Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Jenin: April 16th, 7 years and one day after a revision of my history.

Liberated by the knowledge that I was finished volunteering, adventures and unknowns ahead, I set off to be the trip mechanic on a week long bike tour from Jenin to Hebron, stem to stern of the West Bank and beyond. It started out from a place called Hamdad Tourism Resort, outside of Jenin, a hard-hit city with a conservative reputation that was rocked by the assassination of Juilano Mer Khamis a few weeks earlier. I biked down into a winding valley called Wadi Badan, one of the best stretches of road in Palestine, a beautiful decent with the option to pop into a swimming hole at the end of it. After that a series of rolling hills wore me out, as underestimating distances seems to be my forte here. I left at about 1 pm to make it to Jenin, which conveniently dropped me in the midst of the first decently hot day of the season. It still felt great to be free, all my things with me in my saddlebags, cruising through cute villages like Aqaba and Zebabida, berms and green fields.

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Coincidentally running into some young kids from the village who recognized me from Nablus put me in a great mood. We were so happy to see each other, like old friends. I became giddy and lightfooted, reflecting on my life, a wander. I wrote on the roadside:

"Remember the eyes and soft faces of the girls you've fallen in love with, their work, their power. Remember the draw of attraction and the bittersweet, youthful knowledge that there's more love in the world, always more love."

There was a current of immaturity running through that moment, and a simultaneous acknowledgment of it.

What I didn't write is:
Each moment eclipses the last unless you're careful to record it. Contrast that with the audacious knowledge that we all settle down, someday, and that there's always an end.

Because here, in this exceptionally conservative place and moment in the ever-conservative Middle East, love is not a wander, ever. It's a permanence. An awesomely limiting proposition. If I were from here, paradoxically, there's no way I would have ever left my family, my home. Terrifying, but there's incredible strength in that.

I'd been in Palestine three months, and extrapolated forward another three to imagine the cumulative effect. I'd lived a lot in that time, parts had seemed rough, and challenging. But in that same stretch of time many mundane challenges have taxed others in my family in ways more subtle and more impossible to bear. My grandmother and father were dying slowly, and others taking care of them, their lives on hold as they watched the minutes slip away on sickbed duty. My adventures are easy to sustain compared to the chores of my mother, spending 80 of the first 160 days of 2011 at my grandmother's bedside, and she went about those tasks pragmatically enough. It consumes her. I wonder what her life, free, would be. And me, her clever son, has not the strength to be consumed.

A tractor just drove by, all red and green and yellow, the driver a sharp and kind-looking old man with one of those old-fashioned headscarves that I never learned the name of, simpler than a keffeyah and white. Face like an old apple. He looked so cheerful and kind, a version of my father in the Palestinian countryside. This is his land, and as it died, he lived, and did not abandon it.

I condemn myself, but I take the burden of my decision: My life is my own, and for now, I want to be free. I'll make use of that.

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2 comments:

Brandon Patterson said...

I like the composition of the freedom versus permanence picture that you've explained here. A sort of on-going soliloquy of young adulthood, an experience I've also confronted. I wonder in what moment does the westernized-mind go into a space of realization that permanence can bring in more love than freedom. Maybe love isn't the right word here, perhaps steady-mindedness, an understanding of what has most meaning in this life, an escape from the individual perspective and a dive into the omnipotent.

We're lucky. There is something to be said when every waking moment deems opportunity, a sort of constant strength that the moment is passing, whether we spend it with an invitation of settling or an upheaval to wander. I wonder how much more is gained by understanding our privilege of having such a freedom to choose permanence. Thanks for your writing, Davey.

DBR said...

This is all really relevant to me, thanks Brandon. I think what you're talking about is when we're ready to be content with a known life, a life without as many variables. Though there're always variables.

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