One World – Multiple Realities

Your reality and my reality naturally differ through our lived experience and cultural heritage. This doesn’t mean we don’t share realities – the sun also rises. The imperative is get to know others’ perspectives and to build shared realities, specifically where they practically matter to improve our lives.

I said that.

“I’ll let you be in my dreams, if I can be in yours”

Bob Dylan said that.

An upside down image of the planet earth surrounded by handholding cartoon characters representing different cultural heritage with in the middle, approximately where the Gaza strip is, a small Christmas tree with a Jewish star of David at the top and baubles coloured like Palestinian flags.

So this became the theme for my birthday party, held on 17 December 2023, in the Essex Arms pub in Brentwood, in part inspired by events in the Middle East and in part by the rejuvenating conversations at Congregation and my blog entry which is the admission criteria.

I wanted to celebrate the positive idea of ‘one world – multiple realities’ against a backdrop of war and killing, trying to deal with the misery, by tackling it straight on with appeals for understanding, recognition and peace. And a little love.

My friend Derek Kortlandt devised a fiendish quiz to help break the ice, which was ‘open book’ in the sense of encouraging internet search and collaboration. I will update this post to give the answers on New Years Day 2024.

My 40 or so guests were mostly living in Brentwood, Essex, with a few online from France, Ireland and Basildon(!), but the big surprise was the range of 26 cultural heritages represented amongst those invited: Australia, Canada, China, Czechia, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguy, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, The Solomon Islands, Thailand, USA, Venezuala, Wales, Zimbabwe.

I asked my guests to read a poem, sing a song or tell a story on that theme. Here is a selection of them, not necessarily in the order they were performed!

Heidi, assisted by Sue and Keiko, invited us, in groups, to sing a simple canon in German often sung at birthdays. Here are the English words.

It takes little to be happy

It takes little to be happy,
and he who is happy is a king!

August Mühling

Eric, as well as entertaining us on the saxophone, read the following poem, saying afterwards:

“Delivering the poem made me feel good in the sense that I was doing something (a very small something) in the way of putting a wrong to right.”

White comedy

I waz whitemailed
By a white witch,
Wid white magic
An white lies,
Branded by a white sheep
I slaved as a whitesmith
Near a white spot
Where I suffered whitewater fever.
Whitelisted as a whiteleg
I waz in de white book
As a master of white art,
It waz like white death.

People called me white jack
Some hailed me as a white wog,
So I joined de white watch
Trained as a white guard
Lived off the white economy.
Caught and beaten by de whiteshirts
I waz condemned to a white mass,
Don’t worry,
I shall be writing to de Black House.

Benjamin Zepheniah

Razia read this, written by a famous Bengali polymath and Nobel prize winner.

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore

I read a pair of poems, one by a Palestinian poet who was killed only recently in the Gaza strip and another by an Israeli poet which satisfied me as a Mathematician, despite its topic.

If I must die

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze–
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself–
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love

If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale

Refaat Alareer

The diameter of the bomb

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimetres
and the diameter of its effective range about seven metres,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometres,
enlarges the circle considerably
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

Yehuda Amichai

Katherine sang us the Venezuelan national anthem, after thanking the UK for accepting her and her family here.

Gloria al Bravo Pueblo

Glory to the brave people
who shook off the yoke,
The law respecting,
virtue and honour.

“Down with chains!”
Shouted the Lord;
And the poor man in his hovel
For Freedom implored.
Upon this holy name
Trembled in great dread
The vile selfishness
That had once prevailed.
Upon this holy name
Trembled in great dread
The vile selfishness
That had once prevailed.


Let’s scream out aloud:
“Death to oppression!”
Oh, loyal countrymen:
Strength is unity;
And from the Empyrean
The Supreme Author
A sublime spirit
To the people blew;
And from the Empyrean
The Supreme Author
A sublime spirit
To the people blew.


United by bonds
That Heaven has formed,
The entire America
Exists as a Nation;
And if ever despotism
Raises again its voice,
Then follow the example
That Caracas gave;
And if ever despotism
Raises again its voice,
Then follow the example
That Caracas gave.

Vicente Salias

Fran explained to me that she would usually read poetry to herself, all alone, but out-loud, and that it was cathartic for her.

Amazing Peace

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

Dr Maya Angelou

I tried to raise the mood with this recently discovered ancient work, on my favourite theme.

The Caveman’s Lament

me think about her when sun rises
me think about her when sun sets
me say to her how much me love her
she tell me love invent not yet

me make cave all warm and cosy
me lie bearskin on cave floor
me play song of love on bone flute
she choose cave of Tim next door

me no more go out hunt mammoth
me throw spear too short or long
me sit in cave me paint her picture
she say me got perspective wrong

me cook meal to show me love her –
diplodocus with fried beans –
she say food anachronistic
me not know what this means

stone age mighty hard for lovers
yet rub two flints look what you get
small sparks lead to big inferno
but she say love invent not yet

homo unrequitus

Brian Bilston

Alissa, with roots in the Solomon Islands, improvised a generous and delightful birthday greeting, speaking in both Thai and English.

S?uk?hs??nt? w?n keid khu? Richard khu? p?n khn c?k??ng c?bu?

Happy birthday Mr. Richard, you are a generous and charitable person.

N? k?r deinth?ng k?hxng ch?wit k?hx h??? khu? d?? r?b khw?m s?uk?h thuk mum th?? khu? d?? dein

In your journey of life, may you receive happiness in every corner you walk.

K?hx h??? bu? th?? khu? bric?kh p? kl?b m? r?xy ph?n thè?

May the merit you donate be returned a hundred thousand fold.

Tom read this well known prose-poem, well worth listening to again.

Desiderata – Words for Life

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann

Mary from County Cork, Ireland, but soon to be in New York for Christmas, told me in discussion later: “one needs to abandon anchors altogether and embrace the drift of the world because anchors are only an illusion. I know it seems like terror and loss, but in my reading of [the poem] (maybe wrongly!) the terror and loss are also part of the illusion and a normal part of life, since we can’t help but get attached to things in this constantly-drifting sea of life.”

The World

I thought you were an anchor in the drift of the world;
but no: there isn’t an anchor anywhere.
There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world. Oh no.
I thought you were. Oh no. The drift of the world.

William Bronk

I brought our readings to a close with this slightly more hopeful, albeit fanciful, poem by my favourite author (well, one of them…).

Torn Map

Once, by mistake,
she tore a map in half.
She taped it back, but crookedly.
Now all the roads ended in water.
There were mountains
right next to her hometown.
Wouldn’t it be nice
if that were true?
I’d tear a map
and be right next to you.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A stamp of an image of the world with the text 'One World - Multiple Realities' arranged around as a circle


At the party I mentioned my admiration for Hannah Arendt’s simple prophylactic advice to reverse the tide of totalitarianism, as told by Lyndsey Stonebridge:

“participatory democracy as small as it gets”.

In 2024, I hope to persuade my friends (local and online) to watch together the ‘Hannah Arendt‘ film biography by von Trotta and to then read & discuss the new book ‘We Are Free to Change the World‘ by Lyndsey Stonebridge in our local Labour Party Socialist Book club – perhaps back in the Essex Arms?

Who’s with me?

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