Sunday, May 28, 2017



As I sat in the shared taxi, squished between the door and my mother, I looked out to the night sky.  I could see Orion and the stars so vividly.  These same stars looked down on my home an ocean away.  I was in a strange land after being in other strange lands.  After over twenty days spent walking among ancient Greek ruins and feeling my soul touch the lives of the past I was here, in Israel-Palestine, at night in a car on the way to Jerusalem.  I had no idea then that Jerusalem and my time there would change my life forever.

The taxi stopped at a small youth hostel on the street in front of a huge gate set in tall, crenelated stone walls that had creamy peach colored lights shining on them.  I stepped out and went up to the mezzanine;  it was lit by a garish fluorescent bulb.   There I met an older man and a young man. The young man had soft, curly brown hair; the kind that is springy and the curls were big instead of kinky.  His eyes were huge;  his eyelashes were dark and long.  He cocked his head, slid one foot outward to his left and angled his foot upward.  Then he smiled and his teeth were so white against his beautifully tanned skin.  He asked me if I would like a room.  He spoke English rather well.  My mother and I said we would take a room and we were given room 16 which faced the front of the building and had a private bathroom.   We fell asleep in the rough beds after using our own sheets to make them up.

The next morning, I awoke to the Muslim call to prayer;  it was the first time I had ever heard it.  The sun was just coming into the side window and it was rising over the Dome of the Rock;  a golden dome.  That call; it pulled my soul out of its moorings.  This was not like anywhere I had ever been.

 My mother and I dressed and went downstairs where the same young man met us and told us where to get breakfast nearby.  The bread was freshly baked, warm, with sesame seeds on it.  There was a hard boiled egg with it and some spices.  Hot mint tea with lots of sugar in a  small glass  came with it.   Then we went  down to Damascus gate; that same huge gate I had seen the night before.  Like all desert places, the sky was a piercing blue.  We entered between two huge, bullet-ridden doors into a darkness;  we turned left and then the light was back. That doorway passage had been filled with hanging dresses, trinkets, a money changer, and people going in and out that were dressed like no others I had ever seen.  Women with scarves on their heads, men in keffieyehs, children scampering and tourists of all kinds were coming and going.  As we passed back into the light, the way opened up and there were wide steps down into a market.  People with large trays of sweets on their heads walked among tourists; donkeys with kids on them carrying merchandise mingled with everyone.  On each side there were small shops that opened up to the step way.  Farther in there were several walkways that led off the main open area.  Each was shaded by their narrowness and the buildings built over them.

I had stepped out of time and into an Arabian Nights story.  I could smell the spices and see them in huge sacks along the one alley way.  The age of these streets, the stones, the walls, the very air was astonishing.   The sights, smells, tastes;  all were an explosion of the senses.  I was on overload and felt fully alive for the first time in my life.  I felt like a dormant flower opening for the first time, a chrysalis splitting to allow my new, butterfly self to emerge.  

A fire was lit in me then, a fire so strong, so fierce, so intense that it would rush through me and in me, burning  me inexorably into a new self, a new being, a new life.   I wanted to whirl and dance, scream a primal scream,  cry, laugh,  be silent.  My heart began to sing.   A  hitherto unknown, unexpressed,  nascent passion  grew in me;  feeling  at home in this place like nowhere before. 

I was  eighteen years old.


We packed up my few belongings and got into a car.  As Jericho receded in the distance, we entered stark desert hills.  There were villages in these hills but mostly it was just desert.  What a strange and alien land I had chosen to make my home.  This land was ancient and covered in  the blood of many battles.  Religion was soaked into the land with that blood.  I could feel it permeate the very stones.

 I looked at the young man next to me.  I  thought for a fleeting moment that I must be stark raving mad to entrust my body, heart and soul to him;  he was a stranger to me  despite our passionate embraces and letters to one another.  Why on earth had I come?  The enormity of what I had done swept over me and I turned my head and looked out the car window.  The rational mind I once had  was muted but in moments like this, it came rushing back and questioned my choices with a harshness that was frightening.  So I buried it under the emotions that were in me.

I ignored the many warnings my mind had about this choice I was making.  Instead, I was moving headlong into a life I was ill prepared for.  Many years later, I realized I did so because of  the emotional starvation I endured in my  family.  Better to trust a stranger with my heart than to trust my family who had betrayed that trust  several times and, unbeknownst to me, would do so even more so and in even more devastating ways in the future.