Being Back in Bethlehem


Riding in from the airport, it only felt like I’d been gone a few months. Actually, it has been a year. The memories don’t come flooding back, but work themselves from the back of my brain forward to consciousness in a steady trickle (like the Jordan River in the summer).

 The words however—both Arabic and Hebrew—rush back into my head as fast as they come out of the mouth of the person in front on me. I left in July 2012 thinking I didn’t understand much, often nearly drowning in confusing conversation by this time last year. But, upon return, I am pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of vocabulary, verb conjugation, and the ease at which this area’s long list of emphatic idioms roll off my tongue. Illhumdulillah! Yani, mis mishkula…

Omar, Moshiko, Shireen, Tawfiq, Atalya, Nadine, Moriel and I pick up right where we left off… I try not to assume that we’ll still in the same place though. We’ve all collected another year’s worth of stories. Noam is the only one who looks older; he’s been totally consumed by architectural school all year. And there is Ryan and Ingrid’s new baby who I hope to meet yet this month. Daisy went to India!

A number of my friends have made close relationships their “projects” for this past year.  Building interpersonal relationships was an important part of my life in Jerusalem.  The relationships that transgressed lines of deep difference were some of the most instructive for me.  I realize again how much I learned my year in Palestine and Israel…on the political level, yes, but also the personal.

By the time I left, I thought I’d heard all the stories that could make me cry. But I’ve been here for only 39 hours so far and I’m already accumulating stories that move me to that all-to-familiar place where the tears well-up behind the eyes and just sit there, on edge. Stories of elongated commutes and wasted petrol, of tired bodies, of humor, of bureaucratic ridiculousness, of masculinity profoundly shaped by realities of desert and destruction.

We lost all our baggage too, which as group leader it was my task to retrieve.  But I got it! That was a confidence booster, both in myself as a delegation leader and in the way this society can care for people and their baggage (physical, emotional, or otherwise).

I am here because I brought a group affiliated with Christian Peacemaker Teams to the Moving Mountains Sabeel conference. They are volunteering at the Tent of Nations today.  Everyone’s excited and agitated, exposed to all these realities for the first time.  But I feel a heaviness. It took me awhile to figure out why, but then I realized what it was.

It was the residue of a familiar Sadness…a Sadness that I carried most of the year last year.  A Sadness I learned to stuff down in order to get other tasks done. A Sadness that manifested in the US after my return from this region as a silent weeping when the Biblical text was read aloud in church. I didn’t realize the Sadness would resurface so quickly. It is not as consuming or instructive as it was last year, but the residue of the emotional impact the brokenness and visible injustice is undeniable.

Patience. Subur. May the Sadness, the confidence, the stories, and the reunions all increase my compassion for life on earth, here and everywhere the cactus bloom.

About SEN

Born on United Nations Day, I am actively involved in the process of figuring out how we can live together well on this planet, given our similar and different truth claims. Thanks for joining me on the journey!

3 responses »

  1. It is important that the great sadness does not overwhelm you and decrease your ability to do well (meet, greet, welcome, be present). Perhaps a goodness to remember is that the poor, slighted, and downtrodden will be lifted up!

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