“. . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day . . .” (Fadwa Tuqan)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

What happened to that light-hearted look at growing old? my friends ask about this blog. It doesn’t quite seem to be light-hearted on the infrequent days I manage to post. What has happened?

Am I less happy than I was on about October 25 (the last time I really wrote a piece for this blog)? Probably not. The not-too-well-kept secret is that I’ve always had something of a struggle to have anything approaching a sunny disposition.

Somewhere about February 15 (exactly February 15) of this year I decided to begin a blog dedicated to gathering bits of news from Palestinian online news sites and publishing a little digest of some I think are interesting or important. Yes, my bias shows absolutely (. . . some I think are interesting. . .) I don’t know if anyone either in Palestine or anywhere else would agree that they are the most important things to repost.

I wish I could remember why I began that blog. One of the joys of old age: I forget more than I remember these days. I should write a light-hearted blog post about that. But there are thousands of such writings by senescent beings out there.

Perhaps I don’t remember because it was nine months ago, and the impetus for my starting the project was some little event or idea that I couldn’t ignore.

And then, for another reason I can’t quite remember, on or about October 1, I decided to go to Palestine for the third time in this century. I signed up to go on the Fall Witness Visit of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.  I had been thinking about returning to East Jerusalem and the West Bank (particularly Bethlehem) for a long time, and when I discovered two old acquaintances would be on the Sabeel Visit, I decided to plunk down the money and get myself over there.

I love Palestine.

I don’t think Israel is much to brag about. French Hill is sort of like a wannabe Bushwick in Brooklyn, or a suburb of Dallas, or any other 21st-century materialistic city. That’s no wonder because it has been built mostly by Americans and others whose lives are controlled by acquiring stuff and self-centered modernity. And also, as nearly as I can figure, by Tea Party types. They might on the whole be better educated and more sophisticated than American Tea Partiers, but they think pretty much the same. Damn! Do I speak in unsupportable and unforgivable generalities, or what?

Palestine, on the other hand, is about as real and interesting a place as you can find. It’s poor and rich, old and young, liberal and conservative, political and apolitical (well, not many apolitical folks), and the Palestinians have too much invested in just trying to stay alive and keep body, mind, soul, and their society together to be interested in any Bushwick or French Hill kind of existence.

Take a young woman from Ramallah who has managed to get a job in Jerusalem. I heard this story last week in Jerusalem. I may have the cities or other specific details wrong, but the story is correct. She is a Palestinian Israeli, born in and a resident of Jerusalem, one of those folks who is caught in a no-person’s land. She made the mistake of marrying the man she loves, who happens to be from Ramallah. She moved there and soon had two sons. Then she found a job in Jerusalem that paid more than any job available in the Occupied Territories. So she now lives in Jerusalem and cannot see her husband and sons because they do not have Jerusalem residency permits. He works as a truck driver and can come to Jerusalem for work, but he has to be out of Israel by 7 PM each evening, and he cannot bring his sons into the city because they were born in the Occupied Territories.

Once in a while he manages to hide at his wife’s apartment overnight, but if he ever gets caught, that will be the end (of lots of things). She can only VERY seldom go to Ramallah because she is a resident of Jerusalem, and those privileges have been virtually taken away for all Palestinian Israelis. She wants to be with her sons. She has petitioned the government of Israel either to be allowed to go to Ramallah regularly or have her children with her in Jerusalem. The official answer? If you want to be with your children, divorce your husband.

This family struggles daily simply to keep themselves together (literally). They are not much worried that “Unique Clothing Is Taking The Fashion World By Storm.” Really, they’re not. Having dinner together this weekend and hugging each other is right at the top of their priority list.

My light-hearted writing about the pitfalls (or just falls—I did it again in Palestine; not to worry, I’ve put the cane away for the second time) of getting older really seems kinda silly at this point. It seems to me that anyone who is not depressed about the situation Palestine, in Syria, in Yemen, in Paris, in . . . has simply capitulated to a materialism that is the same in Bushwick Brooklyn or French Hill Jerusalem.

I have proposed that the second beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn,” offers an apt metaphor for depressive resistance in the age of global neoliberalism. Those who mourn, the depressed, are blessed insofar as they bear witness to the veiled oppression of today’s global hegemony. The concealment of this subjugation is made more complete by a contemporary strategy in which depression is turned into an illness, thus silencing its political importance. (Rogers-Vaughn, Bruce. “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: Depression As Political Resistance.” Pastoral Psychology 63.4 (2014): 503-522.)

One difference between Bushwick and French Hill is, of course, that the genocide in Brooklyn in the name of materialist hegemony was accomplished 400 years ago, while that in French Hill is ongoing.

“THE  SEAGULL  AND  THE  NEGATION  OF  NEGATION,”  BY  FADWA  TUQAN
It crossed the horizon and cleft the darkness,
Mastering the blue, darting on wings of light―
Twisting, turning and still turning.
It knocked at my dark window, and the gasping silence quivered:
“Bird, is it good news you bring?”
It divulged its secret, yet breathed not a word,
And the seagull disappeared.

Bird, my sea-bird, I know now
That during hard times, standing in the tunnel of silence,
All things change.
The seed sprouts even within the heart of the dead,
Morning bursts forth from darkness.
I know now,
As I hear horses galloping the call of death along the shores,
That when the flood comes,
The world will be cleansed of its sorrows.

Bird, my sea-bird, rising from the depths of darkness,
God’s blessing upon you for the good news you bring.
For I know now
Something happened . . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day.

About Fadwa Tuqan.
From THE PALESTINIAN WEDDING: A BILINGUAL ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE POETRY. Ed. and Trans. A. M. Elmessiri. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011. Reprint from Three Continents Press, Inc., 1982. Available from Palestine Online Store.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat  Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

“. . . small nightmares that I hope will develop into great dreams. . .” (Mourid Barghouti)

Ali Hassanein, a 54-year-old oud maker works in Ramallah. Every day life in Palestine. (Photo MaanImages)

Ali Hassanein, a 54-year-old oud maker works in Ramallah. Every day life in Palestine. (Photo MaanImages)

I’m going to stop saying I’m retired except as part of my quirky attempt at a sense of humor. It’s not true.

Dictionary.com:
retire v.
1. to withdraw, or go away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion
2. to go to bed

Yesterday morning I played the organ at First Presbyterian Church in Plano, TX, went to lunch at a famed Dallas barbecue spot with a friend, saw the exhibition of “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters” at the Meadows Museum in the afternoon, had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, and spent the evening packing and preparing for my week-long excursion to North Carolina with my friend.

We have movie and museum and other loosely-formed plans to spend the week “out and about.”

Because I’ll be in the Great Smoky Mountains, I will miss tutoring at the university Academic Development of Student Athletes where I do the most important teaching of my 35-year career I’ll miss my regular schedule with my trainer, and square dancing next Sunday, and my meetings of that anonymous secret society I belong to, and playing the organ next Sunday, and. . .

Hardly seems like going “away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.”

In a sense, however, in my mind I live in a place of privacy. I privately reject doing anything I don’t want to do. I’m learning to say “No” when that’s what I want to say and to say “Yes” to the activities I want to participate in.

Most of us don’t worry about leaving a “legacy.” If I had children and grandchildren, I’d have a somewhat different take on that idea. However, the legacy of family is a personal matter that has little to do with what anyone else thinks. I do have a few interesting, if not valuable, things I hope my nieces and nephews will enjoy having to remember me by, but that’s about it. I’m not the rich uncle.

Then there’s all this stuff I’ve written and posted for the past 12 years that’s floating around out there in cyberspace. I’m told it’s there forever, or at least until climate change finally does human society in.

All this stuff I’ve written is one of the most important aspects of my not going “to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.” This is, however, not as obvious a statement as it might seem. I’ve written recently about all of this and posted it in “the cloud.”

I’m 70 years old. Never in my life have I been ambitious, physically fit, “driven” accomplishing much with my time here. No, I’m basically meek and weak and (perhaps?) lazy. That I am not the rich uncle is testimony in itself to my being a part of Henry David Thoreau’s “mass of men [who] live lives of quiet desperation.” I feel desperation from time to time―but I’m too often not quiet about it.

A couple of “causes,” however, inspire me to work and participation. They keep me from going to a place of privacy and seclusion.

One of those is the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas, about which I’ve written here several times.

The Aberg Center offers ESL classes and GED preparation to adults. The Center is, I believe, the most important place where I practice being neither secluded nor desperate. I feel more joy as a volunteer teacher there than in anything else I do (with the possible exception of tutoring football players). Sentences that are not a “run-on” sentences that students from Aberg write 20 years from now are part of my “legacy.”

The stuff I’ve posted in Cyberspace is part of my legacy. That is not obvious.

Preparations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem for the holy night of Laylat al-Qader on Monday.

Preparations are underway in the Old City of Jerusalem for the holy night of Laylat al-Qader on Monday.

I have other blogs than this one. One is an exercise in what might look like futility or grandiosity. Perhaps that is more than a perception.

However, I post it―almost daily―for the sole purpose of posting it. That blog is not really my own. It’s a small collection of news stories other people have written brought together in a digest often related (at least tangentially) to a poem I have discovered.

I spend the time (up to a couple of hours daily) compiling that blog simply for the sake of doing it. Simply because someone must do it.

The poems the news stories (peripherally) relate to are by writers from Palestine or who are Palestinians living in the Diaspora of displaced Palestinians.

I collect the poetry and the news stories because it has to be done. It is necessary that there is a tiny edge of Cyberspace devoted to telling daily real-life stories from the point of view of Palestinians and trying to relate them to expressions of the inner life and experience of the Palestinian people, i.e. relating news about life in Palestine to snippets of the 1,000-year literary tradition of the Palestinians.

Someone has to do this, and I have the time and skill for the job. (I hope you will check the blog, Palestine InSight .)

It does not matter if no one or one person or a thousand people read it daily. It must exist in Cyberspace. On the day someone needs it, for whatever reason, it will be there. If I do not do it, no one will. It’s that simple.

I spend a few minutes (nearly) every day not being secluded or desperate by simply giving myself to a necessary task and having no desire or belief that I am accomplishing something. I don’t know. What I do know is that it has to be done because some day in some way I can’t know, someone will need it.

“Retirement” could well be going “away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion.” Or it can mean going away or apart to do one’s most important lifework.

“I Have No Problem” by Mourid Barghouti

I look at myself:
I have no problem.
I look all right
and, to some girls,
my grey hair might even be attractive;
my eyeglasses are well made,
my body temperature is precisely thirty seven,
my shirt is ironed and my shoes do not hurt.
I have no problem.
My hands are not cuffed,
my tongue has not been silenced yet,
I have not, so far, been sentenced
and I have not been fired from my work;
I am allowed to visit my relatives in jail,
I’m allowed to visit some of their graves in some countries.
I have no problem.
I am not shocked that my friend
has grown a horn on his head.
I like his cleverness in hiding the obvious tail
under his clothes, I like his calm paws.
He might kill me, but I shall forgive him
for he is my friend;
he can hurt me every now and then.
I have no problem.
The smile of the TV anchor
does not make me ill any more
and I’ve got used to the Khaki stopping my colours
night and day.
That is why
I keep my identification papers on me, even at
the swimming pool.
I have no problem.
Yesterday, my dreams took the night train
and I did not know how to say goodbye to them.
I heard the train had crashed
in a barren valley
(only the driver survived).
I thanked God, and took it easy
for I have small nightmares
that I hope will develop into great dreams.
I have no problem.
I look at myself, from the day I was born till now.
In my despair I remember
that there is life after death;
there is life after death
and I have no problem.
But I ask:
Oh my God,
is there life before death?

Translated by Radwa Ashour
From Barghouti, Mourid. MIDNIGHT AND OTHER POEMS. Trans. Radwa Ashour. Todmorden, UK: Arc Publications, 2008.
About Mourid Barghouti

Israeli forces raided Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Monday and threatened locals, witnesses said. Every Day Life in Palestine.

Israeli forces raided Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem early Monday and threatened locals, witnesses said. Every Day Life in Palestine.