Sunday, August 05, 2012

Tuesday's Child is Full of Grace (and Girlhood)

When I was a child, my mother kept a journal for me in which she documented and divulged some of her darker moments as parent to better explain herself in the event of her untimely death. Knowing my mother's acute propensity for self-absorption and her vampire-like ability to inflict emotional hurt in others as a mode of sustanence, I have not yet been able to bring myself to fully read it, especially since this entire pregnancy has been monopolized in my attempt to coordinate the physical care and juggle the emotional demands of "elder care" for the woman who gave birth to me. The difficult juxtaposition of my mother's struggles with Multiple Sclerosis and her sincere commitment to an astonishingly slow, take-no-prisoners march to the grave against the current bouyancy of my sunshiny life is not at all lost on me. Thinking only of the growing girl-child inside of me, I have struggled against returning to any reminder of the dark, overbearing, monster-filled shadows that my mother continues to bequeath as my birthright.

Of course, I was a loved child and a wanted child. I was fortunate in that my mother couldn't bring herself to leave me on the mountain.  (At least, not at first--my motherless descent from that mountain top came later.)  According to my mother, I was an "easy" child--precocious with words and intuitive with emotion but mild-tempered and painfully shy enough for it to be an endearing sort of thing in her moments of tenderness. Ever the aesthete, my mother's favorite activity was to dress me up and show me around.  I was her symbol of triumph in the race to overcome a failing biology.  As my little body grew into its own architecture and my brain into a stoic and resolved sense of personhood, my mother's body and brain slowly declined and succumbed to the ravages of her horrific disease.

It is no wonder why--in writing about my own impending motherhood--I choose to devote so much of this reflection to the mothering that I have known and, equally, to the lingering power of the mother-woman who still resides in my life.  Perhaps equally self-indulgent, I sit here with my proud little belly--the symbol of having successfully--and even, yes, triumphantly---navigated through the first 39 weeks of the rest of my life.

On Tuesday morning I am scheduled to give birth to the girl-child growing within me.  It is perhaps the one time in my life that I truly lack the words to explain my feelings which can only be described as an unbelievable depth of love I have for this child.  If this love could be measured in a physical sense, I envision it as the gallons of water pouring over the world's biggest waterfall.  The force and madness of this love is bound by each fragile and rushing molecule to a singular yet overcoming sense of purpose and direction.  (And as I sit here contemplating this feeling with my computer precariously situated on my diminished lap, I can't help but proudly place a hand on the kicks carrying on inside of me and think, "This is Life!...L'Chaim!")  I have no doubt that I am feeling the same primal, uncompromised and unquestioned connection to my child as my mother did at her own apex with me...and still does...

Although the sex of the child wouldn't matter in the slightest, I admit that I once--somewhere in the midst of my late adolescence--said a silent prayer that my first child would be a girl. Throughout this happy, healthy and extremely easy pregnancy, I have continued to pray for her in the long journey to her grand debut. I pray that she is a brave type of girl with a boldness and personal integrity that makes her a leader rather than a follower as she grows into womanhood. I also pray that she is brave enough to be humble and kind, and that she is able to let her heart soar while keeping her feet on the ground. And, of course, the mother in me hopes that she learns to be polite, but I have an equal amount of hope that she retains the confident, fierce wildness that I feel in her kicks. I truly hope she dances like no one is watching, and if she doesn't do this at first, I have every intention to show her how...

I cannot help but look back at my bruised and fragmented girlhood and not indulge myself too much by sharing that I have a sense of hope that mothering this child-full-of-grace may bring some balance I may have lost as my own mother retreated into the shadows of her disease. Realizing, of course, that we all do the best we can with the tools and means available, I am increasingly aware that my committment to this child comes from a place within me that has objectively forgiven my mother for being the person and mother she has become. For me, the journey toward forgiveness is the same one that brought me to this incredible apex.  It means that I will not seek to mother my own girl-child as a way of becoming the pain-filled antithesis of all of my mother's mistakes. To the contrary, mothering of my child is an opportunity to celebrate of all of my mother's successes. 

To birth, to mothering, to life and the brave act of living it...

To meeting my daughter face-to-face on the other side. May Tuesday's child be full of grace...


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

We Did

To start at the beginning, I think it would we wise to tell you what we didn't do:

We didn't play foolish, immature games of the heart and mind that quickly obliterate trust.

We didn't communicate via text messages and emails that quickly obfuscate strong communication.

We didn't jump into the sack right away. Nope. Not us.

Our Wedding Day
We didn't pretend to be anyone other than ourselves.

We didn't talk to our friends ad-nauseum about the intricacies of our budding relationship.

We didn't worry about failing.

And his is what we did do:

We talked.  Whole dates were spent talking, learning, sharing, listening to each other and figuring it all out.  We established a rapport of respect and trust.  We may come from different ontological and epistemogical places, but we committed to heading in the same direction.

We laughed and grew into each others' wit and humor.

We held hands first, then held each other.  We allowed ourselves to slowly and gently move into a passionate and sincere emotional and physical connection in balance.

We committed early and stayed that way.  Again, no head games, antics and tomfoolery. Very early in our courtship, we openly shared our hearts and our dreams with each other:  "I am dating for marriage," I said evenly, without pretense or drama, and he found this to be wonderful, brave and inspiring.

We never kept score.  Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but let's be adults about it and get over ourselves.

Two years to the day of our first date, we wed in the presence of dear friends and family. It was a truly incredible day, infused with the values we share and choice of choosing the other freely.

Looking back, I can safely say that the courtship of our love continues.  But unlike so many instances of heartbreak and failure that came before it, ours continues to be a courtship of honesty, sincerity and simplicity. 

One thing I learned from a rabbi friend in Jerusalem in 2009 is this: 

Choosing toward your relationship with your besheret (soul mate) is a conscious and daily act of choosing toward your relationship with G-d. The two are not mutually exclusive.  Love is not a fairy tale granted only to the lucky, but rather a conscious choice.  Love is a conscious and deliberate action, a bold choice, and a result of acknowledging (with humility) that we have free will to choose toward the relationship or not. 

The choice is yours.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alpha and Omega

It occurred to me this evening that I don't know where this story ends. Perhaps I thought I did? I thought this story ended when I came out of the Middle East in 2009. Perhaps I felt that I had shared enough and bared enough to last me for a while.

Yes, I took a step back from public writing, but I dare say that the act of doing so did not render me more silently contemplative. If anything I simply stopped writing for pleasure altogether. Instead, I wrote for a living and got paid for making word that were ultimately mine but not mine to claim. When I was done writing, someone else made a lot of money from the fact that I signed away my words so that I could eat and afford the gas in my car while I wrote to satisfy the requirements for the far-reaching precipice to which my future was clinging. I wrote for the sake of finishing my doctoral degree and for survival. I wrote and wrote...and wrote.

And so, here I am again, old friend. Back to this blog, to this persona that has always been me and not me. Back to the beginning of the place where the excess lexicon of a small part of my inner realm came to be burped. Hello again, old friend, I have missed you.

If it is trite to rehash the past few years, if anything, I will keep it short and sweet:

I am now a doctor of philosophy. And it is weird.

I am now in control of my finances. And that, too, is...weird.

Not that I was ever all that irresponsible before, but I actually have real health insurance now...

I am happy.

I am to be wed two months.

So perhaps this is the beginning. Again.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Beit Mikveh

"It was a time in my life when many things bored me deeply and I hungered for beauty and those realms of pure elation granted to those who had the imagination to know what to look for and how to find it."--Pat Conroy, Beach Music

Written well over a year ago, my last blog post culminated the end of an era while serving as a commencement ceremony of sorts to this present tense.

Three months prior to this, I woke up one morning in Jerusalem and realized that it was time for me to retire from my self-imposed flying circus. In my effort to live in a state of unfettered freedom, I realized that I was well on my way to becoming unhappy and enslaved to my own cliche. The whole affair simply wasn't serving me anymore. All of my hopes and fears had oddly become prostate to the process of being and becoming, which made my life at that moment feel as though it had become redundant, inauthentic and admittedly trite. That particular morning came with the sudden realization that what drove me across oceans, deserts and intellectual canyons was out of my deep longing for a place to be at peace. I woke up knowing that none of this was enough to silence the ache inside of me that had been simply muted by the stimulation of adventure and the noise of the fast lane and a long standing denial of my obviously flawed logic.

Hours before this realization, I ended yet another love relationship in the desert. It was a rather empty and dispassionate termination of affairs. Our matter-of-fact exchange was a stark reflection of how falsely hollow the brief affair had been in the first place. I knew this was not the man for me, yet the act of issuing yet another note of dismissal made me feel anxious and ill late into the night. It certainly wasn't that I was sick of men, but I was sick of the wrong men. More than anything, I was sick of the story of me and all the wrong men. It was boring me to tears. Literally.

Up all night, mentally spinning in full insomniac mode, it was close to morning when I received a call from a good friend in the US, who told me that my former love partner--the rabbi--had become engaged to his girlfriend earlier that evening. With this news, my night of solemn contemplation was suddenly punctuated by the tearing down of all of the sclerotic scaffolding I had constructed over the year in my ardent efforts to move on and "heal" from the once extremely destabilizing dance of what had once been nothing more than a misspent menage-a-trois between me, the rabbi and his mental illness.

Of course, my response was to simply dance with this knowledge and the deep sense of frustration that erupted within me. Yet in that moment, I knew that it was time to start choosing toward a new way of being and, inevitably, a new life.

A week passed, and after the next sabbath, I decided to do something a bit unique. In order to put my decisions into action, I decided to make my passage into the next phase of my life through the symbolic act of rebirth. I made an appointment with a local women's mikveh in the conservative side of town. Like a spa, a mikveh is a rabbinically ordained pool of rainwater in which Jews go to submerge themselves. Symbolic of birth, the process of submersion itself is significant to a spiritual cleansing.

The female attendant at the mikveh was an Orthodox woman. When she greeted me at the door, with a quizzical look. Despite my attempts to dress conservatively, the woman took one look at me and demanded to know why I was there. With no premeditation, I swallowed the lump in my throat and told her that I was "getting married". Clearly skeptical, the woman held the door for me to come inside.

This wasn't my first visit to a mikveh, but since I told the woman that I was a bride, it was necessary for her to treat me with greater scrutiny according to the Orthodox way of handling these particular rites of passage. After removing my contact lenses, all traces of makeup, showering thoroughly, brushing my teeth with Kosher toothpaste, flossing and cleaning my ears and under my nails, I stood shivering in a white crusty towel in front of the square woman who inspected me in a very businesslike manner. Taking my hands, she proclaimed that my nails were too long. She reached into her pocket for a pair of unsterilized clippers and began cutting. Then, with a pair of little scissors, she proclaimed herself the halachic harnesser of my cuticles.

After what felt like endless rounds of snipping and clipping at my hands and feet, the mikveh lady finally approved me for submersion. Standing over me as I dropped my towel and entered the water, she told me that my eyes were closed too tightly, that every strand on my head was not fully emerged, and then, that my legs were somehow too close together. She told me that if I did not do these things according to her instructions, I would not be spiritually cleansed for my husband. Completely naked in the water before her, I felt suddenly emboldened. I listened to her instructions, and then I asked her to leave me alone in the room to do the rest by myself. She resisted a little, and I told her that if she didn't leave me to do as I like, I would go back to my new husband without "toveling" and it would be all her fault that I was "impure". Through very thin, pursed lips, she told me that I had 5 minutes to do what I wanted and she would return.

Alone in the water, I dunked and dunked as a memory from childhood suddenly surfaced in my consciousness. It was the memory of learning to swim with my grandfather in the deep end of a pool. G-d rest his soul, I realized that my grandfather had given me many more tools for survival than just learning to swim. "Let's get lost today," he would say to me with a wink during the summer when I was learning to drive a car. The game of "Getting Lost" meant taking long drives together through the countryside so that my grandfather could treat me to an ice cream sundae and instruct me on the ways of paying attention to landmarks in order to find my way out of any situation. As I dunked, I could hear his voice saying to me, "You are never lost in life if you are smart, honey. Pay attention to the signs around you and you will always find your way home."

Suspended in this tiny reservoir of Jerusalem's coveted tears, I knew that I was paying attention to the signs. Taking a deep breath and stayed suspended under water for as long as my lungs would allow as I paid attention to the sound of my heartbeat my body as it floated in the water. Against tradition, I opened my eyes and thought of myself in the womb. Then, after uncurling and saying the ritual prayers of the mikveh in Hebrew, I told myself that while I was not getting married tomorrow, I knew that this was the first step in my path to this next phase of my day.

Perhaps inevitably, a rejection in life is a tacit acceptance of what is to come. Moving inward, I rejected all of the fears I had of settling down and, worse, settling down with the wrong person. And yes, I knew that I was listening to myself and reading the signs. Rejecting the fears and irrational aches that had long haunted me, I was finally putting my past to bed in acceptance of the things to come. The motions of coming and going had become such a mundane routine in my life. But this time I knew that I was finally coming home.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

They Say You Can't Go Back

It bothers me that I have not yet managed to find out who "They" are. Always ambitious, it is my preference to imagine this dubious "They" as a highly classified group of individuals who must certainly exist in a black box somewhere at the End of The Rainbow. Go up the grassy hill and make a left. When the yellow brick road appears beneath your feet and you begin skipping uncontrollably, you will be very close. Follow this all of the way up to the edge of the Universe, and there you will find the place where all of life's secrets are kept. Knock three times on the black door, and inside you will find the elusive group of "They".

In a pink florescent room with a strobe light, "They" will be waiting for you while they eat stale blueberry scones and sip their tea in the company of the Mad Hatter, the Wizard, the Tin Man, and, of course, the departed George Burns, who will be smoking a cigar and tap dancing with Shirley Temple to the karaoke machine, while Bob Marley sings "Redemption Song" a-Capella and Mahatma Gandhi giggles and passes the peace pipe....


"They say you can't go back."

A cascading flight of voices rang through my head during the drive from Jerusalem to the airport outside of Tel Aviv. I wondered if these were the voices of warning? Should I stay or should I go? I began to wonder if all of this was an inner expression of the ominous, Old World scare tactics that I have heard my whole life from my mother--the foreboding warnings that I have internalized as Truth, the Truths that have formed me in the fire of their intent to craft me as the person that I am today...

The familiar voice of my mother's mantra cracked and fizzled somewhere deep inside my brain. The smoke of its fleeting existence floated up to the sky while my eyes searched beyond the window of the shared Jerusalem taxi that carried me to the airport. Looking through the window, my mind mistook the airport lights in the distance for a flashing neon sign in English that read:


Next, indeed, I thought, as I considered 16 hours of travel ahead of me, face time with family and friends and then a solitary, cross-country road trip after that...yeeesh...

Meanwhile, the taxi driver smoked his cigarettes, drove erratically and yelled in Hebrew to the plastic phone held to his ear. The radio doled out the heavy phlegm sounds of the Israeli vernacular put into musical score. Two young American children beside me whined in their chairs to their parents, who issued equally ominous warnings of apocalyptic punishments for bad behavior. The basin of the Holy Land sped beneath me, and I couldn't help but wonder if I could go back? And what if maybe...just maybe these last moments in the Holy Land....was... it?-- Were these the final moments of my high-flying solo act around the globe? Forever?

To be perfectly fair, there was a profound sense of finality to the moment. I had the realization that this departure from Israel was completely unlike the ones that came before it. For example, it was not 2006, and I was not consumed by the horrific conviction to leave behind a country at war with a terrorist entity in Lebanon. Folks were no longer dying (en masse) to the north of me, and I was no longer the very hungry, cropped-haired, camel-riding version of myself who had immersed herself in the company of a borderline sociopath and a 21 year old, American war vet. Those were fun times.

Nor was I the confused and equally love-swept version of myself from 2007, when I emerged from living in the Palestinian refugee camp, only to find the rabbi waiting for me at the British Airways gate in London. This time, at least, I knew that I was returning to the US with no preexisting conditions to limit the insurance coverage on my fragile heart. In fact, the only thing that was certain was that there was, in fact, no uncertainty. None at all.

This departure was definitely not a hasty retreat from a war, nor was it consumed in a fast-flying love affair without a net in sight. With an unusual level of closure, I commended myself for finally leaving Israel with my bags entirely packed and an eerie sense of accomplishment within me.

Silently, I said my good byes to Jerusalem. And, with this, I said my good byes to an era of myself in this life that I have so fully cherished and embraced while always knowing that there would be more to come. For better or for worse, I'm the sort of the girl that squeezes all of the juice out of her lemons while making my lemonade. I ache with just as much intensity as I embrace, enjoy and hold dear. Yes, it can be perfectly exhausting at times, but part of all of these journeys of mine has been about separating myself from certain aches and finding myself in others. Ever so homeless and transient, I have been on an even and consistent path of growth and exploration.

And, so, yes, I can look back with a sense of finality, with the sense that this door has closed, this chapter is finished...and it has been so incredible, and so fun to share it with all of you.

Until this moment, I have not had to the words to thank you all for your gentle readership, comments, emails, and enthusiasm for my writing and adventures in this small corner of cyberspace. I thank each of you for this. For what it is worth, it has always been such a scary and equally reassuring project for me to know that people I have never met enjoy reading my words and hearing so much of my quirky tales. In two words: Thank you.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that in fact, one can "go back". In lieu of teaching in India this year, I have returned to the United States, to the location of my graduate institution, to my writing, research and community work. The transition back into this version of my life as a graduate student has been eased by the community of souls that cheered me from afar and anxiously awaited my return to their embrace. I am healthy, happy, working and very productive. In the coming weeks, I will be interviewing for two very different "big-girl" jobs in New York City and Washington, DC. My dissertation is on track, and my dissertation committee roundly considers me a veritable rock star. (Funny how I have them all so fooled.)

Maybe it is better put that we can never go back as the same people we were when we left. With this in mind, I packed my bags with various trinkets from my travels. In particular, two very colorful strings of tiny stuffed camels made it with me through the customs check and then all of the way across America with me in my little blue car. The bizarre sight of camel caravans always made me giggle in my desert travels, and so it seemed appropriate to bring some part of that memory home with me. As I was haggling with the vendor who sold them to me in the Old City before I left, he decided to give an extra set to me as a gift. "These ones are for your beautiful children, who will have your eyes," he said so matter-of-factly as he gently wrapped them in paper. In that moment, the thought of adorning a future baby nursery in colorful camels and beautiful Arabic scroll flashed through my mind, and something inside of me said, "Yes! This is a brilliant idea!"

For now, the strings of smiling camels hang beside my window as a reminder of my journey to this moment and, equally, of the journey ahead. In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho refers to this as living one's "Personal Legend". He writes:

"...there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It's your mission on earth."

And so, my dear friends, with a big smile and a sigh of satisfaction, I am pleased to report that it has (and is) all worked out for the very best...

The End/Beginning.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sheik Jarrah

Under the olive tree with the Hanoun Family of the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood, August 2009


"Hey, let's go on a treasure hunt to see if we can find the Arab family in the news who is being evacuated from their house!," Recovering Orthodox Guy (ROG) said to me during a class break one day.

"Which Arab family?," I said dryly. My personal thoughts--on the matter of the Israeli government intentionally dislocating Arab citizens of Israel and replacing Jewish families in the homes that the Arab families have claimed as theirs for over 40 years--was more than evident in my voice.

"You know, the one in Sheik Jarrah that's all over the news? I want to check it out, but I want you to come with me. It will be an adventure! We will ask them questions about their case, but insist on only speaking Arabic! It will be fun!!"

"Somehow I don't think that the Hanoun family will think it's fun, unless we are willing to join their vigil," I suggested.

"Oh, well, let's just go and see for ourselves," ROG replied with a dismissive smile. This was more about his cowboy sense of adventure than the Hanoun family and their well-being.

ROG happened to be Israeli citizen (by way of a Jewish Orthodox upbringing in New Jersey), who, despite his bluster about concern for human rights and the human condition, remained a product of his military training and social inculcation in the foremost belief that the Jewish State of Israel was somehow always on the perennial side of "The Right"--for, at the very least--simply not being the Arab "other".

Of course, I realized that this was ROG's way of attempting to impress me with his radical and oh-so-daring attempt at cultural open-mindedness. (The thoughtful execution of his plan was methodologically clear: Invite the cute, uber-lefty academic girl who speaks some Arabic for an afternoon adventure that might just amaze her. Then, after offering her some tea and refreshing pistachio ice cream in your apartment in the beautiful stone structure that was once an Arab home, try your hardest to game her into the sack after you attempt to demonstrate to her that you are as thoughtful, lefty-liberal and utterly naive as you presume her to be.) Unfortunately for ROG, I had already met a number of eager male persons who had tried and failed in this regard. To this end, it felt like I had met ROG (or the likes of him) too many times over, but ROG, unfortunately, had never met a girl quite like me...

With the air conditioning at full blast and Israeli music on the radio, ROG spastically steared his little blue car through the twisting streets of the Arab neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah, on the East side of Jerusalem. At the sight of any random Arab person on the street, he would pull over and attempt to ask for directions in Arabic to the Hanoun family home. In my observation of this, I discovered that ROG was more comfortable if I sat demurely in the front seat while he remained dominant in his attempted banter with the Arab men, who would lean into the car look at him with his kippah, look at me with my hands folded in my lap like a perfectly decent Jewish American Princess, and immediately speak to us in Hebrew.

Of course, what ROG failed to ascertain (because he never asked) was that I knew exactly where the Hanoun family home was located. I also happened to know that despite their polite nature, the Arab men on the street kept giving ROG the wrong set of directions:

"Make a left and then you will follow the fork in the road," one said in Arabic as he gestured with his hands. "You will not understand me, my friend, but you will find your way to your home with no problem!"

ROG nodded fiercely and thanked the man as if he understood these perfectly nonsensical directions. Meanwhile, the man laughed and nodded, pretending to be doing ROG a favor.

"See how nice and friendly Arabs are when you speak to them in their own language?," ROG said to me as we drove on.

I had to at least hand it to him--a racist, albeit in complete and total denial--at least he was trying to overcome himself, even if his method was a bit unclear. Nevertheless, I couldn't figure out what was more embarrassing for him, the fact that he had no idea that he had just been dissed on the grounds of his ignorance, or that he really was incapable of fully comprehending how offensive it would be to the Hanoun family to show up at their vigil with nothing but endless political questions in extraordinarily bad Arabic? (With it being at least 100 degrees in the afternoon, one should at least bring a cold beverage to be offered to the family, if not a plate of food and sweets for everyone.)

In the end, ROG never did manage locate the Hanoun family home. I did my best to commend his efforts and thank him for the "adventure", even while we drove right by the place 2 times without him realizing it. I had decided that his complete lack of social graces when it came to the sensitive matter at hand excused him from allowing me to help him "discover" the location of the displaced family. Call me crazy, but I didn't see the fun in practicing my Arabic at the expense of people losing their home. And so, I also didn't feel it was necessary to mention to ROG that I had already gone and sat with the family as they their vigil outside of their home, and I wasn't there for the joy of language immersion. As a human being, I sat in solidarity with the victims something big, wrong and ugly that was happening to them in the name of something else called "the law", as it was invented by "the victors", otherwise known as the creators of "the law".

In the end, I never did tell ROG that I had spent several mornings sitting in the only shade offered by a singular olive tree across the street from the Hanoun family home. And I certainly didn't tell him that the experience had sent me walking the 12 kilometers back to the comforts of my home on the other side of town. I didn't tell him that I will be forever consumed by the fit of tears and frustration I felt for feeling so small and powerless to help the family that was so warm and kind to me, even as they became refugees yet again in the land grab of the Holy Land. I didn't tell ROG any of this, because I realized that I could learn more from him than he had was able to learn from me:

Because, despite the language skills I acquired in the Holy Land, I learned that the idiom of intolerance--just like tolerance--can be veiled in a smile.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Jerusalem


I was thinking today that there must be a Jerusalem in each of us--a wry, complex, winding place full of mystery and surprises. Regularly, I have wondered if this Jerusalem, this dark and whimsical place in the middle of the desert was a part of me long before I came to realize it? I have very distinct memories of the mildly precocious child version of myself, the one who used to crawl out of her bedroom window at night to lie on the wet grass in order to have very vocal (albeit one-sided) conversations with G-d. I remember telling G-d about my worries concerning the fragility of life, its finite nature and its infinite possibilities long before most children realize that life exists beyond the confines of the world that is known to them. To me, the complete subjectivity of what was known was just as interesting than what was unknown. I was a historian as well as an explorer. Perhaps some things never change. I wonder if Jerusalem was also a part of me then?

If there is a Jerusalem in each of us, my Jerusalem is this: It is the place that I wrap my arms around when I am here, even though its sharp edges hurt me sometimes. Similarly, it is the place that I miss the most when I am gone, even though I am ostensibly cooler, cleaner and (much) safer when I am allowing myself to be lulled by the fuzzily wrapped, golden handcuffs of American life. Between here and there and all of the odd conundrums and glaring contradictions in between, there are moments when I realize that this Jerusalem is the place where I have come to know and simultaneously evade myself and my personal truths. It would be arrogant to say that Jerusalem is the place where I figured it all out, but in many ways, perhaps this is true. (At least, for now.) And perhaps it is a bit cheeky to admit that Jerusalem is the place I have come to hide from certain external realities in my "real life". Though a reality unto itself, Jerusalem will always be the place where time and space are distinctly suspended. Indeed, it is a very real place--perhaps too real?--where the cacophony of oddities and orthodoxies co-exist in a rough and uneven harmony of human struggle.

Jerusalem. For all of its imminent and existential dangers, it has been the safe place where I have been allowed the indulgence of forging something new for myself while communing with the soulful part of me that feels as though it has seen and done all of this before. Still the child beneath the stars on a patch of Virginia grass, I have had the freedom to exist lightly in a place of darkness. Somewhere between the dust and sunshine that existed long before I was even conscious of beginning, I have come here to be a small part of the narrative as it unfolds. It is both my narrative and the narrative of the world. More than just a practically delineated latitude and longitude, Jerusalem for me is the place within the place. I have found myself flung here, so far way from where I began, only to feel my way along the Brailled ribbon of self-awareness from the very end of what I have known...back to the very beginning.

I would be lying if I said that I have not considered cashing in my hand and staying here forever. After all, there is an inescapable realness to living on the razor's edge, which satiates my little addiction to authenticity. There is a certain rawness contained in the evidence of knowing at the visceral level that every day you live in this Jerusalem, every choice you make, every street you cross, every bus you ride...could be your very last. And yet, like any strong addiction, where some people find this way of being far too freakish, dark and maddening, I have found it a far more bearable way to exist. Where the past is fixed and the future is uncertain, the Kundera-esque, lightness of being comes from living in earnest, in the honesty of the moment.

Yet, I realize too that Jerusalem for me was never an end in itself. It was for now and not forever. No less, the love affair was a vital and important one, but Jerusalem is not the one I will wake up loving for the rest of my life. Like any good lusty affair of physical need and emotional hunger, I have always known the magic of me and this Jerusalem would be lost if I attempted to domesticate it. Equally so, in the end I know that the lightness of heart I have regained from being here more recently would be lost if I allowed myself to think for a minute that this Jerusalem will ever be enough to domesticate me.

And so I allow it to hold me in a quiet, last embrace. I walk through its empty streets on my final Shabbat, noticing the sounds and smells of a place that has become a part of me. When I finally reach its Western Wall, the memories of my first moments in Jerusalem (in 2006) find their way to the nostalgic lump in my throat. I take out the little notebook that has been with me since that time, and read the quote I jotted down during the preliminary hours of my very first trip to the Holy Land. From Bruce Feiler's "Walking the Bible":
"Abraham was not originally the man he became. He was not an Israelite, he was not a Jew. He was not even a believer in G-d--at least initially. He was a traveler, called by some voice not entirely clear that said: Go, head to this land, walk along this route, and trust what you will find."

I carefully tear the quote from my notebook. I fold the faded lined paper in my hand until it is a small, flat ball, just the right size to fit into one of the grooves of stone.  I silently say my prayers of acknowledgment, hope and thanks. And, like so many others before me and to come, I leave this small, prophetic testament to my pilgrimage behind to be a part of the timeless and sustaining energy of this holiest of holy retaining walls of sand and stone.

In the end, I am not the woman I was when began making my way to this Jerusalem. Indeed, I am no longer the agnostic, self-identified researcher who never once dreamed of becoming so much a part of her subject of inquiry. Much like Abraham, I was not an Israelite, and never would have felt completely comfortable with the label of "Jew". But I came anyway and I learned. More than the politics and languages of this land, I learned about the soulfulness of this violent place that connects heaven to earth in such haphazard ways. I connected easily. Perhaps too easily? Although none of this was ever linear and or without struggle, I learned more about myself than ever before.

Of course, I came alone and left alone. And the moments in between when I was in the company of others, I will never claim that I didn't stop to wonder at times if I shouldn't chuck it all now and go back to the life of the person before who simply did not know any better. But I couldn't and I didn't. Even in the moments when undeserved pain felt like a set back to progress and profound disappointment in certain others made me wonder if there really is a G-d, I trusted--


I found.

And I lived.

(to tell about it.)