A week, 8 days, 9 days. Six months ago, for my mother’s 90th birthday, I stayed in Jerusalem for 2 weeks, but it felt too long. This time it’s 8-1/2 days, and it almost always ends this way, a 3:00 or 4:00 am wait on the street for the limo service to pick me up.
By limo I mean a van that will pick me up and then take me around Jerusalem for an hour’s tour as it picks up another 10 people or so, before it hits Highway 1 to go down to the airport. But it always starts with this wait in the dark, standing across from the Museum of Islamic Art, around the corner from the Jerusalem Theater and the President’s home, looking down a quiet street that in daytime is frenzied with buses, cars, people, and lots and lots of cats.
I am one of those people who live very far from their family of origin. That’s common in the US, but elicits raised eyebrows from people here, especially when they hear that I also don’t have children—and now no husband, either. I can see they feel sorry for me, and probably a lot sorrier for my parents. This is not how normal people are meant to live, many eyes convey.
I know people who live this way and feel little closeness with the family members that are far, as if they’ve left them behind, lives diverging so sharply there is little left in common. That’s not true for me. I am very close to both brother and sister. We share karmic stories; we know where we come from, and even share some uncertainty about where we’re headed. We know what we have in common and where we grew apart; by now we even appreciate the differences among us because we perceive more clearly the complementarity of things.
My most enjoyable time is not going off into the desert or even to see the Old City, and especially the shop of Armenian art I like to visit, but rather sitting in a new café that just opened up (both brother and sister always keep up with new cafes) and opening my heart to reveal what’s there. What’s happened since the last time we talked? I know who you were then, but who are you know? What new insight suddenly appeared? And most important, what do you need from me?
We verbally meander, follow a path here and then there, touch on our mother, touch on their children, push away layer after layer, and marvel at how simple it seems to be at the very bottom.
The men in my life never got it. “You two have so much to talk about,” Bernie would marvel after I’d come back from another coffee with my sister. My father’s version was more interrogatory: “What do you have so much to talk about?”
What indeed. Last night, just before we hugged good-bye, my brother said to me: Just be yourself. Most of the work consists of nothing but discarding the nonessentials so that you could finally see who you are and what you need, find the one question that you really have, maybe two. Don’t bother with the rest.