britain adventure. Always coming late in the day, usually as the light is changing into the soft muted tones of evening, I enjoy the pleasure of being done with driving, walking, looking, listening, learning and formulating more questions. We seek places that specialize in the local food and culture. Sometimes we choose one that represents the local “food scene.” Sometimes we look for a small place with simple food and only one or two people doing all the work. In England especially we have enjoyed the variety of pubs.
After perusing the menu and ordering we sip a glass of wine and talk about what we did and saw during the day, sometimes flipping through the day’s pictures. It is amazing that after nearly 52 years of marriage we still sometimes have very different views of the same experience.
So over a glass of wine and some starter we relive the day. Theses discussions have taken on a new twist, introduced by some form of the question, “How is this trip causing you to grow, to change, broaden your perspective?”
Each of these discussions elicits necessarily tentative observations that require the seasoning of time and contemplation in order to grasp the full significance of the Great Britain adventure and its impact on each of us. Several themes keep recurring during these dinner discussions.
One theme is a growing awareness of the layers of history. Most of the places we have visited here have more than 2000 years of continuous written history, often most of it visible in the buildings, the streets, the landscape. Time and again we have found visible symbols of human history going back centuries before written history. (I will not use the inaccurate and short-sighted term “prehistory” as it denigrates the value and humanness of our ancestors whose written record we have begun to learn how to read and understand in the last 100+ years.) The changes I am aware of include a constant awareness of the much longer scope of human history than I came here with. While some of this began to happen during earlier experiences in Europe, the cumulative effect seems to be driving this awareness to deeper levels and encouraging me to be aware of these layers as part of daily living.
This historical awareness is fixing a spotlight on the American mindset that history began with “me” and the idea that you can just tear down something that is “old” and build something different, new, better without reference to the lessons of the past or alternatively, invent a past to suit your emotions and then insist that is the way it really was, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.
Finding Stone Age artifacts of human history reminds me of the multi-thousand year journey of humanity. The record of how we have adapted and changed over the last 70,000-250,000 years, from Stone Age to Bronze Age to Industrial Age to Digital Age, from Hunter Gatherers to Farmers to Factory Workers to Information Workers emphasizes for me the immediate need to elect politicians who have the insights and skills to collaboratively develop solutions for our tomorrows rather than bandying simple (and backward facing and wrong) slogans about how we are going back to better days.
Another theme emerging in these dinner conversations is stewardship of the environment. Stewardship is one of those highly valuable concepts from my religious past, focusing on the responsibility to care for and use wisely what we have. Stewardship is a concept that does not need religious grounding. Most of us (but clearly not all of us) do not trash our homes and squander the life giving resources in our possession, yet when it comes to our shared environment we eschew the concept of personal or collective stewardship. Every place I have traveled in Europe is far ahead of the United States in renewable energy. What I can do, how I choose to invest my time and resources in this and other environmental issues will emerge after this Great Britain adventure. I have the feeling I have already done the easy things and now need to address fundamental, structural change.
A third “how I am changing” theme emerging grows out of the gracious friendly respectful way we are treated here everywhere by everyone. Striking up conversations is easy. Even discussing (albeit at a necessarily observational level) has everywhere been easy and enlightening, even when we disagreed. Pondering trips to France and Spain I remember finding the same thing. Far from the stereotype of cold and aloof, we have relatively easily negotiated the language barriers and made connections. Such a contrast to the often hate-filled trash talk we hear in the US. I find myself wondering how to engage in making changes in the quality of how we relate to each other. Another long term complicated project.
Not meant to be an exhaustive list, this has turned into a longer post than I originally envisioned. This may even become a longer term project.