George Bernard Shaw said, “it’s more civilized to travel 3 miles per hour than 3,000 miles per hour.” Here in Ulster, one of the four provinces of Ireland, I come into agreement with him. Within two weeks, I’ve moved from a success driven sprawling suburban city with a lot of bling and where driving was the norm to a small, close-knit and historic province where people walk everywhere.
And to what shall I compare it ?
At first it felt claustrophobic, invasive yet incredibly friendly. I’d grown accustomed to an environment of anonymity, wide open spaces and a routine of privacy. Today I live on a small cute Victorian terraced north Belfast street. Belfast red brick fades, and captures light, beautifully.
Because my community is much smaller, it’s been invigorating to hit the pavements, i.e. walk and gawk. Walking makes me feel more rooted and connected. Yesterday I walked a few minutes to Church. Today I walked into the city center. This morning I walked to the supermarket and just carried my groceries home. It was a good workout, instead of driving. I’m also grateful for all the good pavements that make walking easy and enjoyable. Some of you may laugh, or find this insignificant, but I’ve lived in places, in the US, where there was literally no pavements to walk upon. The transport system here is good too. Jumping on and off buses, and trains, is easy, enjoyable, and the staff are friendly. It’s wonderful to spend less time in my car.
Going small and slowing down is more civilized. I observe more. I acknowledge and chat to people around me. I notice other people’s dogs. I hear people chatting and laughing in shops, libraries and common places and spaces. I witness and reflect on the rich history and culture around me. Small and slow is good when it promotes feelings of connectivity across communities.
In the parable of the mustard seed, in the gospel of Luke, we’re told the kingdom of God can be likened to a mustard seed. It was small but grew into a big bush where the birds of the air made nests in its branches. A seemingly insignificant mustard seed goes against the images of power and success we see in the world today. Yet it was significant. Power and success is measured differently, in the world, compared to the kingdom of God, both then and now.
And so it goes … significant things are seen and gained as little me goes walking and gawking in the province of Ulster.