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After such success at combining Notre Dame’s medical ethics conference with a little adventuring of Rome, I decided to use the same logic when booking my flight to Madrid for the Bare Life & Moral Life Symposium hosted by Saint Louis University, University of Notre Dame, and Trinity University.

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Since I’ve been splitting time between my dissertation and medical school applications in recent weeks, my trip to Spain was admittedly less planned than it was for Italy.  Based on my very quick intro to these cities, I have to say my favor lies with Rome. Perhaps that just means I need to make return visits to collect more data though. 😉

The symposium in Madrid was different from the rest that I’ve been to because it was heavy on (theoretical) philosophy and lighter on bioethical cases. For all of my non-philosopher readers out there, the title comes from Italian philosopher Agamben and his work Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.  From the Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Agamben develops [“bare life”] from the Ancient Greek distinction between natural life—zoe—and a particular form of life—bios…Neither bios nor zoe, bare life… can be defined as “life exposed to death”…. (For more, see: http://www.iep.utm.edu/agamben/)

To say I was out of my league is to put it kindly. There were scholars of all types: not just proper philosophers, but also physicians, ethicists, and theologians with specialties in Judaism, Catholicism, and multiple Christian denominations. As such, I spent most of my time silently soaking in the presentation and Q&A session and saving my comments for the more informal but still very robust conversations (mostly related to care at the end of life) over coffee, lunch, and tapas.

Perhaps my background in engineering has made me very comfortable working in teams, but in comparison, the life of the academic can seem quite… lonely.   To my refreshing surprise, however, the symposium attendees in Madrid were about the most charitable, most welcoming academics I have ever met.  They were not only eager to explain some philosophical building blocks to which I hadn’t previously been exposed, but they were also interested in learning about my perspectives as a biomedical engineer / bioethicist / medical school applicant.

On the subject of Spain-adventuring, I must say that my short day trip to Toledo stole the show. Though this may surprise some of my readers, I must admit that I am not too fond of touring churches. I quite enjoy encountering different houses of worship, using them for what they were intended and not really just treating them as a tourist spectacle equivalent to the London Eye or Big Ben.  Nevertheless, since I was only in Toledo for a few hours and it didn’t coincide with the mass schedule, I paid my admission fee and accepted the audio guide that was included with the ticket. In short: SO worth it.

A segment of the ceiling
A segment of the ceiling

Beyond the cathedral, Toledo was just a beautiful city to wander—what you’d imagine if you thought of an old Spanish city: dusty cobbled stone paths, a fortress on the river, and intense summer heat. Here are a few pictures that might convey this better than words.

 

Adiós,

Andrea

Featured Image: taken within the Toledo Cathedral

Catholic Approaches to Bioethics – Discussion on June 22 at 3:30PM

A taste on what I am up to when I’m not working on my dissertation or off adventuring… 🙂

Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King's College, London

The “Religion & Bioethics” reading group is reconvening to discuss ‘Catholic Approaches to Bioethics’ on Monday June 22nd 330 pm – 5 pm (PLEASE NOTE UNUSUAL TIME), in room 3.1.1 East Wing, King’s Building, Strand Campus.

 Andrea Berkemeier (Bioethics & Society MA student) has kindly volunteered to share with us her knowledge of Catholic approaches toBioethics and will open the discussion. Take a look at Andrea’s blog here.

You can access the reading list here.

Hope to see many of you there! For inquiries, silvia.1.camporesi@kcl.ac.uk

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Dearest Darlingest Momsie and Popsicle

Although there hasn’t been any confusion over rooming at Shiz, and I haven’t yet seen Wicked in London[1], this week did bring a lot of excitement with thoughts of Momsie, Popsicle, and other family things. 

Last Sunday (March 15) was Mothers’ Day in the UK. After I finished my slight panic that I had somehow missed the whole month of April I learned that, although marketed quite similarly, this “Mothering Sunday” [2] is not associated with the US version of the holiday.  The priest at St Etheldreda’s Parish cleared this up during his homily and also connected this to the 21st C rendition of giving special thanks to our earthly mums as well as Mary, Mother of Jesus.

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St Etheldreda’s Parish, the oldest Roman Catholic church in London. Read more about it at: http://www.stetheldreda.com

We happened upon the Latin mass (far more common here in London than it is back home in the US) complete with choir and string quartet. Music included Eberlin’s Missa brevis in a, Palestrina’s Laudate Dominum, and (holiday appropriate) Johann Michael Haydn’s Ave Maria. As my mom likes to say, this is what I imagine heaven will sound like. 🙂

On Wednesday evening, after heading to Westminster Cathedral for daily mass, my cousin and I realized we were again celebrating a special feast– St Joseph’s Day.  Although this might make us sound like rather clueless Catholics, this was actually a vigil feast for St Joseph whose feast day is celebrated on March 19. We were again accompanied by beautiful music (this time organ + all male choir) and this time reflected on the gift of dads.

Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral

Although the mass ran longer than anticipated, we still had enough time to make the English Chamber Orchestra concert at Cadogen Hall (where I attended Joshua Bell’s performance this fall). This opened with Beethoven’s Leonora, featured an Italian soloist (Gloria Campaner) on Schumann’s piano concerto, and closed with Mendelssohn’s Scottish symphony. I don’t know that I’ve ever had such an excellent view of the stage– I could trace the musician’s eye contact and even follow the music on the last stand of cellists. Such a treat!

Following along with the last stand of cellists :)
Following along with the last stand of cellists 🙂

I also had a few good reminders of the significance of grandparents in recent weeks:

(a) Pope Francis’ address when I was in Rome: “We continue our reflection on grandparents, considering the value and importance of their role in the family. I do so by placing myself in their shoes, because I too belong to this age group. When I was in the Philippines, the Filipino people greeted me saying “Lolo Kiko” — meaning Grandpa Francis — “Lolo Kiko”, they said! The first important thing to stress: it is true that society tends to discard us, but the Lord definitely does not!… (Continue reading at the Vatican website.)

(b) The recent Social Science, Health, and Medicine seminar lecture on “Grandparenting in Europe and the Health Impacts of Caring for Grandchildren” presented by KCL’s Professor Karen Glaser (who coincidentally has ties to University of Michigan!)  There were a number of really interesting (and quite nuanced) findings discussed. ie: Caring for grandchildren on a ‘part-time’ basis (~15 hr / wk) has positive effects for grandparents’ health and well-being. The research has the potential to shape policy for work /retirement / compensation plans for the ever-growing older population. Since I’m looking at this with younger eyes, I’m curious to see if this could impact decisions around maternity / paternity leave as well as suggested work hours for working mums and dads. (Read more on the Grandparents Plus website.)

(c) Letter writing with my own grandparents. 🙂

The Valentine letter I received. Included an interesting WSJ article about med schools. :)
The Valentine letter I received. Included an interesting WSJ article about med schools. 🙂

Sometimes I’m pretty dense, so with just these occurrences this post may not have developed like this. But alas, I also saw Matilda, a special West End treat that I’ve been saving for viewing with my cousin Cecilia and her housemate Hailey.  (So glad the rush tickets worked out– we were the last few in queue to receive the special £5 student rate!!)

Cici & Hailey
Cici & Hailey

I hadn’t refreshed myself on Matilda’s plot since I watched the movie and read the book in grade school, but even if I would have, the theatre version deviates a bit from this. For example opening number “Miracle” features the soloists in the children’s Chorus each singing how “my mummy says I’m a miracle / my daddy says I’m a special little guy” regardless of whether they are acting sweet as angels or throwing tantrums at the moment.  This is juxtaposed with Matilda’s mother, shown at the hospital inquiring why she has become 9 months “fat” and whether or not it can be fixed before her dancing competition that evening. The doctor has the ‘joy’ (responsibility) of informing her of the situation:

DOCTOR
You’re nine months pregnant!

MRS WORMWOOD
Antibiotics, or . . . Oh, my good Lord! What about the Bi-Annual International Amateur Salsa and Ballroom Dancing Championships?

DOCTOR
A baby, Mrs Wormwood. A child. The most precious gift the natural world can bestow upon us has been handed to you. A brand new human being! A life. A person. A wonderful new person is about to come into your life to bring love, and magic, and happiness, and wonder!

MRS WORMWOOD
Oh, bloody hell!

DOCTOR
Every life I bring into this world
Restores my faith in human kind.

Each newborn life a canvas yet unpainted,
This still, unbroken skin,
This uncorrupted mind.

Ev-er-y life is unbelievably unlikely.
The chances of existence almost infinitely small.

The most common thing in life is life . . .

And yet every single life,
Every new life
Is a miracle!
Miracle!

MRS WORMWOOD
This is the worst day of my life! [3]

The audience watched with wide-eyed silence. No nervous or obligatory laughter. In fact, the applause at the end of the scene (where Matilda first enters to sing that her parents say she is “a lousy little worm”, “a bore”, “a good case for population control”…) was even a little hesitant as if the mums & dads were questioning whether or not it was a good idea to bring their little tykes to the theatre.

One might argue that this is theatre at it’s best! Inviting the audience into the world on stage!

Perhaps. But it would also make an good topic for a Bioethics lecture or dissertation: how are topics relevant in bioethics (ie: reproduction, pregnancy, child-birth) represented in popular culture or fictional literature? How do these representations impact our understanding of bioethics in ‘real life’? Some suggest that the provide us with warnings (ie: when I mentioned the Island when thinking about Maternal Spindle Transfer.) But we also hear suggestions that we are rather un-impacted by these sources: ‘those are clearly science fiction’ or ‘creating a Gattaca-esque world is not on our radar’, etc.  I already have my final papers in motion for the rest of the year, but this might fuel some free-time reading.

ASB

PS: In Christian traditions, today is Palm Sunday– the beginning of Holy Week, the holiest time in the Church calendar. It’s admittedly an odd thought that I’ll be apart from my family during this time, but celebrating in London presents a unique opportunity beginning with sung mass this evening at St Mary’s in Chelsea. Furthermore, I feel incredibly blessed to be welcoming my boyfriend Ben Brelje to London on Maundy Thursday and then greeting my sister Gretchen and dear friend Joan Campau right after the Octave of Easter is finished.  Very much looking forward to playing hostess, but this also means that I’ll be taking a break from writing for a bit. To keep the blog going in the mean time, I’ll try to prep some exclusively picture posts from earlier adventures that I haven’t been able to publish yet.  So as Grandma Berkemeier taught us, to be continued… xx

Footnotes:

[1] One of my favorite musicals!  But since I’ve seen it before in the States, it isn’t as high on my list as other performances.

[2] If you’re unfamiliar with this 4th Sunday of Lent holiday like I was, you can read a quick history on Wikipedia.

[3] I removed some parts of the script for reading purposes. Feel free to check out the whole thing HERE.

Featured Image: Stumbled upon Geraldine Street on a chilly walk back from Vauxhall. This is a toast to the lovely Geraldines in my life: Grandma (Geri) Gaydos as well as the coolest kid sister (Gigi) anyone could ask for. 🙂 Love you both!

Roma, Italia

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a medical ethics conference hosted by University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture at their Rome campus. As you may recall, this is the second year that I have been able to attend this medical ethics conference.  I had a bit of deja vu returning to the conference that helped fuel my desire to study bioethics, and more broadly, healthcare from the perspective of the humanities. To be fair though, this had a much different feel since we were just a block away from the Colosseum. 😉

I was impressed with how far I have progressed in my understanding of medical ethics in a year’s time.  Don’t misunderstand this as me thinking I’ve got it all figured out. Far from it! But I much better understood the language of this field and have become a bit more comfortable making bioethical arguments.  I guess my studying is paying off. 😉

I could write a book about what I have taken away from the conference discussions and then fill a few other volumes about tasting delicious Italian food… (click for enlargements + captions)

 

 

…strolling through beautiful museums, piazzas, and villas…

 

…standing in awe as a pilgrim in Rome (and Vatican City)…

 

…but I might have to drop out of my master’s program in order to make time for that. Instead, I present to you a snapshot at the intersection: is spirituality relevant to healthcare, medicine, and the understanding of bioethics?

This sends me back a few weeks ago when I was invited to speak to KCL’s Life Society about palliative care. From their website:

“We exist because universities are important spaces for the exploration of ideas and opinions, and it is important that the Pro-Life voice is heard on campus. Our message is a positive one, it is not about shaming or blaming, it is about discovering the beauty of human life, and protecting it.”

To be honest with you, I was pretty freaked out: why are you asking me?  How am I qualified to speak? To which the student in Life Society replied rather straightfowardly: You study bioethics right?  And you’re going into medicine? Seems like you would have a better idea about the topic than any of us!

It is amazing how much you can learn when you have to ‘teach’. I didn’t just want to speak on my own authority since, despite her encouragement, I honestly didn’t think I had much authority at all. In search of good reference material, I consulted a voice for whom I have profound respect, Ed Pellegrino, whose name I was introduced to little better than a year ago and whose literature continues to be a source of guidance in my study of bioethics.

Though I wouldn’t do justice to ‘summing up’ Pellegrino’s philosophy in a blog post, a central aspect is that:

Cure may be futile, but care is never futile.

The optimal end of healing is the good of the whole person– physical, emotional, and spiritual. The physician, manifestly, is no expert in every dimension. He or she, however, should be alert to the patient’s needs in each sphere, do what is within his or her capabilities and work with others in the health care team to come as close as clinical reality permits to meeting the several levels contained in the idea of the good of the patient. [1]

Considering the fact that a patient’s physical condition often provides the trigger to visit a doctor, it follows naturally that doctors have a reputation of focusing on the physical aspects health. Sometimes they are so focused though, that the patients’ emotional and spiritual needs are forsaken.  Although this applies to all aspects of medicine, I think it is particularly relevant to healthcare at the end-of-life which provided a good framework for my talk with the Life Society. It was also helpful for the conference last week where the keynote lecture was about international perspectives on the euthanasia debate… AND this week’s topic in my Case Studies module: “Ethics at the end of life– the biopolitics of dying.”

This post would get out of control if I tried to summarize all of the points relevant to this topic, so instead I’ll leave you with some important questions that I’ve been mulling over:

  • Does care change when cure is futile? Should it change? How so?
  • Aquinas’ Doctrine of Double Effect is often cited as a reason to prohibit euthanasia. Is there really a difference between [a] giving medication to a person that is intended to give them comfort but has a foreseeable outcome of shortening his life and [b] giving medication that has the intended effect of shortening his life? If there is a difference, how should this inform our ethics and legality of end of life care?
  • Conversations about emotional components of health (and even more frequently, spiritual components of health) are often omitted from clinical encounters. How does this effect patients’ care?  Should physicians be responsible for providing this care? If yes, in what capacity? If no, who (which member of the health care team) would better be able to provide this care?

Until next time,

A

[1] If you have access to a university library or other collection of journal articles, I highly recommend reading this full article! –> Pellegrino, E. (2001). The Internal Morality of Clinical Medicine: A Paradigm for the Ethics of the Helping and Healing Professions. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 26(6), pp.559-579.

Featured image: St Peter’s by night

Pre-Vote News: “Mitochondrial Donation: Is it safe? Is it ethical?”

Last night I had the amazing privilege to attend a debate in the Houses of Parliament regarding today’s vote about whether or not to amend their 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA). The debate was hosted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET), an independent organization that “urge(s) you to vote in favour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015.”

I’m rushing this post to press, so please forgive the lack-luster writing quality– I thought you might enjoy an update while the news is fresh. My understanding of biology is helpful, but please understand that I am no expert on this.  All information provided is correct to the best of my knowledge– but if you see some errors, please let me know!

What is mitochondrial disease?

Most info in this section can be double checked on Wikipedia.

  • A set of diseases caused by faulty mitochondria, the “powerhouse” organelle in the body responsible cellular metabolism– converting the food we eat into energy that is usable by our body (ATP — adenosine triphosphate)
  • Symptoms: mostly effects organs that need a lot of energy such as brain (seizures, demintia); heart (cardiomyopathy “heart muscle disease”); muscles (weakness, cramping); ears / eyes / nerves (deafness, blindness, neuropathic pain)
  • Although in 5th grade we learned that all our DNA is stored in chromosomes in the nucleus of our cells that we received from our parents — half from Mom (egg), half from Dad (sperm)– this is only mostly true. It’s more like 49% from Dad (stored in the sperm’s chromosomes) and 51% from Mom (49% stored in the egg’s chromosomes, 2% stored in the egg’s mitochondria). This 2% is exclusively passed through the maternal line. (eg: George’s mitochondrial DNA came from his mom, which came from her mom, which came from her mom… George’s wife will pass on mitochondrial DNA to their children.)
  • While 85% of these mitochondrial diseases are caused by genetic mutations in chromosomal DNA, ~15% of mitochondrial diseases are caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA. This subset of mitochondrial diseases is where we focus our attention.

What is mitochondrial donation?

“A type of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that involves conceiving a child using biological material from three people — the child’s parents, plus a mitochondrial donor” (PET briefing).

You may have heard about this in the media as a “3 parent” embryo.  a somewhat misleading description since parents are not just defined by genetic relations. (Think about parents of adopted children.)  Even if emphasize the importance of genetic lineage, the embryo would only receive ~2% of its DNA from the “3rd parent” (the woman who donates mitochondrial DNA). Remember: 98% of the DNA is from the chromosomes of the egg & sperm.

The HFEA is proposing two specific techniques:

1. maternal spindle transfer (MST)

Mitochondria from a donor egg is transferred to the Mom’s egg. The Mom’s egg (now containing healthy mitochondrial DNA from the donor) is then fertilized with Dad’s sperm using IVF techniques.

2. pronuclear transfer (PNT)

Mom’s egg is fertilized with Dad’s sperm using IVF. A donor embryo is formed using donor egg and potentially (though not necessarily) donor sperm. The healthy mitochondrial DNA from the donor embryo is transferred to the embryo formed from the Mom’s egg and the Dad’s sperm. This technique results in the death of the donor embryo, the ethics of which are briefly outlined below.

See the HFEA’s website for more info on these two techniques.

What are the main ethical considerations?

Lots of things to consider! But for time sake (I have to run to class!) I’ll talk about two:

1. Is mitochondrial transfer safe?

Again, this is contested. Based on the debate yesterday, my understanding is that these techniques have been researched for 30+ years. The majority of this time has been spent with animal research, but the last 5 years have used human embryos. The results are promising, but we wouldn’t understand the effects until it is tested in humans.

This technique is unique in the fact that it changes the germ line. It is very difficult to predict the social and biological harms / benefits of this type of alteration. There have been a few experiments in humans that use similar techniques, (US — late 1990s, China — 2003) but the results have either been unsuccessful or indeterminate.

Note: In the US, the FDA has NOT yet approved mitochondrial donation for clinical trials. This takes for-eh-ver, so even if / when this advances to the stage of clinical trials, it will be a long time before it is available to the general public.

2. What is the moral status of an embryo?

A highly contested question. According to UK parliament (2002) the embryo has some non-negligible moral value that is less than the moral value of person after birth. This matches their policy that permits the use of IVF to select against severe genetic disease and states that embryos may be used for research purposes only when they are ≤ 14 days (“early embryos”).

One of the strongest voices on the other side of the fence is the Catholic Church, which states that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (2270). Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church does encourage “research aimed at reducing human sterility” (2375). However, it opposes “techniques involving only the married couple… that dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act” (2377 — eg: artificial insemination / fertilization) and strongly opposes “techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple” (2376).  This understanding matches the Catholic teaching that sympathizes with infertile couples but maintains that a child is gift– there is no “right to a child” (2379).  As such, the Catholic Church does not support the proposed changes– especially PNT which creates and destroys the donor embryo, a means to the end of creating a healthy embryo.

The vote will take place this afternoon (London time) so stay tuned to the news!  Based on the views exchanged at the debate yesterday and the fact that IVF is permitted in the UK with costs covered under the National Health Service, I’m betting that this proposal will pass at least in part– definitely for MST, but perhaps not for PNT because of the ethical reasons explained above.

And if you made it through that whole post, here are some photos for your enjoyment.

Testing 1-2, Testing 1-2-3

Hello from London again, folks!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so this first post back will be kind of a summary of the last few weeks. Despite my radio silence, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs.  My visit back home was wonderful and also quite packed.  Highlights included (mostly in chronological order):

 

Getting a surprise pickup from the airport from my brother Franz. My luggage was delayed which caused a bit of a ruffle in my plans for getting back to Michigan that night, but we made the most of it– espresso nap at Franz’s apartment and then a quick costume change before I accompanied him to a work Christmas party.

 

Receiving a ‘Welcome home!’ from my Grandma Berkemeier, who passed away (shortly after this cherished hug) on December 22.  Although our hearts were sad to see her go, we were filled with peace knowing that she was able to celebrate Christmas with Grandpa Berkemeier (who passed away when I was in 6th grade).  ‘Give us a reason to celebrate, and we’ll celebrate!’ she used to say.  So celebrate we did.  St Mary’s Star of the Sea was still beautifully decorated for Christmas and though it is the largest (by space) Catholic church in Jackson, I dare say we did a good job of filling the pews and the air with her favorite pieces of music.  Oh… and there was butter pecan ice-cream at the luncheon. 😉

Grandma Berkemeier
Top left: pictures of my grandparents. Bottom left: Grandma’s casket with a cross carved by my cousin Justin and a bouquet of rose. 79 to be exact: 9 children (red), 42 grandkids (pink), and 30 great grandchildren (white). Right: From her funeral at St Mary Star of the Sea, Jackson, MI. [Funeral photos courtesy of my cousin, Liz Calhoun.]

Swinging by A2 for a quick visit with some amazing friends.  I was also invited to sit on the other side of the RMJ interviewing table.  This was a revitalizing experience that reminded me of the intentions of the fellowship, the goals that I began making when I embarked on this journey not too many months ago, the progress I’ve made since then, and the many moons I have to still cover.  Congratulations to the 2015-16 fellow, Allison McDonald!  You will all be in for a treat in following her adventure next year.

 

Cheering loudly for my sister Gretchen as she received her Master’s diploma in Clean and Renewable Energy from the University of Dayton.  You go girl! Such a role model for me!!

20141220_113159
Gretch with some proud parents 🙂

 

Spreading some Christmas cheer with good ole’ caroling. Of the 20 or so friends and family that participated in the shenanigans this year, I believe Joan Campau won the “longest journey” competition: home from Panama, where she has been serving in the Peace Corps since Feb 2013.  Such a treat to see her in person!

 

Hosting Christmas festivities at our home this year.  We managed to prepare an Americanized wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve dinner) with the favorite dishes including pierogi (dumplings stuffed with potato, cheese, etc that are then boiled & fried) and barszcz czerwony (beet soup).  Attempting to pack 15 of us around the dining room table produced a scene fit for television.  Despite the chaos that inevitable comes with having the house brimming with people, it was so wonderful to be surrounded by the people I love.  Slumber partying on the living room floor also brought back fond memories of scheming with my older siblings to stay awake until Santa arrived.

20141225_193030
Watch your elbows! That might be someone’s face you are hitting…

 

Ringing in the new year with my boyfriend Ben Brelje (UM Aero Engr — BSE ’13, MSE ’14) and his family. Such wonderful people!  And especially generous in giving me study time to prep for exams…a and b nye

 

(The less than exciting part)

Exams were waiting to greet me <48 hours after I arrived back in London.  As if jet-lag wasn’t enough to combat, King’s College London has an exam system that is about as foreign to me as any of the experiences that I have yet had over here.  I’ve grown used to the UM Engineering (honor code) un-proctored exams so to be circled by people with INVIGILATOR stamped on their brightly colored vest was… well, different. It was also a bit nerve-racking because the exam took place at a convention center that was 50 minutes away from campus.  (Not too bad of a commute, considering how large London is.)  Furthermore, we took the exam with students that had exam lengths that were of different lengths than ours.  Imagine trying to concentrate in a foreign environment when you jump with the sound of the loudspeaker:

One hour has now passed. Those students taking one hour exams must now stop. You are reminded that continuing to write after the exam has finished is a violation of….

And then after 1.5 hours… and 2 hours. FUN.

Oh well. Not worth being anxious about a situation that can’t be changed.  I just chock that up to experience.  Though entering a new discipline has been challenging in more ways than one, I have learned so much.   I look forward to continuing to learn in my remaining months as the RMJ fellow, not only via structured lectures but also through kitchen chats with my flatmates.

Here’s to many more exciting adventures in 2015! xx (<– One of the British ways of signing off that I’ve adopted. Kissing is more ‘proper’ than hugging I guess haha.)

[Featured image: A winter sunset from Waterloo bridge. No photo editing, folks. I’m not pretending that London skies are always this clear, but when I can see the sun, it has a tendency to take my breath away.]

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Hello from Michigan!  Classes are finished for the 1st term, and I am fortunate enough to spend the next few weeks with family and friends in the Midwest.  As you may have noticed with the post dates, I’m a bit behind on writing… Alas, there are only 24 hours in a day, but as I have been often reminded: write now, cherish the gift of memories forever.

Since we are less than 1 week away from Christmas (!) I’ve bumped this post a bit higher on my priority list. Over the last few weeks (or really months, since Londoners don’t have Thanksgiving to delay the anticipation for Christmas) I’ve been soaking up the spirit that warms a cold chapel during a candlelit Advent caroling service… that shimmers in lights adorning Christmas trees in city squares… that radiates from a mug of mulled wine or tin of minced pie.

Advent Scenes
(10:30) Covent Garden, (12:00) Banner advertising candelit advent carol service at Guy’s Campus with mince pies afterward!, (1:30) Admiring the ceiling of Westminster Abbey before the carol service began. This is the one photo I managed to snap before my neighbor was chastised for doing the very same thing. Oops. :/ (3:00) Outdoor 30′ tree in Covent Garden, (4:30) Near Hyde Park, (7:30) Proper Coffee! Served at the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, (9:00) ~30′ paper Christmas tree near the Southbank Center, (Center) Nativity at KCL Guy’s Chapel

 

 

It is truly something to behold, and while I think I’ve done a good job of participating in and appreciating the Wonder, I guess it blends into the scenery after a while?  Driving away from O’Hare with “Season Greetings” written in lights on the Blue Line train traveling next to us, traveling into a (comparatively) unlit city center was a bit… odd.

I’m not saying London is some holy land– it works the commercial end of the holiday season just as much, if not more than the average American city– but this Advent season makes it quite clear that the UK countries are officially Christian (England = Anglican) while the US does not have a state religion.  Interested in whether or not this was representative of the citizens in those countries, I did a quick census consult. Fun fact:  59% of UK citizens and 76% of Americans self-identify with a Christian religion.  Hmm.

Oxford Street Christmas Retail

 

Monty the Penguin

This incongruity doesn’t just have an effect on December festivities, though. It also shows up in the bioethics classroom.  Take for instance organ donation, a topic I considered for one of my papers this month.  Views on organ donation vary quite a bit between different religious (or ethnic) groups ranging from a “commanded obligation” to donate to (essentially) an obligation not to donate. (See UNOS Theological Perspectives for more info.)  Should these religious views be taken into consideration in determining bioethical practices?  This is up for hot debate among bioethicists and my interest in the intersection of philosophy, theology, and healthcare has placed me smack in the middle of this debate.  Though I think I’ve derailed the post enough, this topic will certainly be returning in future months. 🙂

Until then, Merry Christmas & to be continued…

(Featured Image: One of many Christmas trees & ice skating rinks in London– this one happens to be right next to my KCL Strand campus!)

It’s always darkest before the dawn

Although TimeAndDate.com has been reporting 4 something sunsets, London’s cloud coverage writes it’s own rules.  I thought Michigan had trained me well for dark winters, but it’s a bit unsettling when daytime and lunchtime are almost synonymous… in November.  As much as I find myself wishing for more sunlight, the darkness has created a most adequate backdrop for the festivities that have been taking place over the last two weeks.  Since these Oct-Nov festivities are quite different here than they are in the States, I thought I’d share some brief perspectives:

 

31 October – Halloween

  • Not as big of a celebration over here. Very optional participation.
  • Costumes = frightening & gory.  Lots of face paint: white faces with dark, sunken-in eyes and blood-red accents.
  • I celebrated Halloween at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Fire Festival.  Turns out this is not really a Halloween celebration at all– more like a pre-game for Guy Fawkes and Armistice Day.  No Monster Mash or Thriller, but a nice jazz rendition of Katy Perry’s Firework seemed oddly fitting.
  • Perhaps this is an effect of large cities and smaller personal bubbles, but the fireworks were shot off much closer to the crowd than would happen at a public event back home.  I’d bet that the people up front had to comb a good bit of debris out of their hair.

1 November – All Saint’s Day

  • Typically a holy day of obligation within the Catholic Church, since Nov 1 fell on a Saturday festivities were lumped in with the Sunday mass on Nov 2.

2 November – All Soul’s Day

  • …and since All Saint’s Day was pushed back, so was All Soul’s Day.
  • From KCL’s Chaplaincy: “On Monday 3 November at 18.15 we will be having a Requiem in a Time of Remembrance. This will be a choral (Anglican) Eucharist at which the choir will be singing a Mass setting by Victoria. It is an opportunity to remember friends and family who have died and we will be reading their names out during the service. If you would like someone’s name to be read out there will be lists in the Chapel for you to write names on.”
  • This service was of special significance because of the sudden loss of a KCL’s renowned choir director, David Trendell, the week before.  Choir alum joined the regular choir doubling its normal membership for that evening.  A truly remarkable service.

5 November – Guy Fawkes’ Night

  • Remember, remember the 5th of November…
  • It’s kind of crazy walking past main landmarks in V for Vendetta.
  • aka: “Bonfire night” — I didn’t go to any bonfires, but there were lots of firework shows throughout the city on the 5th, 6th, 7th…

11 November – Armistice Day

  • Between the poppy display at the Tower of London and the Poppy Appeal that has been going strong for the last few weeks, this feels more like a season than a 24 hour holiday.
  • The Sunday closest to November 11 (this year– Sunday, November 9) is called Remembrance Sunday.  I was out of London for this weekend, but I was told that there are some very proper services.  At the church service I was attending in Cornwall, there was a moment of silence at 11am followed by special prayers for veterans.

Many thanks to all veterans (with a special shout out to my dad!)  for the sacrifices you have made in serving our country.

God save… me? (Sung to the tune of America)

This weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a retreat organized by the KCL Chaplaincy team.  The retreat was just a short train ride from Central London at Cumberland Lodge.  (Click here to read more about the Lodge and it’s educational mission.) The beautiful royal grounds (and surrounding Windsor Park) presented an unique backdrop for the retreat’s theme: “Awareness: Meeting God in the Everyday”.  Fun fact: it also served as a nice backdrop for the King’s Speech. The captions in the following pictures tell a bit more of the story.

Click to enlarge and view the full caption.

On the continued topic of interfaith dialogue, I’ll note that KCL is affiliated with the Church of England, and thus members of the Chaplaincy team are Anglican.  As far as I know, Christianity was a common language for all the participants, but the participants’ specific faith traditions varied (many Anglicans, a few Catholics, and at least one Baptist.)  So often we focus on our differences OR overcompensate and create a homogeneous bunch devoid of the flavor by which we are defined.  This weekend seemed to defy that status quo, which is quite in line with the mission of Cumberland Lodge’s mission.

A good example of this was receiving an invitation to attend Sunday morning (Anglican) church service at the Royal Chapel. The invitation to join worship was not contingent on you being Anglican or even Christian* for that matter. The only rules / requirements were:

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Why these rules? For one thing, this establishes a certain request for respect.  When encountering a faith, culture, or even just idea that is different from what you are used to, it is worth refreshing all participants on Michigan’s catch-phrase: “Expect Respect. Give it, get it.”  Furthermore, since the Queen was at Windsor Castle that weekend, there was a good chance that she would be at the church service on Sunday morning. Thus, when we received our clearance pass, we also were given a basic tutorial in the proper interactions with the Royal Family (curtsy, bow, Your Majesty, Duch, Duchess… )

Since the Lodge staff misspelled Berkemeier, (surprisingly not an issue with the 4 E’s this time, but rather with the I) I had to request a 2nd chapel pass since part of the Security check involvedverifying that you had an ID… which matched your pass… which matched the name on the list of attendees provided to Security by the Lodge.  It wasn’t until I was a few yards away from the gate that I realized my second pass also had a misspelling, this time with my first name:

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Too late to do anything about it now!

Andrea: Good morning! (Enthusiasm trying to mask the slight fear of being turned away because of clerical errors…)

Security Guard: (Steps back a bit) Goodness, you sure are chipper this morning!  What are you, American?

Sheesh, just when you think you have stopped sticking out as a foreigner…  Well, if enthusiasm and happiness are the new stereotypes for Americans, I suppose I’m ok with that.

If he noticed the misspelling, he didn’t lead on, and I was soon on the Royal side of the gate.  Another ~1/3 mile walk later, I was at the Chapel.  Upon entrance, I was given 2 worship aids: 1 for the general words used, and 1 with the specific readings of the day.  Although the chapel was rather small, every seat was filled.  I was in the 3rd row on the right side with pillars to my left and a draped area in front: in the theatre, they might consider this restricted viewing.

In “good student mode” I previewed the worship aids and quickly noticed a few things:

  • There were three options for each segment: (1) very formal speech with ~2 paragraphs of thee-s, thou-s, brethren-s, and beseech-ing for each passage, (2) still formal, but less flourishing speech lasting only 1 paragraph for each passage, and (3) direct 21st C language, only 1-2 lines long for each response.
  • There were cues for singing different passages… but no music was given.
  • The service opened up with their national anthem: God Save the Queen.

Since I didn’t know the words or the tune of their national anthem, I was a bit sad that the words were not provided in either worship aid.  Leaning over to a fellow retreatant next to me, I whispered:

Andrea: I’m going to be following your lead on this God Saving the Queen opener… I don’t actually know the words.

J: Ohhhh… that might not be a good idea. I’m not really confident in them either!

“But you’re British?!” almost slipped from my lips, but having just been singled out for being a stereotypical American, I thought it would be rather uncharitable** of me to direct nationality-assumptions on J. Within a few minutes, I had found the words in the Book of Common Prayer located in our pew.  As the congregation stood to sing, I was quite relieve to find that I did in fact know the tune: America, or My Country ‘Tis of Thee!

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

The whole idea of a monarchy is so foreign to me, so in some ways, I found these lyrics to be quite jarring.  If the Queen is present, would she sing: “God sa-a-ave me-e-e, Long li-i-ive me-e-e” ??? Since the Queen was no where in sight, I can’t confirm the answer based on lip-reading, though I’ve been told she just refrains from singing altogether.

Even though the language was rather archaic English (minister elected for the 1st version of the service–full of thees and thous) I found the experience to be simultaneously comfortable (the Gospel passage was the same as it was for Catholic mass that week) and novel (there was no 2nd reading, almost everything was sung but no music was provided) which created a unique worship environment.  Contemplating all these thoughts as I left the chapel after service, I almost missed the fact that Her Majesty was walking in front of me!

:O    <– what I would have looked like if my insides were speaking

Her physical attributes are just as they appear on television complete with matching coat and hat. But if I were to describe her aura, I suppose I would liken her to Mary Sue: she displays a warm smile and manages to make deliberate individualized eye contact.  Gives a certain understanding to “the Monarch of the People”. I managed a polite head nod and kept walk so as not to create a traffic jam in front of the chapel.

So… I suppose I can add that to my two truths (and a lie): I’ve been to church with the Queen of England.  😉

* The perceptive reader might challenge that claim by referencing back to my “Christianity was a common language”.  True, but the invitation was given not only to members of our faith based retreat, but also to the University College London students who were at the Lodge for a Physics / Astronomy Society retreat of some sort.

**I’m currently reading CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity and realized this probably scored me some points among my Anglican friends. 🙂  All jokes aside, it is a great read and particularly interesting when considering the content within its historical context: a collection of radio talks given by a non-theologian, during WWII.  Unless you are Joan Campau (one of my close, very eloquent friends), “uncharitable” is probably neither heard nor employed in your day to day life.  CS Lewis gives a thought-provoking explanation in this segment regarding the difference between the virtues of chastity (absolutely, objectively defined) and propriety (defined in relation to era and place): “When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity.  But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners.  When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable.”

*** Correct you are– this doesn’t lead back to *** within the text! I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. 🙂 Remember the draped section in front of the pews on the right hand side that I mentioned? That’s where the Queen sits during service.  She also has a separate side door for entering and exiting the chapel, hence the reason why I didn’t see her until the end.

Featured Image: One of my favorite of the many pieces of art that were hung throughout the Lodge. (#76, I’m not sure who the artist was.)

Let there be light!

This week’s M&M (Mass & a Museum) Sunday routine was spent in Kensington at the Science Museum and Our Lady of Mount Caramel.  I say routine, but life in London is always full of surprises.  On this particular morning, my walk to the tube station crossed paths with a herd of half-marathon runners.

 

Other than the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum was the only thing on the “Exceptional” / “Worth a Journey” list on my trusty street map that I hadn’t yet visited.  There were enough bio-exhibits to keep me satiated, but in general this wasn’t one of my favorite museums.  (Perhaps my expectations were too high? Or perhaps, with such gems as the Imperial War Museum or the British Museum, my standards have shifted to be quite high?)

 

The one objective bonus of this visit was the other museum-goers: apparently Sunday morning is the prime time for parents with children 4 years old and younger to venture out.  Many a buggy (stroller) to be found.  Though I’ve grown rather accustomed to the British accent, there is something absolutely adorable about it’s utterance in a child’s voice. To get the full effect, you must put on your best English accent whilst reenacting this scene:

 

Boy 1: Mummy! (tugs at the neckline of a darling little sweater) I’m warm, Mummy!

(Mom proceeds to help Boy 1 take off his sweater, take off his shirt, remove his teeny-tiny undershirt, and get dressed again.)

Mom: John (presumably the father) can you check with Henry? He also might be a bit warm.

(Henry, the younger brother who couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, trots around the nearby exhibits.  He darts behind a tower of old VWs and, out of direct eye sight from either parent, attempts to get into the passenger’s door of the lowest one. Meanwhile, John lengthen his stride to catch up to the swift toddler, soon discovering Henry’s situation.)

Dad: Henry!  Come out from there! (The space between the Tower of Cars and the wall surely would not have fit a full sized person. John’s voice becomes a bit more stern.) Henry. Come out. Now. No, do not touch the car.  Henry! No, you cannot get in the car… (John continues to rationalize with Henry until the boy surfaces again to the open air…)

 

Perhaps this doesn’t appear to be so humorous to the general populous, but for me, it brought back a flood of memories of growing up with my younger brother, Henry.  At 6’5″, he is now considerably taller than the British Henry that I had the pleasure of encountering this week, but he (17 years old) and my lil sister Geraldine (15 years old) bring just as many smiles to my face.  Special shout out to H & G, who will be heading to the State Championship matches this week for high school Varsity Tennis and Golf, respectively.  I’ll be cheering you on from London!

Just before I headed to Our Lady of Mount Caramel, I received a message from my friend, AB: “They’re celebrating Diwali in Trafalgar Square today!” Goodness, and just when you think you’ve made it through the “Exceptional” / “Worth a Journey” list!… 😉

I made it to Trafalgar Square around 2pm, just in time for the public dance performances. Nothing like a good bit of Indian dance music (including Bollywood favorites like “Jai Ho!”) to put a little swivvle in your hips.  Since the music and dancing could be heard from all parts of the Square, I was able to check out the side booths, quickly joining the queue for a free sari.  That’s right folks: they had piles of folded saris (~6 meters of beautiful cloth– it’s all in the way it it tied on you) that they were dressing people in FOR FREE.  The queue looked rather short, but since it takes a non-negligible amount of time to tie a sari, this translated into ~40 minutes.  I passed the time by reading one of the few physical (not digital) books for class.  This one was about Cosmopolitanism, which (as Wikipedia succinctly defines) is a philosophy “that all human ethnic groups belong to a single community”.

 

Considering the circumstances, I couldn’t have chosen a better reading topic.  Here were a few of my main observations.  (Before I get myself into stereotyping situations, I’ll preface this by saying that my understanding of Indian culture is mostly shaped by my travels there in 2013 with the University of Michigan Society of Women Engineers.)

  • Diwali is the Hindu festival of light  that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Like other religious feasts such as Passover (Judaism), Easter (Christianity), and Ramadaan (Islam) the specific date depends on various lunar calendars instead of our traditional 12 month Gregorian calendar.  This year, Diwali falls on October 23, but London got a jump start with their October 12 festival.  (I liken this to having a Christmas parade in early December.)  When I glanced at the announcements from Our Lady of Mount Caramel, I was admittedly a bit amazed when I saw the main article was about celebrating light.  Upon further reading, I realized that they weren’t actually advertising the celebration on Trafalgar Square– rather, remembering the other-worldly solar activity (now referred to in Catholic tradition as the Miracle of the Sun & apparition of Our Lady ) at Fatima in Portugal October 13, 1917.  Though the overlap of events probably wasn’t intentionally constructed interfaith dialogue, it provided an excellent bridge for understanding.
  • India is a fascinatingly diverse country with a cultural color palette that is very different from what I’ve grown accustomed to in the US.  My interest in Indian culture began when my older sister Gretchen spent a 11 weeks working as an engineering intern in Chenai, and incidentally, wore a sari every day.  When she returned home, we attempted to resurrect our childhood days of playing dress up, but despite Gretchen’s best efforts I never managed to successfully make the sari look presentable.  Even when I traveled to India with SWE, the pants, long top, scarf combo of the salva kameez was all that I could handle. Since this (London) was my first experience getting fully draped in a sari, it seemed only fitting that my “blouse” was my Keep Calm and SWE On cranberry V-neck.
  • If the Brits love of queuing is on one extreme, the almost non-existent queuing strategy in Indian culture is on the other extreme.  I particularly remember a situation when I was trying to order food in the domestic airport terminal in Delhi.  Though American’s don’t queue with the same amount of fervor as Brits, I still relied on my American mindset as I approached the display case… which turned out to be rather ineffective: I stood while a steady flow of business men (from my perspective) “cut in front of me”, ordered their meal, paid for their meal, and began eating.  I’m not trying to make a case for either system, just trying to contrast the two.  While proper use of elbows and hand waving are key components of communication in India, I’m pretty sure that would earn you a stern British glare in London.  Such a juxtaposition: forming a queue while women tied saris and men politely guarded the entrances from passersby that tried jumping the queue. (Madam, madam!  The queue is this way!)

 

(Click on photo for expanded view + full caption.) 

The day was made complete by a delicious lunch of chole (spicy chick peas). Though it may not measure up to the dishes that I enjoyed wilst in India, it was indeed tasty.  My task now is to find the restaurants that have made London legendary for having the best Indian food outside of India.

Featured Image: sunrise from my apartment window