Tuesday, May 21, 2013

‘Lest we forget Jerusalem’

A Fond Farewell

It is said that all good things must come to an end but in truth good things continue to happen – just in new places and in different ways.  My time in Jerusalem has now been completed, as I always knew it would.  The time has flown by and it seems that it was only yesterday that I arrived with my eyes agog and new adventures occurring daily.  I feel a little older now and perhaps a little jaded. Living in a different culture, where things are not always as they seem and people are living under extreme circumstances will (hopefully) change you. And hopefully for the better – I guess this will remain to be seen, but I know I am not the same as when I arrived nearly two years ago.

I took a walk about the Old City before I left. I said good bye to the fellow where I buy my fresh almonds and pistachios. I said good bye to the man where I buy my office supplies and the man where I buy my scarves and the man from whom I rent a car now and then. The last time I went to Ramallah I said good bye to the man at my favourite stitchery store.  I went to say good bye to the fellow who makes the best falafel sandwiches EVER but he was not there that day which was probably a good thing because it is hard to eat and cry at the same time.  For me saying farewell has been so deeply sad. And yet I know that the people to whom I bid farewell have been through this many times before. It is part of their life – the flowing in and out of foreigners who have come to work or volunteer or help somehow in this intense and crazy place.  And they know that for many of us, we will return. That it is not really ‘Good Bye’ but more likely just ‘See you later’.  A friend who has lived in Jerusalem a long time and over the years has returned numerous times, said to me ‘Jerusalem will let you know when she is finished with you.’ Those words are heartening as I leave to go into the grey of a misty future.

As the farewell dinners commence and the packing up of my life here begins (my three suitcases is now six – did I really need that Bedouin carpet from Hebron?  And all that pottery? Well, actually, yes I did.) I am asked these questions:
What was the highlight of your time here?
What made you laugh?
What did you learn while you were here?

When I try to answer the question – what was the highlight of my time in Jerusalem? I begin by saying it was participating in the Holy Eucharist service with the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in the Holy Sepulcher. But that jumps me to sleeping in the Holy Sepulcher which was amazing. And that takes me from the dark to the light and to hiking in the West Bank which was beautiful and relaxing and sometimes hard hot work. So that leads me to swimming in the Galilee which was cool and refreshing.  And that reminds me of the many visitors I enjoyed and the adventures we had (especially on the vertical avenues of Nazareth). And then I think of the friends I have made here and the times we have had enjoying a meal or a glass of wine (or two). The trips to Jordan and Lebanon, the walks we have taken in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.  I do not think I have just one highlight – I think I have been living in a highlight where every day brings another memory I will treasure, a story to tell.

What made me laugh?  This time has been very joyous. I recall myself laughing a lot but I don’t really remember one specific thing that made me laugh. Sometimes cultural differences were certainly the basis for a laugh as I stumbled through my poor Arabic. Ask me why I will never attempt to say the word for ‘difficult’ ever again. Seems my pronunciation tends to sound like a male body part. Oops!
There were times when the laughter was bitter sweet – once while waiting in line at a check point, our line was not moving as the people in the other line were being passed through at a fair pace. A young man in his frustration eventually yelled out to the young female IDF soldier, what I can only assume was ‘Why are we not moving? Open our gate!’  After a moment our line began to move, however, just as the young man got to the turnstile, the line stopped. A hush went over everyone, as it was so obvious that it had been stopped on purpose just as he got there, and then everyone burst into laughter. The young man as well.  Such is the way of life.  And it all ended well as our line moved on after another 10 minutes or so. Laughter really is the best medicine and it is crucial when living in a land that is harsh.

What did I learn while I have been here?  I will be honest. I have learned that it is hard work NOT to hate ‘the other’. There have been times when I have wanted to hate the soldiers or the settlers or the ultra-orthodox or just something, so very much. But I also know that it is futile. I answered this question while having breakfast one morning with friends from St. George’s Cathedral.  Sitting beside me was a young Palestinian man, a Deacon in the church, who just quietly nodded while I spoke.  He knew, far more deeply than I, what it means to work at NOT hating your neighbour – to love your enemy, in fact.  I know that this is a land with a long history and a complicated one at that. And I know that the politics are layered upon layers of culture and pain. But sometimes when I have seen how the people I know, and have come to care for, are treated on a daily basis, I just want to be very angry and hateful.  And really, who am I to feel this way?  My home does not have demolition orders pending, my water is not cut off 3 or 4 times a week or my electricity turned off regularly. I am obviously a stranger in a strange land. And the truth is I am leaving.  What I have learned more than anything is that the people I have encountered here are full of grace. I think they inherently know that hate will kill them far quicker than anything else.  And so it is hard work to take a deep breath and suck it up but it is better than to be filled with an ugliness that spills out in very harmful ways.  Unfortunately, not everyone understands that and we see the result on the news regularly.   Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

I knew when I began this adventure that at the end of this chapter there would be another jump. And that is true as here I go (again).  I am heading back to Los Angeles to visit my daughter and see friends. Then I will get my car on the road and head up to Montreal to be with my parents who need me at this time.  I will drive across America with a friend and I am sure we will have some amazing road trip stories to tell when we arrive home. 

I am not sure what the future holds although there are whispers of exciting things ahead. I give great thanks for all who have supported me, loved me, and prayed for me whilst I have been far away. There is no possible way that I can begin to convey my appreciation and gratitude, or repay what has been given to me in so many different ways. As a dear friend said to me – it’s really about paying it forward not paying it back.  Very wise words. So please know that I will be taking your kindnesses with me and passing them out as I travel along the new path that is opening up before me.

And so the Adventure continues…


  1. Clearly you speak from the depth of your soul, Deb. Thank you for taking us through your journey. And may you know God's presence wherever you go next. If you have time while in Glendora, stop by Saint John's La Verne. I'd love to take you to lunch and listen more.
    Kelli Grace

  2. I'm looking forward to seeing you, jealous of your upcoming cross-country trip, relieved you will be out of a certain "hot spot" (even though all our lives hang by the thread of grace) and almost sad not to be seeing your take on that strange part of the world ragularly. Perhaps you will consider continuing your blog?