Monday, March 3, 2008

Home, maybe

Prince Edward Island is, for me, home. I am not from the island or of the island, really, but I feel a sense of belonging every time I cross the bridge that connects the mainland of Canada to this lithe and lovely place. Here is a touch of the green of Ireland “blowing in the wind,” the lupin and heather of Scotland and the sea and the lea of both countries all blending to bring me home. I am, after all, Scottish and Irish, and this is as close to those countries as I can get driving from Iowa. I’ve always felt that like everyone in America, I’m really from another place. As a child, I wanted an accent and tried on a southern one, an Irish one, a Scottish one. I wanted to be uniquely me like my toddler daughter, years later, dressed as Batman for Halloween, going from house to house saying, “It’s really me.”

For a long, long time, I felt that Jerusalem was home. It was there, more than a dozen years ago, now, that I felt useful and a part of an enterprise meant to be a mission, a mission to achieve peace that somehow had to be accomplished. Of course, my accomplishment was mighty minuscule. Basically, my colleagues didn’t really like me. I thought I was there for a mission; my co-workers knew how long such thoughts had dwindled down into dust. I answered the phone when no one else would and that meant that someone, not me, would have to do something. I didn’t realize that each person was allotted one pencil and one pen and a very limited supply of paper, and it wasn’t long until everyone in the office had to hid his or her supplies from me. The plenty I had always taken for granted was only a myth to them and, what could I have had in mind, me, the American who hadn’t had the desire to work ripped out of her by the hopelessness of the surroundings. The office folks’ attitude then was similar to the reaction I get from computer boys who have had to spend hours learning so that they can answer an anti-techy novice like me who just wants a quick answer without an explanation of what Html actually means.

When it was time for me to leave and return to the life I knew in America, I wept at a reception in my honor. The people around me were incredulous. “Why are you crying?” someone said. “You can leave. You can go home.” I could and I did, not quite knowing what my little stint in a world not mine actually had been–good, bad, indifferent?

I remember standing in the luxuriant arbor of Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, California, a short time after returning to America and not being able to enjoy the beauty of it. I thought of walking through an alley crossing from Saladine Street in East Jerusalem to a half- built office building. I remember how I thought, “this is a slum”: this center of religious

fervor, this place in Jerusalem, this fought over land. How indifferent the world is to this supposedly "holy" place, how disrespectful. (I think the same thing every Christmas when I hear "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem," during pageants that forget all about the here and now, but speak out loudly about days long gone. Anger wells up and a sense of shame.) It was dusty; hard to walk about without stepping in piles of debris. Bits of paper swirled in the wind, urban tumbleweed. I had gone into the alley to reach the office of a physician who would give me a lotion to ease my allergies to this dust, this mold, this forbidding place. Yet, I loved Jerusalem and the children who laughed or flirted or smiled at me when they and I, the only ones up, walked early to school and office, respectively. I loved the "tabouli" and "fatoush" I ate in hidden restaurants, rarely visible from the street, and the fruit markets and the "ancientness" of it all, the grinding of car breaks, the call to prayer, the language, every aspect of where I was, a place that was, indeed, not home.

But, time has renewed me, and, now, I can enjoy what I've been taught to find beautiful. I love Prince Edward Island. Jerusalem is but a memory, sorrowful and tragic, endlessly in need of a successful mission that could, for once, allow a spark of peace and hope among those who live there. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could return to find that no one wondered any longer why I would cry when it was time to leave?


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