Let’s have another Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT talks, anyone?)

wildcat hills

There’s bombs in them thar hills. Wildcat Hills, Western Nebraska.

The first seven months of my life were, I think, fairly idyllic. Oh, sure, there was a war going on all around the world, but when I was about 4 months old, Germany surrendered so the only war still being prosecuted was with Japan. We lived in Douglas, Wyoming, where there was no direct threat to my family and neighbors from the war.

And then with one horrendous act, the United States changed the world forever. August 7, 1945, when I was 7 months old, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The United States has not had a moment’s peace since that day.

That is obviously a ridiculous over-simplification of history. A ridiculous over-simplification, but not demonstrably untrue. I know the rhetorical truism that one “cannot prove a negative” (“the United States has not had”), so I will phrase my thesis another way. Since August 7, 1945, the people of the United States have lived in a more-or-less perpetual state of fear and discomfort.

I remember my father speaking of the travesty of Harry Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I remember my father’s sadness at the death of Sen. Robert A. Taft in 1953 because Taft did not believe in foreign entanglements as first Truman and then Eisenhower did and, according to my father, Taft should have been President. I remember the Suez Canal Crisis, Sputnik, Gary Powers, the fall of Fulgencio Batista, the Eisenhower Doctrine―all during those ‘50s we so often hear touted as an idyllic time of American stability and economic growth. And I remember the guided missile silos surrounding the area of Western Nebraska where we lived.

Throughout this time (and continuing vestigially to the present day), lurking in the background was the constant awareness of the “nuclear arms race.” Negotiations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (whose “Godless communism,” was pronounced to be the cause of all of the fearsome brinkmanship leading perpetually almost to war) continued over decades, not to “rid” ourselves of the ever-present threat of bombing each other atomically into oblivion, but to “control” the threat.

When exactly did that threat end? Christmas Day, 1991, with the demise of the U.S.S.R?

Now we want to “rid” Iran of all possibility of making one of those atomic weapons that have kept us so frightened since 1945. Never mind that Israel has a bunch of them, or that India and Pakistan rattle the sabers of annihilation toward each other periodically. And China has as many of the dreaded bombs as we do. And does anyone know what happened to the U.S.S.R.’s bombs and missiles when it dissolved. ALL of them?

I am well aware that the possible carpeting of the earth (thank you, Ted Cruz) with nuclear weapons is no longer the greatest source of fear in the U.S. Now we have ISIS and the other “Radical Muslim Terrorists” waiting for the next opportunity to kill us. I am not being flippant, and I do not minimize that danger although I wish anyone who might be reading this would read this article by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart.

We have made mortal enemies of vast numbers of citizens of the “Middle Eastern” as opposed to the “Western” world. For 70 (and in the case of Britain and France, 100) years we have run roughshod over not only its economies, but its very political structures, creating nations where there were none and destroying nations where there were. And all the while pumping billions (trillions?) of barrels of oil out of that part of the earth for the benefit of our part of the earth. All in the name of keeping the world safe for democracy.

None of this is unknown to the general populace. I know my writing about it is unscholarly, disjointed, incomplete (and probably so biased as to be laughable). And, yes, I know about Hitler and Stalin, and Emperor Hirohito and all of the other perpetrators of evil against the world.

But the fact is, we have brought much (most?) of our fear and suffering on ourselves. And the NSA, the police departments with armored vehicles, and the metal detectors and terrorism alerts and warrantless cyber-snooping, and . . . . are all reminiscent of the “air-raid drills” we practiced when I was in fourth grades. And about as effective, I’d guess.

We live in a fear-and-hatred-based society. But if we did not ourselves bring about our felt need to fear and hate, we at least have done and are doing nothing to alleviate the need.

And now, it will seem I’m changing subjects by pointing out one of the  best examples of our Western penchant for xenophobia, of creating an untenable Sitz im Leben (“setting of life”), and then blaming the (perceived or real or conveniently created) enemy, the “godless Communists” or the “Radical Muslim Terrorists,” for the fear and loathing in which we live. That example is the State of Israel.

The U.S., the U.N., and the Zionists of Europe and the Middle East created a country by confiscating most of the land belonging to an indigenous people and made a new nation where it did not exist before. 1948. Since that time, and with increased persistence since 1967 when Israel took over all of the land of the area, the indigenous people have protested, usually legally and peacefully, but, at times, violently.

And just as the U.S. convinced its people―and most of the world―that the “other” was responsible for such realities as the Cold War, the Israeli government has convinced its own people and the U.S. that the indigenous Palestinians are to blame for violence and unrest. (Please see this site for current news of the situation.)

Our nation and nations like ours seem loathe to take responsibility for our mistakes, for our ruthlessness, for our self-centered grandiosity as the first step in fashioning not simply the control of arms and war and violence and hatred but the reality of peace and equality.

IMG_3267

Palestinian Bedouins, live in these hills. The village of Sousia, Palestine Occupied Territories. Photo by Harold Knight, November 7, 2015.

“. . . They sip at their longing for God. . .” (Samih Mohsen)

Like mother like son

Like mother like son

I bought an iPad about three years ago. I’m not exactly sure why, except that the (more than) friend I was hanging with had one, and it looked so convenient and fun. I discovered it will do almost everything I ever want to do on my computer.

The thing goes with me nearly everywhere these days. About all I do with it is check email and Google to find answers to questions (actually, it’s Safari, not Google) I want immediate answers to. Once in a while I take pictures. Probably the most time I spend on it—shall I admit this public?—is playing Sudoku. I’ve gotten so I can hardly sit and watch TV without playing Sudoku, and the iPad is much easier to see than my iPhone.

The most useful App I have is my Nook book app. All of the books I’ve bought for my Nook, I can read on the iPad. I haven’t picked up the Nook since I bought the iPad.

I hear women occasionally talk about how they have become their mothers (is there a famous book about that?), but I never hear men talk about how they have become their fathers. I have.

My father became interested in computers in the ‘80s when he was in his 70s. He owned one before I did. Now I’m in my 70s and trying desperately (hardly at all, in point of fact) to keep up with technology. I am my father. I am amazed at all of this stuff. My computer knowledge is stuck somewhere in about the ‘90s. I can’t do anything technological. I have a big flat-screen (not THAT big) “SMART” TV that I can’t watch movies on because I can’t figure out how to make it talk to my wireless modem.

And things go downhill from there.

All of the messages from one of my very closest friends (there are many of them) were ending up in the spam file in my email. I was checking the file for messages of his and dutifully moving them to my inbox when I noticed that the “spam” icon at the top of Outlook turns to “Not Spam” when I open the spam file. I clicked on it when I had one of his messages open, and voila! Problem solved.

I’ve been using the same Outlook email for 20 years.

You can extrapolate from that little example to the larger world of GPS and iTunes and. . . . to understand how limited my ability is.

My dad bought his first computer when he discovered he could have the pictures he and Mom took on their 50th anniversary trip to The Holy Lands in 1987 scanned and printed out on a computer. It was pretty crude and rudimentary back then, but it was possible. He had to have one.

I had no clue then.

But when I was part of a delegation of the Inter-Faith Peace Builders (Fellowship of Reconciliation) to Palestine/Israel in 2003, I bought a digital camera. I have hundreds of pictures. Unfortunately, they are on 3 ½ inch floppy disks, and I have no way to read them. But that began my love affair with digital pictures. I use my phone and my SONY camera to take zillions of pictures, as everyone else does.

Wonderfully strange that my father and I both learned about digital photography through trips to The Holy Lands.

There was one huge difference in our experience there, however. He went with a Baptist church group, and the only place they went in the West Bank was Bethlehem—even though the Apartheid Wall was only a gleam in Benjamin Netanyahu’s eye at that time.

My dad’s group could have wandered anywhere they wanted, but they went where all tourists went at that time (and still today). Mom and Dad never saw a Palestinian Refugee Camp or the ruins of a Palestinian village covered in pine trees planted by the Israelis to make the ruins disappear.

Somewhere I have a digital picture of my mother terrified and angry on a camel—she had no idea it was going to stand up suddenly once she got on. Of course, that was at the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but the same trip.

I have such a picture of myself taken on my second visit in 2008—except I was having the time of my life, and not solely because of the hunky young Palestinian man who owned the camel—riding in a little walled-in yard in Jericho.

The Baptists did not know the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or that the Dead Sea was becoming a resort for Israelis which the Palestinians who live within walking distance are not allowed to share.

Etc.

The latest download on my iPad is Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod, editors (Columbia University Press, 2007). It is a collection of essays about the Palestinian “Catastrophe” of 1948—the year those villages were plundered and the planting of camouflage trees began.

My father, having been two miles (or less) from a couple of those destroyed villages never knew the word “Nakba.” I know because I asked him.

My parents were a stone’s throw from Deir Yassin, one of the first villages to be depopulated by the citizens of the newly formed Israel, and he never saw it or heard of the massacre. (Some of the buildings are still there—used as a state-run Israeli mental hospital.)

I was hoping last week when I heard about it to find a Nook Book version of the book A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Of course, there is no Nook version. But I ordered the paperback edition.

I’d suggest that you get it. That is, if you have any desire to know Palestinians as persons, as a nation, as a people loving and longing for life in their homeland.

“Lamentation,” by Samih Mohsen

At Manger Square, at midday,
The chairs outside the cafes
Are taken by Western tourists, in September
They sip at their longing for God
The streets teem with passers-by
And foreign languages
We tread on the shadow
Of an old man stretched out on the pavement
With his arm and a tattered shoe for a pillow
His mattress was a story. . .
We pass by his wounds without seeing
Beer tickles our bellies to laughter
And telling inane anecdotes
We try to release the child within us
We stand in Manger Square
And mimic the dance-steps of Zorba the Greek
We step
We laugh
We step into the ring of lamentation.
–translated by Henry King

Samih Mohsen was born in the village of Naqour in Nablus, Palestine (Occupid Territories) in 1953, and has published two collections of poetry, Exiting the Narrow Rooms and Kingdoms & Peril.

From a book review of A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry in which this poem is published:
“It is poignant and grimly amusing to read of the Western tourists who ‘sip at their longing for God’ in Manger Square and ignore ‘an old man stretched out on the pavement’ (‘Lamentation’ by Samih Mohsen, trsl. Henry King). It is hard not to feel something of a tourist oneself when reading a book of poems like this written, as it were, from Emily Dickinson’s ‘great pain’. As Iain Crichton Smith wrote in his long essay about the Hebrides: ‘Real people in a real place’; the Palestinians are also real people in a real place. And the land itself which is the subject at the heart of most of these poems, guarding the bones of their relatives and ancestors, is sacred to them.” From the online magazine, “The Bottle Imp.”

If you pray. . .

10-21-3-wise-men-and-a-wall2.

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Wave of Prayer: This prayer ministry enables local and international friends of Sabeel to pray over regional concerns on a weekly basis. Sent to Sabeel’s network of supporters, the prayer is used in services around the world and during Sabeel’s Thursday Communion service; as each community in its respective time zone lifts these concerns in prayer at noon every Thursday, this “wave of prayer” washes over the world.


Sabeel Wave of Prayer

for January 8, 2015

As a new year begins, we take time to remember the events of the past year. The difficulties, the tragedies, and the hardships are fresh in our minds, especially as we think of Syria, Iraq, Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Lord, please remind us of your daily mercies, your grace, and your promise of peace.  Lord in your mercy…

The 2014 year marked the United Nations “international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people”; however, it ended with the UN Security Council failing to pass a resolution to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land within two years.  Israel has now withheld millions of dollars in revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA). This is collective punishment by Israel for Palestine recently taking the non-violent, legitimate step of joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). Merciful God, we pray that the international community will truly be in solidarity with the Palestinian people by having political will, speaking truth to power, and standing up for justice and peace. Lord in your mercy…

The weather in Palestine and Israel is expected to reach very cold temperatures this week, with predictions of snow.  During this time we think of our brothers and sisters in Bedouin communities who are being displaced and are unprotected from the weather elements and those in Gaza who are displaced, homeless, and living in inadequate housing after Israel’s massive military offensive this past summer.  Lord, give them your strength and warmth to endure the storms.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for your blessing upon the celebrations of the Orthodox Christmas this week.  We also ask for your guidance in the New Year as our Sabeel programs begin anew.  We pray for inspiration and creativity in our activism and ministries.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray alongside the World Council of Churches for the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  Lord in your mercy…

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

A Christmas Greeting from Jerusalem

(My friend Samia Khoury from Jerusalem sent her greeting by email this morning.)

palestine-apartheid-wall-23One of the well-known Christmas songs “I’ll be home for Christmas” which my generation remembers for being first recorded by Bing Crosby in the forties, was on the program of the Christmas concert we attended at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies – Brigham Young University.

As I listened to the beautiful tenor singing it, I could not help but think of all those who won’t be able to make it home for Christmas, by no choice of their own. And that is when the song becomes so meaningful when you think of the many soldiers serving on foreign land, the refugees, the prisoners, and the many young Palestinians who have been denied their right to come home or be united with their families because of absurd laws under a military occupation.
Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank in the West Bank city of Bethlehem
So I hope all of you who are gathering with your families for Christmas, will indeed feel grateful for this blessing without having to worry about check points or denied entry.

Have a joyful Christmas and best wishes for peace and good health throughout the New Year.

Samia

"Home for Christmas" in Bethlehem.

“Home for Christmas” in Bethlehem.

A special guest message

(Note: From my friend Samia Khoury in Jerusalem. About Samia: http://samiakhoury.wordpress.com/about/ )

On Wednesday, November 19, 2014 3:57 AM, Samia Khoury <samiaorama@_______> wrote:

Reflecting on today’s events

November 18, 2014


Jerusalem, 2008

Jerusalem, 2008

It did not start with the kidnapping of the three young settlers which Israel claims to be the reason for retaliation on all fronts. It did not start with the occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967. It has been an ongoing dispossession ever since 1948 even after the Palestine National Council recognized Israel on 78% of historic Palestine in 1988. The onslaught on  East Jerusalem has been going on with a clear agenda that  Jerusalem is the united eternal capital of Israel, with a plan to build the Temple to replace El-Haram El-Sharif.

Ironically Har Nof where the events of today took place is originally a Palestinian suburb adjacent to Deir Yaseen where the infamous massacre of the Palestinians took place in April 1948. That was the spark that  terrorized the Palestinian residents of West Jerusalem that led to their exodus.

Yes indeed it is brutal and completely unacceptable to attack worshipers in their place of worship, as was the attack of settler doctor, Baruch Goldstein, on Muslim worshipers during the month of Ramadan at the Hebron Mosque in February 1994. Twenty-nine Palestinian were killed and 125 wounded at the time. The epitaph on Goldstein’s tombstone called him a martyr with clean hands and a pure heart.

As much as I believe in non-violent resistance, it is very sad to realize that the futility of the negotiations and the  failure of the peace process, on top of Israeli provocations, are all leading  the Palestinian population of Jerusalem to desperation as they feel  completely abandoned. While the International community continues to claim the annexation of Jerusalem as illegal and so are  the settlements, and the demolishing of homes, no action has been taken  to reverse the realities that Israel continues to create on the ground. The young people of Jerusalem cannot sit still any more, simply watching and resisting peacefully while their holiest site El-Haram El-Sharif is being coveted and taken over while the world is watching. The more desperate those young people become, the more violence will prevail. We continue to hope for some wisdom to prevail and a definite resolve on behalf of the international community to put an end to Israel’s impunity and spare both people further suffering.

Watch this and then you will understand why so much violence  is encompassing Jerusalem.
http://wp.me/p2HBz8-2vI   


SAMIA
 
(See more about Samia at Ann Hafften’s blog.)

Fleeing from Deir Yassin, April 9, 1948

Fleeing from Deir Yaseen, April 9, 1948


“. . . illumine the world with your image . . .” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

You like to think about synergy and coincidence and “a god thing” and other spookinesses. That is, you like the logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, assuming that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’

In 1456, the Ottomans laid siege to Belgrade in Serbia. They were repelled, and the Christian world of Europe rejoiced. News reached Pope Callixtus III on August 6, and he declared the date The Feast of the Transfiguration, the liturgical remembrance of Jesus’ appearing in light to the disciples (Protestant liturgical churches recently moved the Transfiguration to the Last Sunday in Epiphany).

In 1945, the United States and Japan were locked in the last stages of WW II. President Truman ordered the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities to end the war and “save lives.” Hiroshima was bombed on August 6.

Synergy, coincidence, a “god thing.” The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrating the end of the siege of Belgrade and the bombing of Hiroshima come together on the same day. Does this convergence mean anything?

This convergence was pointed out to me by the widow of Admiral Robert A. Theobald, a commander in the Pacific fleet who accused the Roosevelt administration of knowing the attack on Pearl Harbor was immanent and doing nothing about it in order to bring the U.S. into WWII. Betty Theobald, a cellist of some renown and a member of the altar guild of my (Episcopal) church in Salem, MA, gave me a history lesson from personal experience, her understanding of many coincidences and ironies of WWII.

On August 6, 1787, the U.S. constitutional convention began. On August 6, 1806, Francis II renounced the title “Holy Roman Emperor” ending the empire. On August 6, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and Serbia beginning WWI. On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Unrelated (or are they?) events on August 6, starting with the defeat of the Ottomans who were besieging Belgrade, giving the Christians of Europe reason to rejoice and proclaim a Feast of the Church to mark the day.

This year on August 6 the world was in turmoil: Putin getting ready to invade Ukrainia. Landslides at Mt. Baldy. Ted Cruz running the House of Representatives. Fugitive children massed on the southern border of the US. A lull in the murderous siege of Gaza by Israel. And so on.

We need a victory as decisive as the end of the Siege of Belgrade or the bombing of Hiroshima to lead us out of this morass of bad news, of gruesome events over which we apparently have no control.

We need to figure out how to change the bizarre and dangerous coincidences of our lives, both personal and national.

We need a victory we can mark with a national or religious holiday and move on in the assurance that God’s in her heaven, and all’s right in the world.

We need to learn to accept all of the “coincidences” of our lives or to change the horrendous situations we can change. We need to begin to understand the difference between accepting and changing.

For several days I have been immobilized by a thought I’ve not been able to write.

It’s a simple thought. In our admirable attempt to be “charitable” and “diplomatic” and “equitable” we (all of us, but especially “educated” and “liberal-minded” folks) work hard at trying to “understand” in order to find “fair” solutions to any and all problems. We know every conflict has two sides. Accept or change?

The brightest man made light

The brightest man made light

However, the simple act of saying “there are two sides” means almost certainly we have accepted one side of the argument. Should LGBTQ folks marry or not? Was “Hobby Lobby” the right Supreme Court ruling? Has Edward Snowden helped or hurt Americans? There are two sides to all of these arguments.

I’ll bet everyone has an opinion about each of them. Does anyone really think there are two equally correct sides to those questions?

Is Israel justified in bombing Gaza to rubble?

Of course you have an opinion. If you think Israel has a “right” to bomb Gaza, you a priori think the Gazans have no “right” to fight back against the blockade that has kept their children hungry and their society imprisoned for seven years.

I can hear the most liberal, the most thoughtful, the most fair-minded folks saying, “Well, yes, it’s horrible, it’s gruesome, it’s disastrous, but Israel has a right.” I wish those people—particularly those who make some claim to having a sense of morality—would play that back in their minds. If it’s horrible, if it’s gruesome, if it’s disastrous, then Israel has no right. Period. Whatever the attempt at justification, it is not “right.” Period.

We love synergy, coincidence, strange concurrences. We love the heavenly light of the Transfiguration of Jesus juxtaposed with the brightest light ever created by mankind in the bombing of Hiroshima.

We—especially we liberals and wanna-be intellectuals—love to think we can be reasonable and hold murder and destruction in our minds along with righteousness and light.

I’m not that clever. I think bombing innocent civilians of Hiroshima was an act of violence that haunts our nation 69 years later. And bombing innocent civilians of Gaza will haunt not only Israel but also the United States—which provides the munitions of destruction—for at least 69 years.

gaza bombThe prayer Lutherans read on the Feast of the Transfiguration says,

Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Whether one is a Lutheran or not, or a Christian or not, or an atheist or not, “The resplendent light of truth” is not the light from bombs exploding. Some synergies simply aren’t.

“Live in the layers, not on the litter. . .” (Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006)

My Big Horn Mountains - tectonic uplift

My Big Horn Mountains – tectonic uplift

Stanley Kunitz was 73 (three or four years older than I am now) in 1978 when he wrote his poem “The Layers.” He lived another 28 years and died in 2006 at 101. Remarkable by almost any family’s stats.

My mother lived to be 92, my father lived to be 97 and His father lived to be 92. I could continue the list of my close relatives who lived to be nonagenarians.

By the laws of averages and statistics, it seems to me that I may be hanging around here for some time (I’m only 69). Given simple genetics, I have some time left to enjoy myself—or do something, at any rate.

I want to spend more years in the mountains. The real, majestic, overwhelming mountains. Mountains like the Big Horns in Wyoming, at the western slope of which I lived my first five years. Or the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, in whose shadow I lived for 11 years.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

I am not who I was though some principle of being myself remains.

Of his poem Kunitz said,

“I wrote ‘The Layers’ in my late seventies to conclude a collection of sixty years of my poetry. Through the years I had endured the loss of several of my dearest friends. . . I felt I was near the end of a phase in my life and in my work.”

He went on to say that the lines “Live in the layers, not on the litter” came to him in a dream. I suppose if one is a poet, lines appear in dreams.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

If I think about the tribe of friends and family I’ve had in my life so far, I understand the notion of the tribe scattered. I’ve been watching a TV program about the geological history of Australia. I’m fascinated that the geologists and zoologists and anthropologists can look at layers of rock and decipher the ages of fossils they find there (I’m fascinated that they can pick up what appear to be scattered rocks and put them together to form a dinosaur fossil).

My beach at Winter Island

My beach at Winter Island

The earth has—apparently world-wide—a layer of what used to be soot (it’s black, at any rate) that has been compressed into rock. Geologists find it almost anywhere on the earth they look. The residue of earth’s crash with an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Anyone who knows even the little I know science/evolution/geology knows about the great Yucatan Asteroid Smash, a cataclysmic event. And one which is revealed through the constant movement, the uplift, of the earth’s outer shell (made up of the “layers”), the tectonic plates.

Stanley Kunitz (as poets do) gave me a new way to think about the layers of the earth—the layers of my life. Childhood. Teen years. College. Floundering. Graduate school. Failed marriage. First partnership with him. Second partnership. College teaching career. Third partnership. More graduate school. University teaching. Topsoil. Retirement/whatever.

My favorite geological wonder is the uplift of mountains. How do the tectonic plates move? Is the uplift sudden and earth-shattering, or slow and deliberate (apparently it’s slow—the Andes, I’ve read somewhere, are getting taller by a milli-inch every year)? I want to know the mountains.

The uplift, the earth-shattering experiences of my life (yes, I am a drama queen). Moving from Nebraska to California for college. Getting married. Moving to Iowa for graduate school. Getting divorced. Moving to Massachusetts to be with him. Then the next him. College teaching. The real him and moving to Dallas.

The uplifts, the layer-shattering experiences of my life seem to have involved moving from one place to another.

Or simply visiting one place or another.

The greatest tectonic uplift of my life was my first trip to Palestine in 2003. Nothing about my life was unaffected by that experience. All of the layers were dislodged.

OK. I’ll stop with the (by this time over-done and corny) metaphor.

I understood there for the first time how costly, how inestimable human life is. I realized for the first time the meaning of one sentence I learned from the foundational “layer” of my life. The way I learned it first was something about losing your life to find it. I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew 16:24-26. I met people in Palestine who

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. . . Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way. . . to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

I met people in Palestine—Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Rafa, Gaza City, Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron—who know about keeping themselves but losing everything. I’ve purposefully left out the phrases in the quotation that make it explicitly “Christian.” I know some of my friends would have visceral negative reactions to that. They’re missing the point.

I’m not saying people who know about losing everything (the shattering crush of the “tectonic plates” of their lives) and saving themselves don’t live elsewhere. But most of the people I met in those places, especially the Salsa family in Beit Sahour, showed me (I still have not learned the lesson well) what little is worth “. . . trad[ing] your soul for.”

Of course, the Palestinians have been forced to learn. But they have learned. Those whom I met in 2003 and again in 2009 know about the value of life in a way almost no one else I know does. They know how to live in the layers of their lives, not in the litter around them—even the cataclysmic earth-shattering events of their lives.

“The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006

Know how to live in the layers, not the litter

Know how to live in the layers, not the litter

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.