“. . . so we can renew time in all places . . .” (Ibrahim Nasrallah)


The sky at Susiya (Photo: Harold Knight, November 2015)

(Please note: Writing with serious intent is the work of a lifetime. I’ve begun much too late,
so I don’t do it well, but I will continue to try as long as I can.)

This morning in my email one of the daily “meditation” messages I subscribe to was the musings of the author about his sense that there is always something left to do ― something is about to happen ― that will make his life complete, or happy or fulfilled or . . . I have forgotten the words he used. He seemed sad or a little put out, of course, that details get in the way of the big accomplishments or realizations or successes of his life. And then he realized that the details are his life.

I don’t really meditate, and most of those daily messages seem pretty sappy and not of interest to me, but I subscribe to them to get myself to start my day by taking a moment to slow down and read something someone else finds important or inspiring, as a sort of personal discipline.

I liked the meditation this morning. It was a bit ironic in a gentle, almost humorous way. But as the day went on, I liked it less and less.

I don’t think the details such as going to Kroger to get the coffee I forgot to buy and the kitty litter I didn’t realize I needed, or making sure I’m signed up the way I need to be for Social Security for the coming year, or answering non-personal emails, or practicing the organ to be ready to play at the big church on January 1, or teaching my GED class are my life. They may be something of the glue that holds my life together day by day, that gives me a sense that something is happening, that time is passing in a purposeful way, but they are not my life. Not even the organ playing that I love so much. Those details get in the way of my life.

My life, my reality, happens when I am doing nothing.

Every day I look through the headlines of about a dozen online news sources from Palestine. I find four or five items that seem to belong together, either about similar events, or about the same event from different points of view, or some other connection that only my unconscious mind understands. Eventually my bewildered brain lets me know what it is seeing, and I begin to fashion a blog post around an idea. Then I log on to the university online library databases to which I have access and search for academic journal articles that might somehow present background for the nebulous thread of an idea I have ferreted out from the day’s news. Or I look for a poem by a Palestinian poet that seems to go with the news. Then I put together the day’s post and upload it.

Isn’t that odd. I say my reality happens when I am doing nothing, and then I describe a complicated, detailed process I go through almost every day. It certainly seems like doing something. The fact is that I am in a way doing nothing. I do not have to do this. No one is expecting me to do it. I derive little if any personal satisfaction from the blog. I almost never put a word of my own in it. The work is simply there to be done. It must be done. Note the passive verb: it must be done, not “I must do it.”

I have been to Palestine three times. I have friends in Palestine. Traveling there does not seem to be nothing. When I have been there, I have been overwhelmed with a reality that I have experienced nowhere else. Time for me stops ― certainly not for the Palestinian people. Their lives are as complex and busy and fruitful as anyone’s, and they live in a crushing reality that would, I am sure, destroy most people I know. And they keep on with the details of their lives.

Their details reach back into the history of mankind and yet are as immediate as human existence can be, and more difficult than I can imagine. When I am among my friends, my good fortune, my wonderment, my incomprehension is that, when I come home, I bring a bit of the eternity of that place with me and none of the modern horror.

My life has details. Preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Attending the opera. Tutoring university football players. Those common things. And I am awed and delighted to travel to the mountains, the beach, my sister’s and brother’s homes, even to downtown Dallas.

Those details are not my life. Standing still, breathing and feeling my body, calming my mind, giving myself to nothing, waiting for ― for what I do not know. All of that comes easily standing in the Negev Desert near the homes of new friends in Susiya, in a place where much of the thought and belief of my people originated, and where my friends can trace their ancestry back millennia, standing, at one with the unpaved, untilled ground and at one with the sky, the infinity. This seems melodramatic, or at least like a Hallmark card. Or one of those meditations I think are sappy.

I’ve seen places where, even if one does not believe in God, one knows what “Be still and know that I am God” means.

I do not mean to argue with the writer of this morning’s meditation. But the details ― this computer, the undeposited paychecks sitting on my desk, the sandwich I’m about to prepare ― the details are not my life. The wonder of nothing, of the sky at Susiya, even of sitting in my living room alone and still, that is my life.

“Shadows,” by Ibrahim Nasrallah

Our souls have become shadows in the dust,
so who will circle around us
after they leave?
Who will visit us on a pilgrimage
so we can renew time in all places?
Shadows might have shadows:
Them . . . us . . .
you . . . and you . . .
and me.

From Rain Inside: Selected Poems by Ibrahim Nasrallah. Willimantic CT: Curbstone Press, 2009.

The desert between Jericho and Jerusalem, (Photo: Harold Knight, November 2015)

One Response to “. . . so we can renew time in all places . . .” (Ibrahim Nasrallah)

  1. bobritzema says:

    Harold, you say that “in a way I am doing nothing” because you don’t have to write the blog and no one expects you to do it. Still, it’s quite something to do every day. Do you chose to do it? If so, our choices define our lives; by repeatedly choosing to do one thing, not another, character is shaped. That process of being formed is definitely something. Do you feel compelled to do it? In that case, wouldn’t it then be a calling, something that has chosen you? That, too, is something. It sounds as if it is what matters most in your life. In a sense, it sounds similar to what the writer of the meditation was saying, except in his case the details that made his life were grocery shopping and paying bills, but for you the detail that defines your life is the blog. Interesting post.

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