In all this world, there is nothing more important than appreciating the preciousness of our human embodiment and doing all we can to increase health and happiness for ourselves and others - Tarthang Tulku

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Being Barely British in the City of Brotherly Love: A social experiment for the Ages



A difference in taste of jokes is a tremendous strain on the affections. - George Eliot

Do what you will, this world's a fiction and is made up of contradiction. - William Blake

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.- C. S. Lewis

I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. - Willy Wonka

We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist. - Queen Victoria


Today I was in a terribly English mood, the kind where nothing makes me feel better except drinking tea, listening to The Talking Heads, The Cure, and Herbert Howells, in that order. There are not too many Brits here in Philadelphia though I happened upon one the other night-- a yoga teacher from London. I mentioned to her that I too have English blood coursing through my veins, that my great grand father, Clare Collingwood, was from Sheffield, or so I've heard through the grapevine. I wanted to go on offering up my Sheffield trivia but she seemed bored in an " I'm from London" sort of way. In fact, I think she gave me that " You might possibly be completely out of your mind" face that some yoga teachers tend to give other yoga teachers when they're scoping each other out-- you know, the once over Yogasnobbery. Had she been a bit warmer I might have gone on to chat her up about Sheffield, nicknamed " the Steel city", also known as the greenest city in England with a reputed 2 million trees. I hear there are Peace Gardens in Sheffield, likewise Winter Gardens and Botanical Gardens. My heart pines for England more and more these days and so, perhaps this longing has manifested into channelling an English accent as some sort of armor in the fight of good over evil in this neck of the woods. Anyway didn't Madonna suddenly acquire an English accent a while back? I think its a survival instinct, really. And a lovely one, at that.

My frequent use of an English accent here in the City of Brotherly Love has been quite the fascinating social experiment, yielding the most interesting and hilarious results in my mission to raise the wonder higher, lift people's minds out of the gutter and to the hills, which are indeed still alive with the sound of music. As for London yogini, I think its best I kept my anecdotes about being barely British to myself. I do have a terrible habit these days of forgetting that cardinal rule of Public Relations: know your audience. Other times I think I just might as well say anything.



My instinct to use the English accent, which is a mix of Mary Poppins and Claire Bolderson from the BBC, was born out of my Old English soul's frustration with the comportment of young people today and peoples behavior in general, really. I feel my English blood gives me strength and comic relief in this kooky, spooky city. I didn't know my grandmother with the English blood too well but I know that she seems from her countenance in her pictures to be the kind of woman who had secrets and kept them well, a majestic and mysterious matriarch named Opal who knew that you always get more bees with honey and that the woman ultimately has the final say. Her nickname, in fact, was "Honey".


I do wonder how she would have handled herself in this scene I am about to describe.

One day when I was crossing a busy street called Broad Street, two teenage boys were walking beside me, cursing at each other, their pants sagging below their bums, their faces filled with anger and menacing looks to kill. I suddenly felt the perky and perfunctory Spirit of Mary Poppins come over me and asked myself, " What would Mary do?"

I felt my spine lengthen, I held my shoulders back and beamed a big smile in their direction with a nod of my head and simply said, " Good day". The one boy sort of smiled back and then shouted out to me, " Yo, Miss. Can I tell you something? I like your Teef. I wanna lick 'em". That's right, dear readers. He expressed to me that he wanted to lick my teeth.

" Good God, " I said, " You want to do what? Do you really say what I think you said? Is that what you tell the girls these days, that you want to lick their teeth? I do hope I'm hearing things."

At this point we had all reached the other side of the street and both young men stopped in their tracks with looks of bewilderment of their faces at my reply. They both started to stand up straighter, adjusting their clothes, pulling up their pants. Then, the one boy said to the other, " Yo, cuz. She's like a lady and shit. Wow. We're sorry Miss. I mean. Yo. We didn't know you was a lady, like. My bad. Where you from?"

" England. I'm from England. The United Kingdom. Across the pond. And where I'm from we don't often hear nice things about our teeth and so I thank you very much for the compliment. I wish you a pleasant day. Now, please do not go around saying such things to the ladies. It won't do you any amount of good, I assure you. "

They nodded politely." Yes, miss. Thank you. Have a good day."

I walked away amused by the absurdity of this strange inclination of mine, likewise at the magic and mystery of the power the English accent. It seems to act as a kind of wand to lift spirits and raise the level of interactions between human beings in this city, William Penn's "holy experiment". A Rasta man named Erwin once told me that the wood of the holly tree is what Merlin's wand was made of and I have often felt spiritually bolstered by that piece of lore. It should be noted that I do believe in elves and fairies and hobbits, for the record.

Today, I have England to thank yet again for protecting me from what could have been a rather compromising situation on the streets of Philadelphia. I was walking to take a look at an apartment in a neighborhood called Northern Liberties when two young men walked by me and one said, " Yo... you are so fucking HOT. Yo, lemmie get your number. Yo, sexy, got a boyfriend?" I ignored them, put my head down, repeated the Ganesha mantra in my head ( the happy Hindu elephant deity, remover of obstacles), continued walking as they continued barking obscenities at me in the distance. On my way back from seeing the apartment, I saw the same boys again who appeared to be lurking around the corner, waiting for me to reappear. They continued shouting at me at which point I became incensed and roared across the street in a voice, this time something like a cross between Angela Lansbury and Jennifer Saunders, " What IS the matter with you? Do you understand how obnoxious you are? It is heartbreaking and maddening and I don't understand what you think you're doing. Can we raise the wonder higher? For God's sake. Have you ANY decency whatsoever? "

The young lad froze in his tracks, his jaw dropped and he said, somewhat sheepishly, " I was just sayin', I like how you look."

I took a deep breath, " And I'm just saying that you are obnoxious and disrespectful and this is no way to speak to another human being."

He held his head down and then just looked at me with a look of wonder. I stared at him from across the street waiting for a response. He said, quite sincerely, as if he was surprising himself with the words, " I apologize. Really. I apologize."

I nodded impatiently, said thank you and continued on my way.

Now, if I had just used my regular speaking voice, I know it would have not had the same effect. I've been in this situation before and it does not command the same authority, for whatever reason. And if I had simply fired back like an angry Italian New Yorker, that would have probably increased my "hotness" factor for reasons I do not wish to understand or contemplate. I'm sick and tired of men objectifying women and women playing into that game in our ridiculous culture. I wish Maxim magazine would rot in hell, likewise all pornography. I wish people would look at real art instead and learn how to inspire themselves and cultivate imagination with their own bodies and spirits. I'm sick of men treating women like pieces of meat and vice versa. Mostly, I just have an aching in my heart for us to all, collectively return to our Divine nature and in that, realize that all of these detours away from Divinity are the source of our shared pain and suffering and insatiable hunger we refuse call a hunger for God. This sounds puritanical but it's not- its just a return to purity, to innocence, to wholeness, to love, to a rebirth of a global renaissance. Sort of like back to the Future, in real Time. Someone asked me to explain what I meant by that. I can't. I defer to Louis Armstrong who said, " There are some people that if they don't know, you can't tell 'em".

A return to innocence is real and possible even for the most wounded and twisted and temperamentally tortured among us. My friend, Interfaith Minister, Rev. Ken Metzner, feels differently. He thinks there is no such thing as spiritual innocence, really, but I am of a different mind and heart. Perhaps it's because I'm a woman or a Christian mystic that I have had this experience and a passion for sharing my circuitous route to discovering it with others. I believe we get do in fact get to start over again, that God gives us that chance to be his child again, to be reborn, redeemed, and experience ourselves as God's beloved again.


I was, however, born to believe in Faith, trust, and pixie dust, polka dots and moon beams and pockets full of miracles, so I do not expect everyone to pick up what I'm layin down. But I am, contrary to popular belief, also quite grounded to this Earth by the tracks of my tears, by my Mother, the ancestors, all of their pain, suffering, and sacrifices, and by my African soul which has led me to a deep river and an inner knowing that my Home is over Jordan. Balancing these polarities, a sacred English heart and a decidedly African soul has been part of the comedy of errors, the joy, sorrow and mystery of my spiritual climb, the agony and the ecstasy, as that goes. God has blessed me with a musical mind and a singing voice, I think to keep me company on the road and to remember that indeed it was from heavenly harmony that this Universal frame began. This Truth is all we need to remember, moving forward, rebuilding, healing, uplifting, and peacefully coexisting. We are One.

As for being barely British, well there's a club I've started -- so far there are three of us, me and my two barely British brothers, Mr. James Hillary and Mr. Michael Charles. Perhaps we should start a talk show: Barely British. We're all barely British enough to know that all we need is love, that a joke is a very serious thing and that alcohol, for better or worse, makes us much, much funnier and perhaps more pleasant to be around. This of course is why Saint Martin remains my patron Saint -- patron Saint of Alcoholics and generally a good one to have around if you've got the love of liquor in your gene pool.

Well, cheers then, dear readers. Hope you enjoyed these notes from the field. Perhaps me and my super friends will conduct some kind of sociology study and make a film about it. That would be somethin'.


Love serving Love.

There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion. - Winston Churchill

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, Holly, thanks for the chuckle! Its nice to see you are continuing to make such an impact on the City of Brotherly Love! We are, indeed lucky to have Holly walking on this earth! Love you:)

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