Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hebroni Gratitude

If it ain't a pleasure, it ain't poetry. -William Carlos Williams

My director of novices, Leo rock used to say, "God created us - because He thought we'd enjoy it." We try to find a way, then, to hold our fingertips gently to the pulse of God. We watch as our hearts begin to beat as one with the One who delights in our being. Then what do we do? We exhale that same spirit of delight into the world and hope for poetry.  
- Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heat

When I started writing this in mid-afternoon, it had been raining nearly nonstop since last night. Yesterday it rained on and off all day and the night before it rained heavily.  When we passed by shops yesterday morning, some shopkeepers were pushing out or mopping up water and mud from their floors. Thankfully, the rain has subsided and tomorrow is supposed to be sunny.

This morning we had a meeting with members of two other monitoring NGOs.  They arrived at our apartment very wet and very cold.  It seems our apartment is the best of the lot. Our space heater is an object of envy. After the meeting, in an effort to get things done before the Old City flooded (rain was forecast for the entire day), I accompanied a teammate to run errands. She's also American and wanted to make a Thanksgiving dinner.  All the Americans on team right now are vegetarian.  She needed supplies to make cornbread, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a sweet potato souffle for dessert.

As we left our house, it was raining, but the streets of the Old City were fine. We passed through and out to Bab i Zaweyya (a commercial area), where we bought phone cards and a few other things.  On our way back towards the Old City, we picked up what she needed for dinner. As I stood at a fruit stand, a boy came along, pinched my cheeks, and said something in Arabic that I didn't understand.  The young man selling the fruit, whose face was scratched and bruised from who-knows-what and who I'd bought fruit from yesterday, chastised the boy, who went on his way.

When we returned to the Old City, we saw that the flooding had begun.  From the drains water was spurting up and out. This is what happens in the Old City because 1) it is in a valley and 2) street closures where metal doors or large concrete walls have been places by the Israelis, mean the water doesn't have as many places to flow out of the Old City.  During winter (aka the rainy season) flooding is a common occurrence.

As my teammate in knee-high rain boots and I in my very wet jeans that covered my ankle-high hiking boots assessed the situation, Palestinian boys indicated to us that she was OK to walk through the water and I was not because of the depth of the water. However, I was determined to get home; walking through the water, whatever that might mean, was the only way to do so. We stepped into the flood.  The boys and a man walked ahead of us, showing us where to step, where the shallower water was. The stream through which we waded reached about ankle-high.  My jeans, ankles, and sock tops were wet, but my as-yet-untested hiking boots proved their waterproof-ness: my feet remained warm and dry. We reached the higher ground by our house, walked the staircase up to our apartment, and huddled around the space heater.

I soon went back out with my camera.  The water had receded a little. As I surveyed the flood, a Palestinian man said, "Go in and I'll take your picture." I declined the offer, pointing to my already wet clothes. An older man said, "Come to my shop. Have some tea." Pointing again to my wet clothes, I told him I wanted to go back to the house to change. "I have fire. You can sit and drink tea." I tried to decline again, but his insistence won me over.

I hadn't been to or seen his shop before and it isn't a place from which I'll ever buy anything. I'm not even sure what he sells, maybe coffee pots? He pointed me to a plastic chair and then aimed his small space heater, a sprig of sage attached, towards my legs. I leaned over to warm my hands as he put a teaspoon of sugar and then steaming hot tea into a paper cup. He stirred it and handed it to me. As the the heater and the tea warmed me, he told me in broken English about his 22 children, his 3 wives, and his 16 grandchildren. He handed me a paper which listed all his children's names (in Arabic) and birth dates (not in Arabic).  His oldest children (twins, it seems) were born in 1970, his youngest in 2005. He told me how he used to get lots of business, but that he lost it when the street was blocked on one end with tall concrete panels because of the Israeli settlement on the other side; now he rarely sells anything. He told me about the CPTers that he used to know and asked me about my family.  When he asked about my father, he told me his age, 5 years younger than my dad.  I was surprised, as I'd have guessed him older. He showed me a map of Palestine, written in English.  He can't read English. Another man came while we were talking, so my host switched from English to Arabic as he talked to both of us. When I finished my tea and bid farewell, he invited me to come again anytime and to bring friends.  This kind of hospitality is the norm here.

I came back to the house, put on dry pants, and have been basking in gratitude since then.  Actually I've been basking since I woke up.

Life is not meant to be a burden. Life is not a problem to be solved. It is a blessing to be celebrated. Every dimension of life, its gains and its losses, are reasons for celebration because each of them brings us closer to wisdom and fullness of understanding.        – Joan Chittister

Today I am thankful for my hiking boots, dry clothes, space heaters, and the boys who navigated the Old City river. I am grateful for the fruit seller with the scratched up face and the old man with the "fire." I am grateful that we did not get any calls about arrests or other common problems of the Israeli Occupation. I am grateful for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. I am thankful for the walk I took once the rain had stopped.

Every day I am thankful for the myriad ways in which I am supported and loved while I am here: for the notes I open each day from my colleagues, who are really friends I happen to work with, at JustFaith; for Facebook messages, emails, and texts from friends and family. I am grateful for the folks who are taking care of my cats and my house while I'm away; for the many people who believe in me and in the work of CPT who were able to make a donation so that I could come work here; and for the people who pray for me, for our team, and most importantly for an abiding peace in this place.  I am grateful for my teammates who support me and challenge me in the very best sense of the word, who show me how to live compassionately and how to embody humility by recognizing that our work is not our own, but the result of our letting God work through us. I am grateful that I am beginning to recognize my privilege; I hope that I will continue to learn, to use my privilege for good when I can, and to work so that all people are treated with equal dignity and respect.

I am grateful for the Palestinians who show me what perseverance, courage, patience, and hospitality look like. I am grateful for short conversations in English with children, for their sometimes shy, sometimes bold, sometimes mischievous smiles and laughter. I am grateful for the times I can interact with Israeli soldiers in a way that feels human. I am grateful to be here, though I hope someday my presence will be unnecessary.

I am thankful for the days I see brilliant blue when I look up and I grateful for days like today that seem to cool not only the air, but tempers that might otherwise flare. 

I am grateful that communication with loved ones is easy and that I have the freedom of movement to return to them soon.  I am grateful that when I leave them, their loves travels with me.  

I am grateful that what I've written is only a short list that could be much longer.  

I pray that you, your friends and family, that those with whom you agree and disagree, that strangers, that all people everywhere have as much to be thankful for as I do.

I pray that we express our gratitude daily. 

Knowing that there is much suffering, much injustice, much work yet to be done, 
I pray that we may live in a way that gives other people reason to be thankful, 
that we exhale a spirit of delight into the world, 
that we live as poetry. 

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