Pondering Privilege (Tuesday-Wednesday, May 13-14, 2014)

westminster exterior may 2014
(exterior of Westminster College, Cambridge,
photographed carefully to exclude signs of construction work!)

I have been making a point of getting out for a walk each day, in addition to my daily runs. Partly because I need the fresh air and exercise, but also because walking is a great way to get out and see, and hear, and smell, and experience where we live. Yesterday I went out in search of a barber shop. Not a fancy (and over-priced) styling salon/spa! There are several of those in Cambridge City Centre, which seems to be the touristy, upscale part of town.

I headed “up the hill” on Castle Street, and walked until I felt I was some distance away from the more preserved and historic area, and into more of a “working class” neighbourhood. I found an actual barber shop, owned by a friendly man who lives in a nearby village, and whose accent and way of being spoke more of “town” than “gown”.

The shop, and the haircut itself were very much like what I am used to getting on Kerr Street in Oakville. The conversation was friendly, and down to earth. Leaving the shop, I wandered a little further away from the college-y area, and began to see more people that did not look like students, or staff, or faculty of the many institutions of higher learning. At one point I was stopped on the street by a man asking for pocket change. I had none, and apologized for that, and resolved that I would start carrying some with me. (I should also spend some time figuring out what each of these strange coins are worth!)

There are homeless people in Cambridge, just as there are in Oakville, and other very prosperous communities. Cambridge, according to the barber, is one of the wealthiest cities in the UK. There is a lot of scientific research and development here, and Cambridge is a bedroom community for people who take the train into London each day for work. (Again, just like Oakville!)

If I was not already aware of, and grateful for, the tremendous privilege of being here, my momentary encounter with the man who asked for change is a reminder that I am a very fortunate person. I have been given the gift of time to be away, and of a comfortable and welcoming place to be.

I should learn more about the Cheshunt Foundation, which has funded this sabbatical time at Westminster College. I have no idea where the funds derive from, that are being used to pay for my lodging and meals, and access to libraries and resources of Cambridge University.

My younger self would have rankled at the idea of some wealthy family giving a portion of their fortune to a college, but still retaining enough to live well. I still struggle philosophically with how wealth is shared (or not) in our world. But these days, in this time and place, my primary response is not one of judgement, but of gratitude for all that I am receiving.


  1. Having just returned from my own British journey, I am delighted to read about yours. I resonate with your struggle with privilege, but also with your response of gratitude. Time away, study, beauty, travel–all of these are gifts for you to receive in this sabbatical season. How wonderful that you are embracing them with a full heart!

  2. Darrow says:

    Glad to know you are home safely from your pilgrimage. Guess I already knew that, since I hear Sydney has shared British candy with Naomi. I now have something to add to my shopping list. Terry’s chocolate orange bars!

    1. Ha! I also hear they are starting a “missing father’s club” so I know that they miss you 🙂

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