Zurich Reflections #2: Humility

One of the things about living in another country is remembering to be flexible and learning humility. Zürich won’t, and shouldn’t, conform to me – I have to conform to it. I need to learn the language, figure out how to pay the bills, follow the rules and laws, and accept that nothing here will be exactly like where I came from.

While there are a lot of foods and things I miss from the US, there are quite good analogs for many things that we want and we can get here. For the things I can’t get here, I generally do without it. I’m finding that a lot of those things that I can’t get in Switzerland are more wants than needs anyway (clothing being the major exception, but we’ve now found a supplier for nice plus size clothes). There will be things from the US that I’ll miss, and that I do miss now, but I came here, in part, to experience new things and people. I think the trick to surviving in another country is to accept the differences, but try to make life as normal as you can.

It hit me a bit yesterday when the Wife and I set up our altars in our dining area. Setting up our spiritual space always makes a place feel like home to me. Especially since a lot of our magickal things have been with us since we first got together. The pictures of our Ancestors, statues of our deities, magickal tools, all make our apartment really feel like “home” when we have them out. Not that it didn’t feel home-like before, but now it feels that way even more.

What really gets me are a lot of immigrants, and typically many US ones, on some forums that constantly complain about what they can’t get in Switzerland and go to great expense to either get stuff shipped to them, or carry it back in their luggage when they visit their home country (again, mostly US folks). I just don’t get it, really. I don’t expect Switzerland to be like the US (thank the gods!), and I certainly am not here to only have US food or products. I want to learn about food, and culture, and history. I want to experience all these things. I know all about US stuff already. Swiss stuff is all new and different and exciting!

There were certain things that were easier to do in the US. The biggest one for us was being able to use Amazon to get whatever we needed delivered.* Amazon doesn’t really work in Switzerland (and many of the Amazon suppliers even for amazon.co.uk and amazon.de won’t deliver to Switzerland), so we have to do a lot more in-person shopping or use alternative online sources like eBay and galaxus.ch. But, the upside of that is that it gets us out of the house and utilizing our German language skills!

It’s a real eye opener for me being the immigrant here, not knowing the language, and having to navigate official things and people at large. I did have empathy and sympathy for immigrants in the US, but now I really understand how it feels to be and immigrant. I’m lucky that Switzerland is, generally, open to immigrants and has many mechanisms to make people feel welcome to the country. For example: the Zurich City Hall has a new immigrant Welcome Night every other month where they welcome you to the city, answer any questions, and give you a tour.

The US immigration process seems barbaric by comparison, and then you have to navigate a general public who are openly hostile to you and a loud chunk of the population who have a superiority complex.**

The US has a long way to go. Switzerland’s not perfect, but in general, the government does try to treat people like they are actual human beings.

 

 

*Please don’t lecture me about using Amazon. Both the Wife and I have mobility issues and hated going out to shop because of that. Plus, in Zurich, walking isn’t a hardship like it is in the US (excellent and extensive public transit is awesome).

**You know, that whole white supremacy thing and the Religious Right thing. (White nationalism and the Religious Right are a thing even in Switzerland, but here they have no problem punching Nazis and keeping them to a minimum in government.)

Zurich Reflections #1: I Think I’m in Love

I didn’t think I could fall in love with a city, but I’m falling in love with Zürich.

Right now, I’m sitting at a local coffee shop, and I can hear the church bells ringing close by. I got here by bus (we have two bus stops within easy walking distance from our house) and a short walk. The coffee, of course, is excellent.

While I sit here, I can look across the street at an older apartment building that has old European style architecture. I look left and there’s a very modern looking building, and when I look right there’s a small intersection of narrow streets and more tall buildings. Some of the buildings are residential, some are commercial, and like the building across the street, it’s mixed, with stores on the ground floor and apartments above.

Space isn’t wasted here.

Our apartment is actually large by Zürich standards. We have a large balcony off our living room facing a courtyard area overlooking several other apartment buildings, and we have a smaller balcony off our kitchen where you can look down at the front door. From our back porch, you can also look up into the hills around Zürich. Most mornings, in this season, we have fog in the morning until it burns off around noon time.

Most places here have lots of large windows so that you can maximize the light. Some of the windows here also do what I call the “magic trick” of opening two ways! You turn the handle one way, and you open the window (or door) fully, you turn the handle the other way and the window opens from the top to let in enough air for ventilation. The windows are big enough that there are times when I’m in my office where I open my street-side window, pull up my chair, and just watch the world go by. It’s generally very quiet in our neighborhood (although, we do have construction going on down the street until the end of the month), even with the bus and the train going by at all hours.

It’s pretty spectacular when storms come through. I tell the wife that we have excellent storm watching windows!

It’s not just my neighborhood that’s winning me over, either. (Side note: Our neighborhood has a Berkeley kind of vibe, so we’ve occasionally called our part of Zürich “Zerkeley”.)

When I walk through the city, doing errands or whatever, I notice a lot of little things. Like I said earlier, there’s a mix of the old and modern. One minute you’re walking on regular pavement, the next you’re climbing up a cobblestone street. There’s also little details of the city that you notice if you’re open to finding them.

There are water fountains everywhere, and nearly all of them are potable. You can always see people taking a drink or filling up their water bottles. Some are just small little spigots in a corner, and some are large fountains with old statuary.

Speaking of water, there are canals, rivers, and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). I am really looking forward to swimming in the lake come Spring! The city even hosts several open water swimming events over the summer, including one that is similar in length to the Tiburon Mile. There are also lots of pools, both indoor and outdoor, maintained by the city, so I’m excited to start swimming again soon!

The architecture here is amazing! Both the modern and the old. What’s really fascinating is that if you walk some of the side streets, you’ll find strange little murals from the 1800s, or odd old statues, or suddenly come upon a green space. I even found an old well from the Middle Ages that was preserved by the local historical society!

Food is excellent here. In fact, all the meals I’ve had here that have all been excellent. The quality of the food here is just amazing, even the groceries! While it is true that it’s expensive to eat out here, groceries are pretty comparable to SF Bay Area prices. The biggest thing I’m getting used to here, though, is that you don’t rush your food here, especially when you eat out. You’re expected to take your time and savor your meal.

And once you’ve had proper Swiss fondue, you’re spoiled for fondue anywhere else.

I could expound on a lot of things about here that I love, but the best thing is that it’s comfortable here, both in our lives and the city itself. The energy here is old, with the energetic sense of old warding to protect the city and country. (Given Switzerland’s history, that makes complete sense.)

To put it another way: I feel more welcome and comfortable in Zürich than I have in any other city in the US.

Und das ist sehr gut!

On Death, Vocation, and John McCain

Yesterday, not even 24 hours after Senator John McCain passed, I posted the following on Facebook:

So, here’s my dilemma:

The queer politics nerd in me agrees with all the folks posting about John McCain’s horrid politics of recent years (including inflicting Sarah Palin on national politics and healthcare).

However, the priest in me, who has worked with the dying and with grieving families is like: “Fucking hell people, the guy hasn’t even been dead 24 hours!”

I have always been a heretic….

There were some comments to this post that made me think that some people might be misunderstanding me, or possibly not understanding what I meant by this post. I do forget that not everyone understands my vocation around death, dying, and grieving, and that it can seem antithetical to my politics sometimes.

My vocation is to minister to the dying and for the dead, regardless of who they are or were. It is my firm belief, even conviction, that every human being deserves to have someone there during their last hours, and that in the first day of death, they are still treated in a compassionate way.

But don’t get me wrong: being compassionate is definitely not the same as being nice.

Let me put this another way:

My former coven leader, Michael, was an asshole to me. He was abusive, manipulating, and misogynistic. I wouldn’t consciously want to be near him, or hang out with him unless it was part of a massive apology, confession, and acknowledgement of what he had done to me.

However…

If somehow I got the call and was told he was dying, and that one of his final wishes was to see and talk to me, then I would go. I would go, and listen, and hear him out. I might even stay and hold vigil, letting the Gods come through and tell him about himself. I would probably even minister to his family until, and after, he passed. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have the hard conversations with him while he was still lucid, or tell him about himself and how he hurt me. It doesn’t mean that it would have to be nice for him, or that it wouldn’t be one of the hardest things I’d ever done.

I would do it because I’m a priest and it’s my vocation to midwife the dying. I couldn’t not do it.

And yes, I would do the same for Donald Trump. (Although, I have no doubts that if this somehow happened, that the Gods would come through hard while I was in the room and really tell him about himself.)

There is always a measure of compassion that I believe must be held regardless of who the dying or dead person is. And that is the reason for the dilemma: I completely detested McCain’s politics while he was alive, and I totally agree that his legacy, both good and bad, needs to be examined. But it felt, to me, like a lack of compassion for the dead to start ripping into his record not even 24 hours, after he’d passed. Those of us left behind have lifetimes to do that, and it is only right that we do so. 

Please note, however, that I said “compassion” not “respect”. Compassion, at least the way I define it, is acknowledging the human-ness of a person, regardless of who they are. No one needs to be a saint in order to deserve my compassion, especially in the process of dying. Showing compassion in those times also respects the Spirits helping the person cross over, since they are the ones that the person who is dying needs to answer to (regardless of who that Spirit is for the dying person).

Unfortunately, compassion and forgiveness are often conflated, when in reality, they are not the same thing, nor should they be. In the example above, I can show compassion to my former coven leader, but I in no way have to forgive him, if I don’t want to, or can’t. Also, showing compassion to someone doesn’t magically erase the bad they’ve done, and in my mind, can be an act of defiance to the evil that the person has done. 

I don’t know if this clarifies the post I made. Most likely, I probably made it more complicated. That’s not a bad thing, in my mind, because the process of death, and the process of grieving, is not black and white. It is grey and complicated. It is messy with emotion and experience. All the emotions around a person’s death are real and valid and I get that. I am in no way asking people to forgive McCain, or to ignore what he’s done in life, but to acknowledge that a life has passed. To stop and reflect and give the moment of death at least some amount of gravitas, no matter what you thought of him. Because, remember, compassion can be a last act of defiance.