The Convergence

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Jerusalem, Israel – June 2010

The high afternoon sun shines in my eyes, but I take the shot anyway. We are taking a back way from the Mount of Olives into the Old City and probably won’t pass this way again. An imperfect photo is better than no photo at all. As we walk down the deserted path, my eyes are fixed on the Dome of the Rock. It shimmers. Anyone with a brain has taken refuge in the shadows. I pull my wide-brimmed hat lower. My eyeballs throb. Tonight there will be anguish instead of sleep.

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Even Omar, the Arab boy, has left us. He followed us from our hotel. He wanted to talk to my husband and my husband’s friend. He let me take a photo of him at the top of the Mount. When my husband’s friend tried to give him money, he frowned and shook his head. When we turned down this path, he waved and turned back. See you later, he said.

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We walk along the walls of the Old City, searching for an entry. I’m grateful for the shadow they provide. A knot forms at the base of my skull. The stabbing pain has spread from my eyes to my forehead and sinuses. My husband and his friend talk nonstop. They are unaffected by the sun and heat. I look over my shoulder at the Mount of Olives and then at the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the hill. Everywhere one looks is a holy place.

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After a long while, an opening appears. We slip inside. A short walk brings us to the Wailing Wall, but it is relatively silent, even here.

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It is livelier in the souk. As we meander our way through the narrow passages, men lurch out of the stalls or turn to follow us. I hold my husband’s arm. A couple of old men glare at me. They open their mouths and let forth a guttural hiss. It’s the same sound that I have the unfortunate habit of inciting in cats. I bite my lips to keep from laughing. It’s really not funny. I should have looked into the proper dress code for Jerusalem. By Tel Aviv standards, my clothes are very modest. My skirt is a couple of inches above my knees and I’m wearing a sleeveless top. Young men smack their lips and make comments to my husband. He grits his teeth. I tighten my grip on his arm. I don’t want him to have problems because of me. I duck into a stall and buy a scarf. I throw it around my shoulders. I tuck my hair under my hat. The harassment subsides a little.

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We sit for a long while in a sidewalk cafe. None of us speak. It is at a crossroads of the four quarters – Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish. Brown-robed Franciscan monks. Black-robed Russian Orthodox priests. Orthodox Jews in tall black hats and curls. Smiling nuns in various colors of habits. Israeli military men with rifles. Muslim women in black from head to toe. I can only manage to shake my head. It is trippy, this convergence. The Muslim women turn to look me straight in the eyes and smile. I relax into my chair and exhale. I, too, am welcome here.

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Into the Desert

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June 2010

Twenty minutes outside of Jerusalem, silence takes over. The intensity of the ancient city is left behind. Signs of human habitation dwindle and then disappear altogether. We are now in the West Bank region of Palestine. On the horizon, a shimmer as thin and radiant as a sliver of glass. The Dead Sea.

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A strong wave of nostalgia washes over me. Many years ago I lived in California’s Coachella Valley. I spent my days off taking solitary road trips far out into the desert. I felt exhilarated and disconcerted. In the desert you cannot hide from yourself. ¬†Everything is illuminated.

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Not long after I moved away from the desert, my counselor told me that most people, including herself, are drawn to oceans, because it reminds them of being in the womb. I responded that I’ve never felt comfortable near the ocean. I’m at my best, both physically and emotionally, in the mountains. But I’m also drawn to the desert. I can’t say that I feel an affinity for the desert. It’s more like reverence. It sometimes feels good to be humbled. When I told her this, she smiled, but offered no explanation as to what it might mean.

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We pass over into Israel again. My husband, his friend, and I spend a few hours at Ein Gedi spa. We cover ourselves with mud and let it harden into a shell on our skin. Then we float in the Dead Sea. It leaves an oily sheen on the skin. This must be what makes it shimmer. Instead of sand, the floor is covered with solid salt crystals. I dig out a big chunk to take home with me. I collect some water and salt crystals in a small jelly jar for my ten year old niece. She likes learning about the world. The Dead Sea will probably disappear in her lifetime. At least she will have a tiny part of it.

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As the sun sinks behind the Judean Hills, I stand on a sandy cliff and stare at the white mountains of Jordan. My husband and his friend goof around, making a mock documentary with the video camera. The hot breeze sweeps their voices away. Even in their midst I feel alone. Such is the way of the desert.