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...