Dr. Wall’s blog today has nothing to do with marriage or marital therapy. Instead, he takes a break and reports on his family’s vacation to England.
My wife, Mary Sue and I, two of our children, Marty and Emilie, and my wife’s mom, Marcella, went to England last week to visit my son, Brandon, and his wife, Philly, and their son and our grandson, Alyas. Brandon is spending the year studying philosophy at Cambridge. It was nice for us to take a break from work and spend some time with our family and exploring an interesting part of the world. Here’s few thoughts along the way:
One of the highlights for me was seeing William Wilberforce’s grave in St. John’s Chapel at Cambridge University.
At least I thought it was his grave. Turns out it was a memorial as he was a student at St. John’s. Then I saw that he’s actually buried at the Westminster Abbey, England’s national church and memorial. At 21 he became an independent Member of Parliament and at 26 he converted to Evangelical Christianity. From then on he was a leading voice in the fight to end slavery in England. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which ended slavery in England and all her colonies, was passed just three days before his death. You may remember him from the movie Amazing Grace, which was about his legislative battle to end slavery. The seriousness of this fight is hard to fathom in our day. When Wilberforce began his battle, the slave trade encompassed 80% of England’s foreign imports (coffee, tobacco and sugar). At the bottom of his statue at Westminster Abbey it says he endured “great obloquy and great opposition.”* He was also the founder of the Church Mission Society and the Bible Society. These types of accomplishments by one man are very humbling. I came away feeling rather small.
Charles Darwin was all the rage in England being that 2009 was the 200th anniversary of his death. His image is still on all their paper money. I stood on Charles Darwin’s grave at Westminster Abby in downtown London. I thought that was ironic. I guess God had the last laugh on that deal. Darwin devolved. From the moment he was born he was degenerating to the point that he died. I wondered how Darwin ended up buried in a church and if he was pleased about that? The Westminster Abby is a church and a national monument. So the people buried there are people for whom the people of England want to glorify. The church brochure says that the purpose of memorials is rooted in the Christian beliefs that our lives count before God and in the hope Christians have of life hereafter. If there’s a life hereafter for Darwin it won’t be one of hope. In my view he’s done more to steer people away from the Creator than anyone in modern history.
At Westminster Abby there was a Poets’ Corner with 40 poets buried there and memorials to many others.
Samuel Johnson was there, as was Rudyard Kipling, Robert Browning and Charles Dickens. Westminster has many other memorials to other writers and poets that are not buried there including Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Lord Byron.
What? Lord Byron? In a church? Byron was considered a “great poet,” but he has done more to steer people away from moral fiber than Huge Hefner. Really. He had nearly a hundred and fifty year jump on Hefner and his Don Juan, which glamorizes sexual conquest for oneself over others. It is still required reading for young, impressionable college students in their English and Humanities classes. It took until 1969 for Byron to be buried in Westminster Abbey even though he died in 1824. At the time Westminster Abbey rejected Byron as being to immoral to be included in this national shrine. A hundred and forty-five years later he made it. I doubt Bryon’s aware. He probably doesn’t care much now.
Soon we’ll be standing on Hefner’s grave. He’ll be done with pursuing pleasure, I’ll tell you that. There won’t be any nubile babes where he’s going. In a hundred years Byron will still be required reading in college classes. People won’t even know there was a Huge Hefner ever, except maybe in a footnote in the history of degeneracy. I doubt Hefner will be buried in a church unless he makes an about face soon. I hope whoever’s the United States President at the time doesn’t make a whole bunch of comments about how great Hef was upon the news of Hef’s death.
I guess we’re all like the English in that sense: Glorifying our artists even though their lives are in shambles. I trembled at our media’s obsessive praise of Michael Jackson, whom we are all pretty sure was a child molester. Praise for Michael Jackson. You are kidding me, right? I guess not.
At the British Museum in London they had displays from many different countries and cultures around the world. We spent a day there but you can’t begin to see it all in that amount of time. My son Brandon and I spent some time in the Assyrian section. They ruled the world for a couple of hundred years and were the country responsible for destroying Israel in 722, one of the most significant event in human history, and this event was barely even mentioned. If it was, we didn’t see it. Weird. Luckily I had the Bible on my iPod and we could look up the passages on Tiglath-Pileser and Salmanezer V. We did our own tour.
I looked at the Romans, the Greeks, the Africans, the Assyrians, and the displays from India and China in one day at the British Museum and came away with the thought that these cultures all emphasized three things: Death, war and their version of god or the gods. This was in contrast to our visits to Washington D.C. several years ago where I’d came away thinking of our emphasis on death and war. Not much of God is mentioned in Washington D.C. except on the Lincoln Memorial and that God is just generically referred to. However, there is the admirable reference to dying for a cause, for freedom, in Washington D.C. in contrast to the kings of Assyria, who’s memorials were memorials to themselves and how great they were.
Everywhere we went in London there were people from all across the world. We couldn’t understand a word they were saying. This was also the case in Cambridge, too. My son, Brandon, told me that most of the tourists in Cambridge were from China. Hundreds of them. High School students, mostly. I guess we know who has the money these days. Our first cabbie in Cambridge had an accent and looked like he was from India. He said he’d been in Cambridge 4 years, had an MBA and couldn’t find work in his field, so now he’s driving a cab. He wasn’t bitter at all. He said driving a cab, he can work when he wants to, he could spend more time with his family and he doesn’t have all the stress of a professional career. I was impressed he could be so chipper. I’m used to hearing people complaining about those things. I’ve got to get out more.
In London there were even more international voices and styles and faces. I saw quite a few women dressed in traditional Muslim and African apparel. This contrasted with, the mostly younger, Caucasian and Asian women, who wore very short skirts or no skirts at all with their leggings. Curiously, there were fewer tattoos and piercings than I’m used to seeing in America.
I had an experience twice in England that I’ve never experienced ever in America: Once with a cabby in Cambridge and once with a waiter in London. Both of these fellows told me that my tip was too much and tried to give it back to me. I refused both times. Tips are lower in England than here. In America it’s 15-20%, while in England it’s 5-10%. Still, could you ever imagine an American trying to give back a tip? No way.
We went to the National Gallery in London on Good Friday and they had the Passion of Christ play going on that afternoon in the courtyard in front. My wife suggested that England was more religious than America, because our national institutions would never have anything to do with Christ on any day of the year and many of the shops in London were closed on Good Friday including the hat shop we were trying to find. That’s when I made my profound Darwin-in-the-national-church comment. A nation of contrasts. I guess all nations are like that. People, too. We consider ourselves reasonably strong Christians and we’re out touristing on Good Friday. Some example we are.
I came away from London realizing how much I didn’t know. England has 2 millennia of written history, compared to our paltry 400. At the National Gallery in London, there was a huge 168-foot granite column topped by an 18-foot statue of Lord Nelson (called Nelson’s Column) in the center of Trafalgar Square. It’s pretty impressive. I’d heard of Lord Nelson, but am ashamed to admit, I had to look him up on Wikipedia when I got home. Nelson is a national hero, since he won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when his 27 ships beat the 33 ships of the Napoleonic navy of France and Spain. Prior to this battle the normal way for navy battles to formulate was in two opposing parallel lines. Nelson, instead, approached the French and Spanish line with two perpendicular lines, separating and confusing them. The end result was the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 ships while England lost zero. Not bad. Nelson, however, was fatally shot in the battle. He is celebrated as England’s greatest national hero to this day.
One of my most enjoyable moments was chatting with our shuttle driver in Ottawa, Canada, about the 2010 Winter Olympics (We had a layover there due to leaving London an hour late). I commented how great the American-Canada hockey games were. He was so excited. I told him we were cheering for Canada. He was all aglow. It was pretty cool.
The funniest moment for me was seeing my 2-year old grandson Alyas karate chop the medieval cannons in the Tower of London. He was used to saying, “Stop” and karate chopping his reading book at home. Each of the cannons at the Tower of London had a red plug to keep debris from going inside them. Alyas went down the row giving each a karate chop and yelling, “Stop!” What a riot.
Our thanks to Brandon and Philly for doing a wonderful job hosting us at their home and taking us on personal tours of Cambridge University and London and wonderful suggestions on great things to do. Philly did the lion’s share of planning ahead of time and Brandon spent hours hunting down an apartment for us to rent in London. They also introduced us to an authentic English breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, toast, fresh tomato, baked beans and tea. Brandon also found me some very cool book shops that left me longing for more time to just hang out.
Thanks, also, to Marty, who assisted Brandon and Philly in navigating the subway system in London, as he’s used to the commuter system in San Francisco. He was my personal tour guide through the National Gallery. He also entertained us by using his amazing art skills to illustrate for us wonderful drawings of many of the sites we saw:
My appreciation goes to Emilie, who kept finding my very cool linen, Swedish Wigens Ivy cap that I seemed to have left everywhere. She won the self-proclaimed souvenir hunt.
Thanks to my wife, Mary Sue, who makes our lodgings wherever we go always feel like home and who made sure that I didn’t get lost. It was great fun watching her play with her grandson, Alyas, no doubt a highlight for her, although she had some great fun shopping, too.
Marcella set the pace for everyone on our walks to the subway. She turns 80 this next winter, but was always ahead of everyone to get to the next destination. Her two mile walks per day at the Y paid off.
I came home craving some American food. We had to switch planes in Chicago and I thought, cool, Chicago deep-dish pizza or a Chicago dog? No such luck. My wife and I had a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder for our Easter dinner. It was so good.
I’m so shallow.
*The entirety of the quote from Wilberforce’s memorial in Westminster Abbey (taken directly from their website) is as follows (it’s worth a read):
TO THE MEMORY OF WILLIAM WILBERFORCE (BORN IN HULL AUGUST 24th 1759, DIED IN LONDON JULY 29th 1833;) FOR NEARLY HALF A CENTURY A MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, AND, FOR SIX PARLIAMENTS DURING THAT PERIOD, ONE OF THE TWO REPRESENTATIVES FOR YORKSHIRE. IN AN AGE AND COUNTRY FERTILE IN GREAT AND GOOD MEN, HE WAS AMONG THE FOREMOST OF THOSE WHO FIXED THE CHARACTER OF THEIR TIMES; BECAUSE TO HIGH AND VARIOUS TALENTS, TO WARM BENEVOLENCE, AND TO UNIVERSAL CANDOUR, HE ADDED THE ABIDING ELOQUENCE OF A CHRISTIAN LIFE. EMINENT AS HE WAS IN EVERY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC LABOUR, AND A LEADER IN EVERY WORK OF CHARITY, WHETHER TO RELIEVE THE TEMPORAL OR THE SPIRITUAL WANTS OF HIS FELLOW-MEN, HIS NAME WILL EVER BE SPECIALLY IDENTIFIED WITH THOSE EXERTIONS WHICH, BY THE BLESSING OF GOD, REMOVED FROM ENGLAND THE GUILT OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE, AND PREPARED THE WAY FOR THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN EVERY COLONY OF THE EMPIRE: IN THE PROSECUTION OF THESE OBJECTS HE RELIED, NOT IN VAIN, ON GOD; BUT IN THE PROGRESS HE WAS CALLED TO ENDURE GREAT OBLOQUY AND GREAT OPPOSITION: HE OUTLIVED, HOWEVER, ALL ENMITY; AND IN THE EVENING OF HIS DAYS, WITHDREW FROM PUBLIC LIFE AND PUBLIC OBSERVATION TO THE BOSOM OF HIS FAMILY. YET HE DIED NOT UNNOTICED OR FORGOTTEN BY HIS COUNTRY: THE PEERS AND COMMONS OF ENGLAND, WITH THE LORD CHANCELLOR AND THE SPEAKER AT THEIR HEAD, IN SOLEMN PROCESSION FROM THEIR RESPECTIVE HOUSES, CARRIED HIM TO HIS FITTING PLACE AMONG THE MIGHTY DEAD AROUND, HERE TO REPOSE: TILL, THROUGH THE MERITS OF JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY REDEEMER AND SAVIOUR, (WHOM, IN HIS LIFE AND IN HIS WRITINGS HE HAD DESIRED TO GLORIFY,) HE SHALL RISE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST.