The thing about the PhD is that it's not something that one can do lightly. Everyone has a reason for doing what they do. In my case, everything always has a tendency to boil down to the invisible sense of infinity I feel within me and around me. Still, I realize that everything is rooted in some actual experience that leads to more actual experiences, which in turn creates these choices, these facts on the ground, this so-called reality. In my case, there have been number of times when I have realized that, for better or for worse, I may just actually be walking manifestation of all of my parent's hopes and dreams. After all, each of us is somebody's child. At one point or another, we all had a mother who held us inside of her, who sacrificed her own immediate well-being to hold us in the suspension of human hope, to give us this gift called life. I personally know that my own mother spent nine months dreaming very big dreams for me. One simply can't be a scholar in the darkest sides of the human condition without being nurtured at one point or another with a sense of unpenetratable optimism.
With this in mind, I was in a conversation yesterday with an acquaintance of mine who very forthrightly told me that he thinks that I am a deeply confused person. He thought it best to warn me: "The world is full of people, Namaste. Not angels." This is because I skipped class earlier in the week to help a man in Bethlehem with the English on the immigration forms he needs to bring his family to America. My acquaintance wanted to know why I did this in the first place? Surely, I must be insane. Clearly, I am a walking example of what it means to be a bad liberal. Why, for example, do I associate myself with Palestinian folks and not the people of Darfur? Why am I not helping the people in my own country, my own family, even? How can a woman who worships as a Jew be "Truly Jewish" as she offers her hand to people who refuse to recognize the State of Israel? Don't these obvious and disturbing contractions make me question the real motivation for my work, for my being, and maybe even for my false sense of humanity? Am I not just a little self-righteous? Or even worse, maybe I'm really just hollow inside and constantly looking to be involved in someone else's hardship so that I can make myself feel better? While many of his criticisms came out of a place that had nothing to do with me personally, I still listened to him. After all, criticism is a good thing. It is impossible to evolve in a vacuum.
The thing is, I am not even remotely close to having any of these answers. I'm here, and I guess that's a good thing. I'm here, and I'm in a constant state of witnessing. In this, I am reminding myself to breathe it, feel it, live it...and not just read about it in a book. I'm engaging, and sometimes it really comes at a great personal cost. Sometimes it really hurts. I continuously find myself with the sense that I am constantly emptying my hands of mud as I dig, asking hard questions of myself and the world around me, not because I claim to have a monopoly on the knowledge of righteousness, or even self-righteousness for that matter. Sometimes I lose the trees for the forrest. Sometimes I'm easily engulfed in fits of despair. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I'm too numb to react. Sometimes I'm overly and unnecessarily critical. Sometimes I'm not critical enough. If anything, my acquaintance made one good point: I'm human; I'm not an angel. Maybe I am too sensitive. Maybe I'm fatalistically self-sacrificing. Maybe I should drink less tea. Or more? Or maybe, just maybe this is just yet another one of those moments when I'll look back and fondly remember when I write about what it was like to spend my last year of my PhD living on a shoestring and a prayer (a big one) in the Middle East.
I do what I do because I am somebody's child, because I still have that sense of innocent, unquieted hope within me that looks at other people and doesn't see them as Jews or Muslims or anything for that matter. We're all just somebody's child. Just as we all carry within us the ability to commit and perpetrate evil things on ourselves and others, each of us has the potential to be the walking manifestation of hope. At the end of the day, we all have a choice. It is because of this that I do what I do. Perhaps it's ironic to say that in my 4 months of living in this part of the world, I've felt my sense of spiritual integrity starting to go dry.
With this in mind, the Jewish New Year is approaching. The timing couldn't be more auspicious. At the moment, I'm planning on spending the holiday on a meditation retreat in the mystical city of Tsfat. Of course, I can't predict whether or not I'll find my way back to center once I get there, but, once again, it's all about the journey. In the end, the good thing about suspension is that when one is feeling down, the only place left to go is up.