April 28, 2007
All International Tongues are One
After reading Kite Runner (two years after the rest of the world) and Namesake back-to-back, I was constantly reminded that in many cultures "blood" is 'everything.' In cultures where blood is not 'everything,' it is still there to remind you, often at the times when you wish you could forget.
With that, religion is often attached, attached as an anchor that pulls, tugs, strangles, confuses.....and we find that we often can't break free. We're entangled because our parents, grandparents and grandparents before them were entangled. Like blood, it clings to you, instead of freeing you.
In both books, the characters (Afghanistan and Indian respectfully) end up becoming American, so much so that they feel like strangers in their own countries when they return -- not uncommon. I felt that way after being abroad for a several year stretch without a return, a return to a place you always thought was home.
We do assimilate well however. Humans are actually very good at it when they allow themselves to be. We can adapt, change accents, learn languages, eat new kinds of food, and pick up customs that don't mesh with our own.
When I turned the last page of Kite Runner, I thought of the little New England stone chapel I was married in now more than ten years ago. There is a reason I chose it in addition to the fact that it was a small and beautiful wonder buried in the middle of trees high up on a hill, hidden to the rest of the world. It was its historical philosophy on accepting all regardless of blood, skin color, religion, culture or economic status.
The sense of spirituality was so strong within its quiet stone walls that both my fiance and I felt it right away, so much so that we stopped talking, sat on the cold uneven floor and just started to breathe, really breathe. There were so many pieces in the chapel that didn't match or blend, kind of like our first set of dishes -- how wonderful is that. So wonderful that to this day, I still don't have a set of dishes that completely matches, a reminder that the best parts of our life never truly match.
Below is its history:
The Little Stone Chapel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary was designed and built during the First World War by Ralph Adams Cram, world-famous architect of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and of many other great churches, as a place of worship for himself and his family. He built his chapel with gray rocks from his own fields and stone walls on his estate, Whitehall, with the help of a local stone mason, Nicholas Mercuri. They worked without blueprints so that one wall of the nave is inches longer than the other. The church door, hidden from the busy road, is reached by a country path winding under steltering trees, while wisteria and ivy clamber at will up its sturdy walls. Here is a small place of peace in a troubled world.
Mr. Cram explained the chapel’s building: “Can it be that any country community, will provide for itself a chapel built by the heart and hands of the worshippers, reflecting a native simple artistry which expensive blueprints cannot provide?”
The family and their myriad friends collected many aids to beauty from all parts of the globe during their worldwide travels. The fifteenth century reredos, a triptych with scenes from the Passion, was brought back from Spain. The six candlesticks on the altar are of old Spanish design. The ancient wooden tabernacle door with the resurrection banner, is undoubtedly the oldest and most valuable gift to the chapel. The door dates back to the ninth century and is from the Far East. The brass processional cross is Abyssinian and was given to the chapel at the time of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The banner of St. Elizabeth at the left of the altar was embroidered by a wounded British soldier after the First World War.
The small wooden statue of St. Elizabeth of Hungary was carved by Kirchmeyer who perfected his art in Oberammergau. The ikon with mirrors upon the chapel was given to the family by a Russian refugee. The French tapestry framed upon the wall is reputed to be the work of the ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette of France. The bell hanging outside the chapel is an old ship’s bell from a sailing vessel from Gloucester and is said to have circled the globe many times. The bell rang out at the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918.
Strangers climb the winding path under the towering pines to the door of the little chapel and the sense of spirituality is so strong within its quiet stone walls that many kneel to pray. Old and new, Spanish, African, French, Russian, English, American.....all these elements of beauty blend together in a strangely harmonious way within this chapel built from New England stones. So also all international tongues are one in the House of God.
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