Sunday, November 25, 2012

Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you're on my mind)

My family of four is going to board a plane for 14 blissful hours of airline food, movies and sleep and land in my husband's country of Canada.  We have holiday time in Canada and the US, our first trip with Saf since he was 5 months old, our first trip with Jubee, ever.  I've recorded my first sentence in this paragraph and have it playing quietly in my children's ears as they sleep.  Just kidding.  But would that work?  I'm not sure how we'll make it across the Pacific, but that's okay.  It's a direct flight, Sydney to Vancouver, and half of the plane may give us the stink eye for over half a day, but we won't even look at them, we'll be enjoying restraining our two angelic children in a small space 30,000 feet over the world.

We need to pack and clean.  We are so excited to see family and friends and snow and Tim Horton's and the Amish.

But there's been lots on my mind lately, world events that have caused so many too much grief, and I carry some of it with them as I am able.  My husband and I watched crazy video footage from Gaza in 2009, a raid that is similar to what was happening this past week in the violence between Israel and Hamas.  Missiles devastating Palestinian neighbourhoods, traumatizing families, killing children and mothers, bodies pulled from crumbled buildings as people flock to the site of impact offering help.  It's a 20 minute video that is extremely hard to watch.  My husband said the F word and was wiping tears from his eyes, two things he rarely does.  I felt the urge to vomit, picturing my own babies on those stretchers.  I wonder how those mothers are now, how they have survived the grief, if they have found a way to carry it or if they feel buried in it's weight and rubble.  I went to bed that night in between my two children, I had never been so aware of their breathing, never wanted them even closer than against my skin.  While I tried to fall asleep my husband stayed up a bit longer reading, and bought a documentary called "War Child".  You can watch the trailer below, some of the footage is the same as in the video we had watched.  If you live in our neighbourhood we can watch it together  and talk about it soon.

Ten years ago I studied in the Middle East and it was likely my most transformative months.  If I was willing to listen, everyone was willing to teach me.  I soaked it up.  History lessons in the back seat of a taxi, nutrition from the old woman selling fruit and veg, the unwritten laws of hospitality from my home stay family who forced me to eat more, always more, with threats that their eldest daughter's marriage was at stake.  Joyful musicians in Damascus versed us in the oud and tabla, melodies and rhythms so prophetic against the desert and dust and quiet instability.  And young Palestinians, born in Beirut's famous Shatila refugee camp, embodying hope and passion and trust that despite what we see now, the future that waits is good.  l returned to Pennsylvania passionate, I don't think I had a conversation about my experience without crying, especially if we talked politics.  I engaged in every discussion in my college classes by starting with the sentence, "When I was in the Middle East ...".  I knew I would return, spend my life in the urban desert drinking tea and eating koshery, Arabic would be my children's first language and they would call their father "Baba".

I feel so far from it all, the dust has long since washed off of my feet and only a small amount of Arabic made it to my long-term memory.  I've come to love many parts of the world, I've found God there, always there already, and I truly enjoy sitting on floors in the colours and scents of new cultures.  But there is nowhere like the Middle East.  I have never met a more hospitable people, whether in their homeland or in exile.  To this day, if I meet an Arab woman, I know I have already made a friend. I met a woman at the pool this afternoon, she's from Libya, war-torn, unstable, and has been here for three years with her husband and baby girl the same age as mine.  We connected easily, me in board shorts and a tank top, she in long sleeves and a headscarf.  I expected judgment, was embarrassed by my attire, but she didn't flinch, inviting me to her home when we return from our trip.  My husband said I need to give people more credit then I do for their ability to look beyond appearance. 

We talked about her country and about Gaza and it felt good to say I was sorry, that even though I was enjoying the pool with my children so far from the violence of war, I wasn't oblivious.  I cared about her part of the world, about her people and her family and her nation, which she will return to when her husband finishes school.  She stood as my priest, acknowledging my confession, and it was something.  "Your apathy is forgiven, go in peace." Ten years ago I was inviting guest speakers to my college campus, facilitating peaceful protests, collecting toiletries for refugees.  I feel it stirring again, the call to action, although it will be different now.  Friendship is part of it, the sacrament of dialogue and acceptance, acknowledgment, apology and laughter.  This is the slow way perhaps, but what if we all welcomed one more stranger into our lives this week, someone who is different than us, and they stayed long enough to be called our friend? 

And I hear the call to action in my marriage and the way I parent my children.  It's so much easier for me to strike up conversations with women at the park or the pool than it is to face my selfishness, my short temper and frustration.  The same seeds of violence that launch missiles into homes are in my own heart.  I know the way to shalom in the world is enemy love, forgiveness even when we've been severely wronged; and yet I find it so difficult to forgive and release my husband from minor offenses, I want to stew in my annoyance a little bit longer.  The recalcitrance of my own heart leaves me feeling hopeless for the whole world. 

I love this excerpt of Patty Griffin's song "No Bad News", how our simple love of the people closest to us isn't simple at all.  It's the way we must go, loving each other well and making room for another stranger, and another:

I'm gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow
We're gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress
And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore

... And the bird of peace is flying over, she's flying over and
Coming in for a landing

The women dressed in white changed the history of Liberia, I wrote about that here:  "Women, Weight and War".  The Women in Black movement keeps vigil in city centres around the world, reminding us that things are not okay, they will not accept the violence towards our children as the way things will always be.  How will I protest in my own way here?  How will I reject hatred and anger and violence in the relationships closest to me, with my husband and children, and choose the forgiveness and self-giving love that Jesus taught us, that his resurrection empowers us to embrace.  This is my daily question, my daily living out the answers, my daily failing and receiving the grace of tomorrow.  But this is the way, this is my part in the struggle for shalom in the world.  At least for today.

I highly recommend the book "Parenting for a Peaceful World" by Robin Grille.  I'm ordering a copy of my own as I borrowed the one I read from a library, so hopefully I will write about it soon.  It's also available on Kindle.  This is a must read for parents - Grille lays out a very historically supported argument for the necessity of non-violent parenting, how our collective responsiveness to our children changes the destiny of nations.  It's a great Christmas gift to yourself!  (And that is not an affiliate link.  I don't really know what that means yet.)

We appreciate prayers as we travel and adjust to jet lag.  Any tips for long flights with small, noisy people in tow?  Any tips for helping toddlers adjust to jet-lag?  I welcome your wisdom. 


  1. Wonderful perspective. I've had that book on my "wish list" for a while - need to get to it! (p.s. Have a great flight over! Bring your wellies.)

    1. thanks sarah! (love your blog, by the way). we survived the flight and are enjoying the endless rain. ya, Grille's book is incredible - i'd love to hear your thoughts some day on it!