I read the news much more now than I did a year and three days ago, when I said farewell to John F Kennedy Airport and the Western Hemisphere and took off, unwittingly, to Asia: the Middle-East, to be technical, Israel, to be precise, Be’er Sheva, this random little desert city, to be exact. Despite the constant barrage of news reports about Israeli-United States relations, Israelis and Palestinians, Israel and the United Nations that I read daily, as I sit here cozily in my bed, on a lazy, rainy and very wet Sunday afternoon in lower Bucks County (deer country), Pennsylvania, I am so painfully reminded that this special little place that I called home is so, so, so very, incredibly far, far away.
To comfort myself, I look up and around my bedroom so as to feel connected to something. I begin to take inventory of my surroundings, and my eyes fall first upon the stack of books on my bed-side table. Books make me inexplicably happy. I love the shapes, sizes, and colors of books, from the very small and flimsy to the grandiose, heavy and sincere. Some I purchased abroad or at used book sales; some were gifts; some are on (very long) loan. I love the naked spines of my journals, which collect all my crazy thoughts, and the sparsely decorated historiographies and commentaries from Saints and sinners alike.
As my eyes feast on this variable cornucopia of information, I spy a small trinket, a pearl among the diamonds–a small, glass, hand painted bottle from Bratislava, which once contained a sample of Slovakian honey meade (travel size!). Now my eyes begin to wander, scanning past the sea of blue wall, to the double-pained window. A small assortment of jewelry, trinkets, and photographs rest there, along with an ill-crafted flute purchased in Bethlehem, on the off chance that I might have found some sheep that needed herding. Alas, I did not.
Below this sill sit my instruments: a large djembe perched on top of a foraged wooden stool and an old acoustic, three quarter size guitar. Suddenly, the term “traveling minstrel” begins to sound like a serious and viable occupation. But African drums are extremely cumbersome.
Above and to the right of the sill hang a few foraged and gifted pictures, not of people, but of wine bottles, sunflowers, inspirational quotes and a portion of Van Gough’s Starry Nights, repainted into a neat little four by four pun: “Van-Go,” and a Volkswagon beetle in the foreground.
My eyes turn again to the closet door, filled so deep with memories that I hesitate to unravel the fathoms just now. I think of the drawers of one cabinet, in particular; the bottom, being the deeper of the two, contains my old maps, travel guides, notebooks, ticket stubs, and Hebrew language learning assignments. Every map I gathered from every hostel I slept in or museum or mountain I visited I kept: from Eilat to Jerusalem to Budapest, Prague, Vienna, and Slovakia, and from Ein Gedi to Masada and Old Jaffa Hostel. Maps, like books, are precious jewels to me, founts of invaluable and unique information. On them I marked and circled all the sites I loved, the restaurants that served good beer or dessert, the hostels with the friendliest staff, the nearest bus terminal and number.
I am there now, at the bus terminal in Bratislava, sipping a Pilsner inside the station pub, which itself was converted from an out-of-use street car. Then I jump to the porch outside the Ein Gedi hostel, perched with free café (instant, in that red and black packet, and milk from a pouch!), watching the full moon rise over the Dead Sea, Jordan in the background. (As close as I was and as many times as I saw the cities and mountains of Jordan, I never actually crossed the border, despite Petra being a huge tourist destination. I have to go back!!) In my mind I wake up and stretch to greet the great dense, salty sea, then climb, high, higher still up the mountain to the highest legally allowed point in forty degree centigrade heat, then down, deep down into Dodom’s cave and waterfall. Oh, the magic of the desert!!!
My heart longs again for those secret places in the land, those deep mysteries that are so fixed, ancient and overwhelming. I come back to my room, and my eyes fall upon my favorite poem, framed and mounted above my chest of drawers, and I begin to read:
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
I think again of the silent and the chaotic in far away lands. I think of the silent and chaotic demons that test us here in my home country, indeed in my very heart and soul. Tests, challenges, other points of view–as cliche as it sounds, I found myself through living day in day out in Be’er Sheva, getting to sleep each night and waking up with the hot desert sun on my face. I found something I had been looking for since I was a little girl: the confidence and serenity to feel my feet fixed firmly on the ground, yet the faith to throw caution to the wind and let these same feet fly out from under me, over a rock into water or down into a cave. I found the truth–that the world is not such a nice place all the time, and that your life will never be what you want it to be if you put your store in changing times that make headlines, sell newspapers, and send people time and again to war. I think this is why so many pilgrims come to Jerusalem, why so many religious faithful live in Jerusalem, and why that city is and has been and will probably always be the hottest place on Earth: they know, they understand that the ebbing tide of change only rushes over what is firmly rooted into time and space: God and his plan for us.
I have no answers for peace in the world, but I will forever strive, and may we all work for this:
In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.