Yesterday I went to one of my favorite places in Oakland, if not the whole damn world---the Chapel of Chimes at the Mountain View Cemetery. This place is rad, y'all. From Wikipedia:
Chapel of the Chimes was founded in 1909 as a crematory and columbarium in Oakland, California. The present building dates largely from a 1928 redevelopment based on the designs of the architect Julia Morgan. The Moorish- and Gothic-inspired interior is a maze of small rooms featuring ornate stonework, statues, gardens, fountains and mosaics. The name "chapel" refers primarily to the style of interior design, as it is not a traditional cemetery chapel building.
Not only is this place breathtakingly beautiful, but it was designed by a badass CHICK.
I love this place for not just the architecture, but for the fact that it offers up one of the finest places on the planet for quiet contemplation. There are benches and chairs positioned in the small, intricate rooms for a person to sit and listen to the quiet gurgle of the fountains and examine the gorgeous mosaics on the walls. Sure you're surrounded by the ashes of thousands of dead people, but they're all stored in urns that look like huge, old books, so really you feel like you're in the world's quietest library.
I was feeling the need to be someplace sacred this week, so I plopped myself down on a set of stairs that gave me the view below and admired the Moorish architecture. And I thought about how Ms. Morgan had accomplished this masterpiece of the blending of European and Middle Eastern styles of architecture, combining the best of each.
And as I sat there, feeling a little chilled by all the massive, old stone walls and steps surrounding me, I began to hear chanting from down the hall. I recognized the language as Vietnamese, but the chanting sounded Buddhist in its style and rhythm. There was one clear voice leading the chants and a chorus of people repeating him. It was interspersed with the gentle >ding< of traditional Buddhist meditation finger cymbals. I had seen they were having some sort of memorial when I'd walked up but didn't pay much attention to it. I closed my eyes, hugged myself tighter, and listened to the melodious, repetitive chanting of a Buddhist monk for what seemed like hours. In the background, I could hear the burble of the fountain; I could feel the solemnity of all that old stone around me. I started to notice my breathing, and everything but my breathing, the chanting, and the burbling fell away.
Look, I know I live on a coast---and the liberal one at that---but it did me some good to: 1) take some time for myself away from the constant barrage of shitastic news being vomited out at me through my phone, and B) remind myself that I live in a country that purports to espouse multiculturalism. And for the most part, in the past, we have. (Yes, there have been some exceptions, but that's a political rant, and I'm trying to avoid those.) And living in the Bay Area, I am fucking blessed to be submersed in that multiculturalism; this is an area of the country that has larger-than-average foreign populations from all over the map. I see it everyday in my coffeeshop, in my grocery store, in my doctor's office, in the unbelievable food scene here, in the hijabs and dashikis people around me wear, in the music I hear being played from houses. And I thought about how lucky I am to live in this rich stew of different people.
I'm not saying the Bay Area is some sort of utopia where people of different races or religions never get discriminated against or that racial incidents don't happen. Believe me, we have our share. And nor am I saying that we're living in a fully integrated society, even here. The neighborhoods can be pretty segregated---a pocket of Russian immigrants here, a pocket of Salvadorians there, and, yes, we have the Projects here too. But when your likelihood of having black friends in Oakland, Hmong neighbors in San Francisco, an Afghan coworker in Fremont, or a brother who married an Ethiopian Muslim woman increases by the sheer dint of geography, the likelihood of you being a more empathetic, more compassionate individual toward people who are, by skin color or religious practices, considered "Other" just shot up. And when that happens, we are all better for it. Empathy and compassion are our tools in this battle. From The Guardian:
Think of all those tiny interactions between different ethnic groups on an average British city street: the newsagent, the corner shop, the delivery driver, the postman, friends laughing, children playing, a pair of lovers. This is what generates passive tolerance. You don't have to be part of the interaction yourself; just witnessing it is enough to have a significant impact – comparable to the effect passive smoking has on your health, hence the term passive tolerance.
What's more, there have been a bunch of studies in the last 10 years that basically reinforce this concept of passive tolerance. In one study, the researchers stated:
They were careful to rule out the most obvious explanation for their finding, social psychologists Miles Hewstone and Katharina Schmid explain – namely, that the higher levels of tolerance in more diverse neighbourhoods are a result of more tolerant people choosing to live there. Two of the studies were conducted over several years and tracked the same individuals, showing how attitudes changed. Even prejudiced people showed a greater degree of tolerance over time if they lived in a mixed neighbourhood.
So I get to live in this soup of multiculturalism, which, as it turns out, has more benefits than just being able to get sushi delivered or being able to enjoy arapas when you get the craving. It's made me more tolerant of different religions, traditions, cultures, and even sexual fetishes. No, wait, scratch that last one. You get the idea though.
Again, I remind you, in these coming weeks and months, take some time to reflect on the notion upon which this country was founded and what she continued to be as she grew up. America has, for nearly 250 years, extended her arms to people of all races, religions, social circumstances, and political affiliations. Remember the "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free?" It's on the goddamn Statue of Liberty, which France gave us as a goddamn gift.
And if you don’t think being patriotic to one of your country's mission statements is good enough, trying behaving in a way that honors the basic tenants of your faith. WWJD? I dunno, but I'm guessing it DOESN'T involve turning away orphans who just want to live in a place where their mothers and sisters aren't being raped daily and they don't have to worry about a bomb destroying their entire neighborhood, let alone their houses.
Please be kind to your fellow humans, in real life and on the internet, my precious Buddhafaces. And if you really want to go a step further, here is some information from the Charity Navigator site (a site that rates which charities are actual the best to give to if you want most of your money to actually go to where it's supposed to) about the best charities to give to help Syrian kids. Every year I buy canned goods to help people in my country; why should I make a distinction not to help someone else because they come from a different part of the world?
End soapbox rant\
Just go out and do nice things for people. Seriously. #GoBeKind