Thursday, January 15, 2009
Full Circle Refugee
If you happen to be paying attention, there is a good chance that you will notice the moments in your own life when circles complete themselves. Over the years, I have learned the impossibility of closing a circle on my own accord. Simply: Such a task cannot be forced. Instead, I have learned to make use of the knowledge of impermanence: Life always moves on. Nothing lasts forever. Everything (yes, everything) happens for the Good. Be patient, it will come. (It always does.)
Yesterday was one of those full circle days. The Universe smiled as one of my oldest and dearest friends gave birth to her first child. A boy. Without getting too deep into the personal, I simultaneously felt a final release from the loss of my own first child nearly a year ago. In an audible click, the circle of life completed itself. But to paint the picture even better, there I was in the mid-morning--standing knee-deep in the snow next to a retired, gun-toting economics professor who befriended me this year--at the edge of my favorite Finger Lake--looking at a memorial to the Palestinian people...
If I had not been afraid of frost bite in the sub-freezing temperature, I would have publicly dropped to my knees. Instead, I smiled and made light conversation while inwardly saying a prayer for all of the victims of the world, unborn or not, both in the past and future. And yes, I also said a prayer for peace.
Random though this may seem, the stoic, meandering thread of this particular issue in my life--which, I admit has always seemed so furtive and solitary--found its way back to its own beginning. Because I truly had no idea what was around the bend when I went to live with the Palestinian people the first time, I cannot think of a single moment of foreshadowing. Who knew that I would get called to teach about all of this? Who knew that a table-pounding, gray-haired activist who was silenced for years over the same issue would find hope and the continuation of his work in me, my classroom and my students?
Suffice it to say, expect the unexpected, and the rest will come.
The truth is that the ongoing mass murder in Gaza is something I cannot bring myself to write about at this time. So, I will not push the envelope. But, I will go back in time to tell you about the article I read in 2006 that began this journey. The article was written by a woman named Francis Hasso, and it was entitled, "Modernity and Gender in Arab Accounts of the 1948 and 1967 Defeats".* The article told the story of the massacre of an Arab village near Jerusalem named Deir Yassin. Years prior to this, I had been involved a number of things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a protest memorial each year on April 9th to remember the victims of Deir Yassin. At the time, however, I was only beginning to know about the history of this issue in full detail.
Like many Arab villages that no longer exist in modern day Israel, Deir Yassin was once a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem that was targeted for cleansing when Israel declared its independence in 1948. Subsequently, hundreds of people were left homeless or dead during this sweeping campaign, igniting a 60-plus year refugee crisis that still exists today. Both symbolically and literally, the legacy of the Palestinian refugee crisis is at the heart of the ongoing conflict. (Just look at Gaza right now.) Yet, ironically, the stone buildings of the village of Deir Yassin remain on the outskirts of Jerusalem today. However, in a never-ending show of historical schizophrenia, the site of Deir Yassin is now a mental institution for Israeli people today.
For the time that I was living in this part of the world, I trafficked and treaded through the inner realm of Palestine's refugees. Yet, in my own, equally schizophrenic way, I suppose it is safe to say that I was seeking refuge among the people of the world's most displaced. In many ways, perhaps I realize that I still am. In the span of a year, I went from being a "child without a mother" (as one Palestinian woman said to me) to a woman without a child. Yet, somewhere in between all of this, the Universe has managed to smile and good things have happened, too.
Everything happens for a reason.
As I stood with my friend looking at his memorial on the lake yesterday, I could not help but ponder the obvious: Did I find Palestine, or did Palestine find me? Feeling the circle of my time and work here come to an end only reminded me that all of this has been preparation for what is now to come.
There is work to do, I said into the abyss.
(And miles to go before I sleep.)
* Francis Hasso. "Modernity and Gender in Arab Accounts of 1948 and 1967". International Journal Middle East Studies (2000), 32:4:491-510 Cambridge University Press.