Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happiness is...

...coming back to my home in Zurich for the weekend.

...walking around town with my friends visiting from the States.

...seeing my teammates for dinner and drinks, laughing together, and just enjoying each other's company.

...having a great time with Pablo Picasso and Mark Chagall at the Kunsthaus.

...receiving poems.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Struggle of Being a Believer

Before starting to discuss this matter, I would like to make a premise. I am usually very reserved concerning religion. Those who know me well enough, know that I am a believer, but I rarely enter into a detailed discussion on the topic, because I don’t like to advertise my faith and I feel strongly against proselytizing, which I find extremely irritating. While I will give an answer when I am questioned about it, I firmly believe that religion and faith are private matters. I have friends and family members from the most diverse background, people who are believers of many different things, including the belief that God is only a man-made invention, and I am happy and grateful to have each and every one of them in my life.
The reason I decided to start this discussion here and now is because of the many questions I have received from various people on the matter of my faith; specifically, on what it means for me to be a believer and a catholic, and how I can continue to be so in these times. Please know that the opinions I am sharing here are strictly and simply my own: I do not make any representation that they are the absolute truth or are representative of those of other believers, other catholics, or someone else. Also, I hope that sharing my opinions won’t offend anyone, but if it does, please know that I am simply trying to answer the questions I have been asked throughout the last few months, and I chose this public space so I could answer once and for all. I am just making a good and honest effort, with no other intentions.
So what does faith mean to me? Saying that I believe in God would be an understatement. I feel God, everywhere. I see him everywhere. I talk to him, at different times and in different places. And he answers me, showing me the way, guiding my path. I am an intelligent human being who has been given the gift of free will and free choice, and because of this, I freely choose to put my life in the hands of God. I am not saying it’s always easy, because I struggle a lot with letting go, but I trust him. I pray - for myself, for my dear ones, for humanity. The things I pray the most for are health and wisdom, and that is all I need. I love to pray with people of different faiths, because I believe that the power of prayer is universal and transcends human labels.
I believe in Jesus and deeply respect him. He is an example for me, the type of person I aspire to be: he was someone who made everyone feel special and chosen, a very uncomfortable person who constantly put his life at the service of others, someone who set the powerful straight, and who raised the weak, the poor, the neglected, above all. Someone who never had a bad word for anyone, even those who spit on him, and never excluded anyone. He incarnated and represented the true spirit of a servant heart.  I don’t recall reading or hearing anywhere that he ever rejected anyone because of different color, belief, sexual orientation, origin, or ethnicity. I behave accordingly, and I believe that any other behavior that deviates from this standard is a man-made construction to control people.
I believe that the Bible is a great book full of common sense, and I believe it was written by people inspired by God. I believe it is comparable to a wonderful poem exalting the glory of God, and full of good advice on top of that – the same no-nonsense advice that my grandma would give me (everything in moderation, don’t harm other people, be kind, etc.). I enjoy reading it and meditating upon it, because it inspires me to be a better person. However, I don’t believe it is the absolute truth as it is written, and I don’t believe it necessarily needs to be taken literally. I believe the only absolute truth is what I will hear from God directly if I am ever lucky enough to see him face to face. Until then, I will try to be a good person and aspire to be Christ-like, in the specific ways that I elaborated earlier.
I am happy to be a catholic: it is who I am, links me to my ancestors, my family, and I enjoy being a part of this community of faith. I am also a very critical and angry catholic – I question my religion all the time, and I get really mad when I read things like the church having multi-million businesses, covering up abuses, dictating measures that go against public health and the well-being (physical and emotional) of people. I won’t even go into events of hundreds of years ago, like the crusades, Galileo, the inquisition, just to name a few (which also make me mad) – it is sufficient to open any daily newspaper to get mad. I also believe there are many examples of wonderful people who are/ were catholics and did great things for the advancement of their communities and the betterment of the world. My personal favorites? Mother Teresa, whom you all know, and my late uncle Peter, a hippy priest who used to drive a motorcycle in the jungle to go teach people to read and write.
I believe strongly in the rule of law, and believe that it is an absolute necessity that law and religion be separated at all times. The law of the land must never be influenced by religious feelings, but must objectively guarantee, protect, and preserve the rights of all those who are subject to it. I believe the church is made of men and women, not gods, but just like everyone else, they must be subject to the rule of law, and pay if they commit a crime. Always and unconditionally, just like everyone else. After that, I personally believe we should at least try and find compassion in our hearts to forgive, but let it be clear that forgiveness never, ever, means impunity.
I believe that religious people have a right, like everyone else, to voice their opinion. They do not, however, have the right to give the rest of the people the “holier than thou” attitude – we can discuss all we want and I will enjoy it, I will say my opinion and you will say yours, but please be respectful and don’t try to “convert” me. I will show you the same respect and won’t try to do it either. I believe this applies to anyone: a believer (of any kind) is never by default better than an unbeliever, and vice versa.
Finally, I personally believe in the “getting your hands-dirty” type of religion – cooking for the homeless, caring for the elders, comforting the sick. Not only I feel God’s presence in all those endeavors, but, by exposing my many faults and wants, they allow me to show the world what it means to live the faith and struggle to be a believer, a catholic, and strive to become a better person.
Showing by example, that is. I won’t say a single word about it, ever againJ.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Zurich at Four

Throughout the day, Zurich is a bustling city: at 6 in the morning, the colors and the flavors of the open market in Helvetiaplatz fill the air, along with the voices of vendors and passers-by who stop at every stall to pick up an apple, a freshly-baked croissant, or flowers. There are several Italian vendors, and among them my favorite cheese shop selling buffalo mozzarella and burrata.

At 8am, everyone is running to catch a tram or a train to get to work in suit and tie or fancy heels, or running in jeans to the gym to get a little exercise before starting a long work day. Bankers, consultants, construction workers, store owners, a diverse sample of humanity crosses each other's path in the city's paved streets.

At 11am, moms with their strollers and little old ladies walk about and head to the park or the grocery store, and the occasional student sprints with his bike and his iPod while challenging the traffic. People from office buildings pour outside with a coffee and a cigarette for a break.

Any given evening of the week, from about 5pm until later, people fill bars and cafes for a little apero before dinner, laughing and meeting new people, and just enjoying themselves. If the weather is pleasant, as this September has been, people will even sit outside and enjoy the last bits of summer that they can get, while the leaves on the trees start to turn yellow and fall down. Then, the dinner and post-dinner-drinks crowd replaces them and continues the party. One thing that amazed me ever since my first day in Zurich was that people go out every single night of the week, work or not. It seems to me that Zurchers enjoy life.

However, recently and unexpectedly, I discovered my favorite time of the day in Zurich. At 4 in the morning, when the air is crisp and the sky starts getting pink, in anticipation of the sunrise. When the streets are quiet, except for the occasional person cuddled up in her coat, eyes fixed on the ground, either coming home after a wild night, or leaving to start the day, and the smell of freshly baked bread coming from the bakeries, still closed but already alive, captures your senses every few steps.

The moment when you know you really should go home, because in a couple of hours you have to wake up, but instead you keep walking and enjoying the magic atmosphere, trying to ignore the passing of time, and artificially prolonging the night.

The moment when, between light and dark, you create everlasting memories.

The moment when, as I was told, you expect the unpredictable and allow your heart to listen to life's whispers.