Amman is a city made for sunrise and sunset.
It's a growing, bustling city. Noise is everywhere, and yet, I find it to be a city that demands your silent attention. Amman calls you to inhale and exhale, to honor and practice what you've learned from the world, and to appreciate that you have treasure troves of knowledge left to gain. Maybe it's the history embedded in the dust that cakes the tops of my feet at the end of every day, also found grainy between my curls, and hiding beneath my fingernails. I know that it's dirt, but there is something holy in it. Even washing it away becomes a small, smiling kind of ceremony. Something, however untraceable, of the roots of my heart lies in this place. Dust to dust, light from light. Dust, the earth, is ancient, and it is what has given us life. It is old and it is new, and therefore so am I, and so is everyone. I feel a calm here that is unprecedented, and it has given way to thoughts I usually shy away from.
I am quiet here, perhaps too quiet. I listen far more often than I speak. This pattern has been developing steadily over the past two years. I trust my ideas less, and I am painfully aware that what I know of the world is limited, that my opinions have been formed rather rashly, and based upon sources that are not necessarily to be trusted. I've expressed this to Jasmine, my flat mate. She is more, though, a kind of soul sister initiating me into what she has learned of the world thus far. She tells me every perspective has value, each place in your life reveals something new. I myself have shared this oft repeated line with friends and acquaintances in the past, and yet hearing it said to me, it doesn't quite change my striking lack of faith in myself and my ability to think.
Amman is challenging me to grow up. It inspires the kind of self-reflection I have previously feared and avoided, and I fear that my uncertainty is occasionally expressed a little too pointedly to my mother over the phone. As I try to recap my days and explain my internal struggles, I find myself raising my voice and battling on the offensive, suddenly defending ideas that I am only trying to wrap my head around. After traveling through Asia last summer, and the Middle East this summer, it is becoming harder and harder for me to conscientiously pass judgment on anyone. Nothing at all appears black and white. And perhaps some things should, but I'm so deep into this journey of trying to understanding the human heart and the circumstances that shape it, that I can't bring myself to really delineate between right and wrong, true and false, pure and corrupted. Honoring and acknowledging complexity has taken a new role in the way I view the world, sharpened by the fact that I have grown up in an incredibly privileged context. I am from the white American middle class, and have been blessed with married and supportive parents, a good education, a supportive extended family, and the good fortune to have found part time jobs. How can I know, how I can I bring myself to pass judgment on the actions taken by those who face the challenges of poverty, oppression, corruption, and discrimination?
I find my heart pushing at the sides of my body the way it did when I was child, desperate to love everyone, and to forget the rest. I haven't felt that kind of compassion for a long, long time. I feel as though I am returning to myself, though this time with challenges I fear my mind will never overcome. I fear becoming "political" on this platform, because as important as politics are (or at least, they seem), the matters of the human heart will always be more my level of understanding. However, one of the issues I have been grappling with is that of Palestine/Israel. From a purely human rights perspective, it's a situation that needs to be remedied immediately. It is unjust and heartbreaking in every way. The things I have learned about the conflict so far in college (since no one bothered to really mention it to me before) make it incredibly difficult for me to sympathize with those involved in the creation of Israel. When I first learned of it, I was shocked by how quickly I could write them off as cruel, and as evil. But of course, nothing is all good, and nothing is all evil, and I quickly distanced myself from that snap judgment. The situation is layered and complex and beyond my grasp. I try to articulate all this to my mother, who retorts with hints of shock and disapproval in her tone, "Well what about the Israelis killed by suicide bombers? What about them?" I have no answer, and immediately regret my decision to share. I regret the venom in my words of response even more.
The issue of suicide bombers and the resulting death is equally heartbreaking, without a doubt. But I can't pretend to know the truth of circumstances that lead people into suicide bombs, just like I can't pretend to know what it's like to feel like a people without a land, and to fight for what you feel you deserve. I can't pretend to know what it's like to have my identity challenged and ignored, to have my house occupied or bulldozed, to be denied access to a good education, to have my life controlled by a military power (supported by the super power of the US) set against my very existence. I can't pretend to know what it's like to have all of this exploding and raging inside of me, leaving me vulnerable and angry and scared, and then to be embraced by extremists who brainwash their young. I can't know, and I won't pretend to. This is not an attempt to defend murderers, it is an attempt to understand the context from which healing and peace must arise. The perpetrators here, in my eyes, are the governments and the things they have done with their militaries. People are pushed to these ends by powers that care nothing for them as individuals, that aim to divide and conquer, that use the livelihoods of innocents as avenues and leverage for the own secret and corrupt games. Israeli citizens are not to blame, and neither are Palestinians. In a perfect world, less people would stand idly by, and more would take a stand. But perhaps I should begin implementing that in my own country before I go prescribing it to an issue beyond my understanding.
I hesitate to put all of this online, for friends and family, for acquaintances and total strangers. I don't claim to know everything, or to be set in my ways. I only claim to recognize a problem, and to be grappling with it as best I can. If you are incensed by what I've written and want to give me a mouthful, I urge you to do so in a way that fosters understanding, and not anger. I am eager to learn all that I can, but it is hard to listen to arguments meant to defeat, and not to educate. Keep in mind that this post is less of a political statement, and more of an invitation into what my mind and heart are trying to process. My aim is to be honest about my journey to understand, and who knows if I'll ever come to a stopping place. I hope not, I think it's better to let yourself always be flexible and open and curious. Things that stagnate tend to die. No matter what I come to know, it would be foolish to expect that I could singlehandedly solve the conflict. My chief occupations, I hope, will be to actively seek understanding, and to actively demonstrate love. Be the change, ya dig?
I am trying to pray to Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, who made peace among the murderous fathers and sons of her own family, who fought over who would control the land of their kingdom. She seems to be an old hand at resolving conflict among those that are, in reality, all one.
So, now that I've gotten all of THAT off my chest and my mind is a little clearer, I can move on to the more light hearted parts of life. The next post will be full of the things I've been doing! I need to go work on Arabic for a while and attend a gallery opening (and set up our new furniture for the terrace!), but I promise the second post will be up before midnight, a definitely happier.
Thanks to anyone who read this rambling, half baked, uncertain expression of a struggle to understand with compassion.
Here's an article by Omid Safi, one of my incredible professors at UNC, and the man who led the educational tour portion of my time in Turkey. He is far more articulate and knowledgeable than I, and manages to express the factual evidence that has fueled my understanding of the conflict.