August 11, 2016: From mountain peak to music festival: Be here with us

Belmont Citizen-Herald: August 11, 2016

We huffed and we puffed and we finally made it to the top of Mount Royal, the peak located in the middle of Montreal.  While it’s hardly more than a small hill in the grand scheme of things, I had read, Montreal residents are justifiably proud of their local landmark.

In our trek to the top, we had decided to stay off the main path, and to take one of the trails that offered a bit more solitude from the busy city around us.  At times, the quiet could even let us imagine that we were not in the middle of one of Canada’s largest cities.  From the lookouts at the top, we could see a splendid panorama not only of the city, but of the port and the river beyond.  People stood at the iron railing click, click, clicking away on their phones and cameras.

Strangely, I thought of an experience I had had a few years ago in Belmont, and marveled at how those lessons can come back in the most unexpected of circumstances.  Our family was attending one of Belmont’s ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve services at the Payson Park Church.  Beth El Temple’s Rabbi Jonathan Kraus was speaking.  “I ask but one thing,” Rabbi Kraus urged the gathered attendees, “for you to be here. Don’t be still at your office where you left work undone before the holiday. Don’t be in your kitchen where tomorrow’s dinner is waiting. Be here with us for the next hour.”

As we stood there on the top of Mount Royal, I wondered how many of the people who stood with us were really there. How many were instead already on their Facebook page, thinking only about their next post? How many missed the grandeur of the vista by viewing it only through the viewfinder on their phone.  How many had an experience only to point and click?

We left the top of Mount Royal with not one picture, other than those imprinted in our memories of the experience. However, we did have a nice conversation with a couple to whom we were drawn by their ever so cute puppy.  We exchanged stories with a family about the differing routes we had taken to the top. We located destinations we had visited the day before, spread out in the city below us.

Which brings me back to that lesson I remember from Rabbi Kraus, taught far from the “mountain” we were standing on in Montreal. “Be here with us for the next hour” is really a profound statement of community, involving not merely a physical presence, but a sense of togetherness in the moment.  Belmont provides ample opportunities to contribute to, and be a part of, that sense of community. It’s one reason that my wife and I like so much to attend BHS basketball and soccer games.

Similarly, during the summer months, the Payson Park Music Festival is scheduled each Wednesday night to continue through the remainder of August.  The music festival provides an opportunity to put down the camera and leave the cell phone at home.  It allows people to be away from the work undone at the office, and the chores uncompleted at home.

I intend this writing not so much to be an “advertisement” for the Payson Park Music Festival. Rather, in this era where technology seems so frequently to isolate rather than to bring together, I simply note the opportunity provided by the music festival to gather as, and be a part of, the larger community.  “Be here with us for the next hour,” with all the meaning that sentence entails.

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