Last year's Making Sense of Suffering conference was so terrific that I was worried that this year's conference could not possibly live up to my expectations.
It could. Let me count the ways:
1. Intense listening. With so many presenters for whom English is a second (or third or fourth) language, we can't listen lazily or we'll miss too many interesting ideas.
2. So many interesting ideas! My must-read list is getting longer by the minute. Here's one question tossed off today: "Is there a biological purpose for suffering or is it just an unpleasant side effect of being sentient?" Discuss.
3. Discussions that continue outside of sessions over meals and coffee and long walks through the city.
4. The city! I can't recall the last time I saw anything so lovely a the full moon hovering over the opera house this evening. Everywhere I turn, I see something beautiful or historic or at least interesting.
5. The language! I don't speak a word of Czech but I keep hearing phrases that bring back my high school Russian.
6. Five guys who looked like my Lithuanian uncles standing in the evening cold on the Charles Bridge to entertain tourists by playing New Orleans jazz. In addition to a trumpet, clarinet, standing bass, and banjo, the combo included a man using eggbeaters and thimbles to play a washboard. And they were not bad.
7. Talking about my Lithuanian forebears with a scholar who teaches in Lithuania. I need to go!
8. Sharing ideas about suffering with philosophers, literary scholars, theologians, a linguist, a doctor, and others from America, Portugal, South Africa, England, Turkey, Montenegro, and I don't remember where else. I don't believe I've ever met anyone from Montenegro before.
9. Gaining insight about the European monetary crisis from intelligent people who are right in the middle of it.
10. The refreshing absence of anguish over Joe Paterno.