Our first stop on our crazy six week trip before the conference, we were invited to couch surf with a family who lived in the quaint community of Lowell Massachusetts. We love couchsurfing with families and have done so many times throughout our travels in Latin America. But we’ve never couchsurfed in the United States, so I thought this would be not only a great reentry back into the US, but an opportunity for: Cultural exchange, learning, growing, experiencing, connecting… in our own country.
After we finally arrived in Boston after our DC debacle, we were anxious to meet our hosts. However, our early flight into Boston meant we had to wait until our hosts were available. Miro and I took the train up to Lowell, where we marveled at the scenery.
It was our first time to New England, let alone traveling through the region just as spring was about to break the winter hues. The ground was dusted with patches of snow, the trees bare and proud, rooftops glimmering from the sun’s reflection and whoa, the architecture straight out of a children’s story book.
The words “charming” and “quaint” are just words in comparison to the amazement I was witnessing, and as unreal as the snow covered scenery looked, we were completely present, drinking in the sights and sounds.
Miro said “It just doesn’t look like this in California,” and I completely agree with him. New England is part of the same country we both grew up in, but our eyes feasted upon a completely foreign landscape for the first time.
And so we were there, and had a sense of being relaxed after our DC tear drenched ordeal and had about three hours to kill. Being patient is something we’ve become pretty good at, so Miro took a nap at the train station and I got some work done.
We met our host family and had no idea what to expect.
Lori picked us up and we headed over to her house. We were two days late and the family was in knee deep in it’s own rhythms. Her husband Jon, a videographer, was filming a production of one of Shakespere’s lesser known plays, Cymbeline. We were invited to go to that evening’s performance, and although there was slight reluctance, we both said “yes”.
The play was performed by a homeschooling group and all the cast members were around Miro’s age. It was a confusing play, even had a cheat sheet.
Ah, I was starting to understand New England’s sense of tradition and culture just a little bit more.
Upon returning to our host family’s home, we started to notice the same framed photos of what appeared to be a rendering of Jesus Christ all over the house. There were over 6 identical renderings, one in each room. But it was late and we’d ask the family about that the next morning.
The next day, we learned that this family were actually Mormons. Honestly, I didn’t know very much about the religion other than:
1.) They send their young adults to other countries to convert people
2.) Mitt Romney is Mormon
3.) Mormons have what I perceive as very conservative and restrictive traditions & laws
4.) There’s something about “special underwear”?
Other than those things, we didn’t know much. And I have to admit, before this engagement, I had no desire to learn any more.
We were both born Jewish, although that has always been more of a cultural identity for our family than a religious persuasion. Miro and I love Jewish food, but we are completely non-practicing and in all honesty, don’t know very much about our own religion.
However, we both identify as being spiritual people. We are connected to the energy of the consciousness, the universe and all that exists. We live in our inspiration and follow our passions. We are kind to others and feel deep purpose when we contribute through volunteering or help others through sharing our stories.
We have studied the beliefs of ancient cultures, looked to stars for answers, investigated the wisdom in plant medicines and swam around in what’s considered a “new age” of thought. Some of my teachers include Eckhart Tolle, Abraham Hicks, Depak Chopra, science, history and humanity and so much more.
I really wanted to give our readers a feeling of where I was coming from but if you are a regular reader of our blog, you’ve noticed our perspectives in practice. One of the things I have absolutely no connection to is religious dogma of any persuasion. We’ve experienced traditions from the many cultures we’ve visited as an anthropologist would. We observe and absorb.
Both Miro and I weren’t exposed to religious dogma, biblical scriptures or traditional rites as children and neither of us find a need for it in our lives. When others espouse the scriptures, normally I just glaze over and tune out until we get back to the meat-of-the-matter, or the original topic we were discussing. That being said, I always make an effort to be tolerant and respectful of all beliefs.
It turns out this family is very active in their church and very active in their community. Although I didn’t learn about the religion, we experienced an open family that was very tightly knit, lived frugally, trusted the world, and had an awesome level of communication among all members.
It actually was easier to see the similarities between our two families than our differences.
Miro and I shared moments with this family like they were our own, had lovely conversations about the world and travel, engaged in a full out “sock-ball” war, sang folk songs together and threw snowballs.
The next evening the family invited us to their monthly group get together. Lori explained that once a month the families and friends from their church, about 8-15 families, decided who’s house to meet in for an arranged a pot luck dinner. The family that is hosting, also leads a discussion group after dinner on any topic they wish. Dinner was a mixture of dishes from around the world, rice and beans, cold pasta salads, and hot cider was served. The large dining room was enough for twelve adults to sit, so when the late comers arrived, we all switched seats which looked like a well dressed version of musical chairs. The participants were a mixture of professionals, married couples, doctors and lawyers. One family included three generations, each member dressed in either a dark suit or a conservative dress, whereas our host family were comfortable dressing more casually in sweaters and pant combinations for both the men and women.
The one thing in common among all the participants, they all welcomed me and I never felt like an intruder.
After dinner the kids went into the family room. Later, Miro reported to me, “they were just like normal kids even though I thought they’d be different. We talked about the Hunger Games and played Apples to Apples. It was fun!”
The adults went into the living room. Here’s where I thought, “Oh boy, we are going to talk about the bible and I’ll probably be preached to.”
But that’s not what happened.
This particular evening’s topic was about “joy”. “OK, I can wrap my head around that,” I thought.
Everyone in the group was prepared, having read “The New York Review of Books” article by Zadie Smith, called “Joy”. Luckily one of the members had printed out the article so I had a chance to read it too. The article starts out with:
“It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience. And if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be at all sure I did, exactly because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage.”
Then it ends with:
“It hurts just as much as it is worth. What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth. ”
In between, the author Smith shares experiences in her life where she felt joy. Then, she talks about “pleasures” which somehow seem to be fleeting and more accessible than joy. Some of Zadie Smith’s examples of pleasure are: experiencing a pineapple popsicle, giving birth, taking the drug Ecstasy, being in love, sitting on a wall, being in a night club, experiencing her child although the author states that her daughter is mostly a joy which means in fact she gives the author no pleasure at all, but rather a strange mixture of terror, pain, and delight.
“Seemed like an interesting article for a group of Mormons to be discussing,” I thought….
Interesting and surreal.
At some point during the group discussion I asked why this article was relevant to them. I was told, “being Mormon is about living a joyful life.”
“Yes!” I said to myself. I understand this intention.
Throughout the hour and a half discussion, others shared their impressions of joy, pleasure alternating from the article to their personal experiences and every now and then a scripture was quoted and discussed.
My overall impression was that I was experiencing a group of intellectual, loving people interested in finding ways to explore their beliefs in their lives and understand their human experience.
What we found was a group of beautiful people, kind, gentle and welcoming. The whole family and the entire community has a sene of peace and you could feel the love in their hearts. It was a blessing for us to be invited to share their lives, just for a short while as we continue on our journey.