Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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Navel gazing

Today was a day of difference.  We started by meeting Merav’s parents’ friend/guide near the Jaffa Gate, and heading to the Churches of the Holy Sepulchre. Off we went, left turn on to the street of the Greek Patriarchate and then right past the Cloisters of the Greek Orthodox, and into the plaza in front of the complex which is the Holy Sepulchre.

The Holy Sepulchre, as with all the other churches in Jerusalem is a mishmash of tradition, legend, and superstition. The story is Helena, Constantine’s mother, came to Jerusalem to poke about and found not only his tomb, but the crosses of both Jesus and the Two Brigands. Conveniently the tomb was right by the crosses (she tested the veracity of them by touching sick people. One of them healed people, the others did not, ergo she had found, The True Cross).

On top of all that she found the slab of stone on which Christ’s body was prepared for burial, and the tomb of Adam.

It’s no more plausible than George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Alfred and the Cakes. Which is fine by me. I dont think the point of all this isn’t to see the actual sites (which, absent a whole lot of evidence which would have already come to light, ages ago. The point is that Jesus death, if not his life, was tied up with Jerusalem.  If one wants a sense of place, to engage in communion with that sense of place, one needs a focus.

The churches (and there are many, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, each jealously guarding the piece of turf they have staked out, and arguing about who gets to do what, where, and when), manage to do that. These have been places of pilgrimage for going on 1600 years (that’s for the Christians, add the people who came through here on their way to Jerusalem; for any of the three festivals one was supposed to hie oneself to the Temple to observe, and it’s connections stretch back no one can know how long).

It’s a variation on the only heretical scene “The Last Temptation of Christ”, where Paul declaims the actual life, or death, of Jesus is immaterial because the message is what matters.
I didn’t come to Israel as a pilgrim. I came to visit family. On the other hand it IS is a place of pilgrims, and this is a week for pilgrimage. So we went; I’m the only Christian in the family, and I’m not much for performative religiosity. I am not going to bend down to kiss things, nor climb the Spanish Steps on my knees. What I do take to heart is continuity, so putting my hands in the deep hollow on the door, trailing along the wide, dark, band of stained stone; crossing the incised graffiti carved by others heading all the way down to the purported location of the true cross… those are meditative, connective; Communal.

The shared sense of what the teachings in Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles are what tie the various sects of Christianity together. Climbing the stairs to the Chapels overlooking the Stone of Unction the common threads are visible. The Catholic Chapel is cheek by jowl with the Greek Orthodox, where Armenians, Russian Orthodox, Lutherans, Romans, Greeks, Baptists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Quakers, et alia, all make their personal acts of worship; or observation.

I stood, as in the Women’s Gallery of an Orthodox Shul, listening to the Greek Orthodox liturgy below me, joining in the responsorial Kyrie Elieson: one with the entire body of the faithful.

That, I think, is the thing I was trying to sort out before, how the thread which warps its way from Judaism, to Christianity; and also to Islam, binds up the separate warps of our personal beliefs, bound in the passage of the years, and the variations of the weft spun by our different creeds. It’s all tied up in this city. Even for the devoted, who like myself, are not very devout.

It is, by virtue of historical accident, the Omphalos of the world for something like one third of humanity. That sense of connection  to the rest of humankind, not the fripperies of the fables told of the churches here (be they the Temple, The Dome of the Rock, or the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre) are, I have come to see, what I ended up making pilgrimage to find.

For the moment, I can rest my scallop on the mantlepiece.


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I am as a stranger in a strange land

I’ve been in Jerusalem for about a week. It’s sort of like my trips to Germany… I don’t speak the language (and unlike Germany I can’t really decipher the signage; except that most f them here are tri-lingual, so I can * but not with any rapidity). As with Germany I don’t mark as being foreign (I suspect the beard I’ve grown since Sept. last, married to my hat-wearing habits, has something to do with this. {photo}), so I get a lot of Hebrew tossed at me when I do things like go for my morning coffee. This means I don’t feel out of place when walking about (which I sort of did when in Korea), but am at a moderate disadvantage when dealing with random interactions (which was not true in trips to Ukraine).
Jerusalem. Setting aside any religious sentiment I might have, it’s a city pregnant with meaning.  I was reared in the USA. I am a grandchild of Europe and a student of history. That, in itself will color one’s views. When Reagan said the US was a City on a Hill, he was making reference to Jerusalem. When people use the metaphor of “Crusade” it refers to Jerusalem. For a good three thousand years the ability to control trade has meant people fought for control of the city on these hills.

That’s on top of the religious significance three different groups attached to it. Which significance led to Rome’s most troubled province, and the revolt it had the hardest time suppressing **. Jerusalem was seen as the center of the world for a large part of the history which shapes the culture Westerners grow up in.

The same way being a Native English Speaker makes London something of a mental homeland, so too does being reared with a European perspective give a strange sense of place to Jerusalem.

But it’s more than that. We are here to visit family. My wife’s cousin has a son who is turning thirteen. We are here for his Bar Mitzvah.  So Israel, which is more than just Jerusalem is place to which I have a direct connection. A connection to which my christian sensibilities also disconnects, in more than a few ways.

But I am also, in many ways, a Californian. How does that relate?  The landscape, and the weather, are like unto  that of “home” (where home is that place one feels innately at ease, just by virtue of being present).  We went to Qumran, and thence to Masada. It was a day of rarity. Neither of our guides had ever been to the Dead Sea on a day of rain.  In Jerusalem the rain came down in buckets. In the wild hills above the sea there we had some rain and the smell of water on dusty rocks. Setting aside my views of the interpretations of the totality of the Dead Sea Scrolls *** I could see myself living a moderately hermetic life in the area. The climate, the smell, the appearance are all of piece to the places in Joshua Tree where I was wont to retire to collect my thoughts, when I was living in South-ish California. The hill about Judea, are as those I lived in San Luis Obispo, and wandered when I lived in the San Gabriel, and San Fernando Valleys.  Israel looks like home.

The day before we were in the Old City; though we didn’t go to the Christian Quarter (and I am mixed on visiting it, as I was already seeing pilgrims heading into Israel last week, and next week is Holy Week; which means crowds, married to the decided risk of encountering the sort of Fundamentalist American Christians I don’t enjoy being around when they are home. I don’t know how tolerant I can be of them here ****). But we went to the area of the Hulda Gate, and wandered the layered ruins, running a mixed gamut from the Umayyids, to the Second Temple and the Byzantines, and the Outre Mer and some First Temple. My spiritual landscape piled in heaps; with bits of order in the rubble.

Standing on the far edge of the Valley of the Cross, looking at the geography all the military history I’ve read: from the accounts in Kings, and Numbers, to Josephus,  and then the Crusades, and Lawrence, and Allenby and the War of Independence; et sequelae… all of it made plain by the way the hills, and walls, control the valleys. It’s a nexus; all trade passing here is controllable. That, married to religion, has made this small patch of dirt a cockpit for not less than 3,000 years.

Which brings us back to Masada, not the Masada of landscape
It’s a lot to digest.



*which is, like a Rosetta Stone, helping me acquire the skills to decipher the signs
** which is a large, if not the greatest, reason for the anti-semitism in the Gospels. Rome was REALLY pisssed at Judea. They expelled all the Jews from the province, and renamed it Palestinia. They tore out all the trees, and gave it over to grazing, changing the landscape, creating desert and altering the climate. They were doing this while the Ur-text of the Gospels were being written. Sympathetic treatments of Jews weren’t going to be any help in converting Romans to Christianity, but I digress.

*** I don’t think they are all the work of the sect in Qumran.  I think de Vaux engaged in a lot of overreach as he ascribed all the discovred texts to Qumran, and tried to shoehorn some very divergent ideas into a coherent whole. I think either they were texts brought with candidates to the group, and so discarded as not relevant (with the option to be reclaimed if they decided the community was not for them), or they were the valuable objects of people who were fleeing the chaos further North as rebellion approached, then raged.

**** I already had to bite my tongue at Katros’ House where someone tried to engage me in the horrors of American Divisions; given that they were giving off a strong Fundamentalist vibe.

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The days go slowly by, the years go flying past

Today is, in a lot of ways like a birthday. It was ten years ago* I left the ranks of the able bodied, and became one of the disabled. I didn’t know it at the time. When Col. Modnragon tapped me on the shoulders, and looked me over it was more like someone grading a side of beef. The diagnosis was impersonal, “you have Reiter’s Syndrome. The treatment you have is inadequate. I’m going to increase your indocin to 50mg, three times a day, and you need to come back in two weeks”.

It was said the same way he’d have told someone they had the flu, or a case of the clap. No big deal.

I can remember the date not because it was obviously life-changing, but because I got a shower*.

It was life changing, but fat lot I knew it at the time.

These days, I ache. Mostly in little ways. I am pretty good about knowing when I need to take what drugs. Things like sprains heal more slowly. Repetitive motions lead to pain more easily. Some of this might be plain old age, but some of it (as the check I get from the VA every month reminds me) is because I am disabled. I’ve become used to it (if far from resigned). In a few years it will be a quarter of my life I’ve been disabled.

I recall, in college (a couple of lifetimes ago), a slogan to the effect, “Disabled, the only minority everyone can join.” I’m lucky (in some ways), that my disability is (so far) invisible. I know what I can’t do, but to look at me you’d think I was still at least as hale and fit as anyone.

I’m rambling. This is a bit of maundering reflection. When disability activists refer to the, “temporarily able bodied”, I hide a wry grin. I was a soldier. Being disabled was something we thought about a lot. I know a lot of soldiers who are disabled; training accidents, combat injuries, etc. I can’t think of a single PT test I took where someone wasn’t sidelined for one event or another because of disability (both temporary, and permanent).

But an arthritis? Never crossed my mind.

Things like the ache in my ankle… how much of that is because of the break 2 ½ years ago (I still have the bruises), and how much is because my joints don’t heal as well as they used to?

I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to die sooner either (heart troubles are one of the less common side effects. Yes, I see a cardiologist. I’m told my tricuspids are “like an anatomy textbook”)

What do I want to say? I don’t know. I enjoy what I can do. I regret the things I’ve lost. That’s part of life. I guess I’ve lost some things sooner than most, but thems the the breaks.

All in all, I guess it’s just that we take some passages of time as being more important than others. This birthday, this year, matters no more, nor less, than my calendric one, though it’s a more “milestone” year than turning 46 feels to be.

This is what I looked like.

SP, before Mosul


Reading II

*12 June, 2003 was the first honest to goodness shower I’d had since 28 Mar. It was memorable. I also recall taking a nap in a ditch at the side of the road while a platoon of tanks moved out to their part of the perimeter for a stand of guard duty, and the 101st band doing a show; probably related to the Army B-day which is 14 June, 1775; making it the Senior Service in the US.

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It seems I have an odd idea of what it is to be “productive” in a day.  I’m making a stir fry for supper. I made rice this afternoon, so it would have time to dry out some.  I blanched some carrots, so they would cook well. I soaked some <I>wakame</i> in vinegar and water to provide some counterpoints.  I also moved the potted <i>etrogim</i> outside, pruned the grapevine, repotted a gardenia; potted up some basil and oregano, rearranged the last of the disordered shelves from Passover and lopped enough forsythia to fill a pair of 60 gallon trash cans. I also started some stock, and washed the dishes from last night and this morning.

Then I said I’d been lazy, because I didn’t make it to the store to get some asparagus and bok choi.

In the shower I was thinking about why it is that not getting to the bodega caused me to, honestly, consider I’d been lazy.  MBF says that because I can get so much done in a day, I tend to valorise getting more done.  For my birthday one year Maia got me a book. The title is something like, “Advice for Men Who do Too Much”.  I can’t say I took it as well as I might.  It was nice, but I confess I saw it as a semi-critical comment on my not getting enough of the right sorts of things done.

Which is a failure on my part.  I see myself that way (and perceive others as seeing me that way) all together too much.  It’s not that I think I don’t get things done, it’s that there are some things I see as essential for the day to be done properly. It probably comes of being criticized for that sort of thing.  It didn’t matter that I’d turned a couple of cu. yds. of earth for the garden if I’d failed to get the carpet vacuumed, or the dishes done, or some other; fairly trivial thing.

So the measure of productive/not lazy isn’t so much the quantity of work which is done, so much as it is that certain; specific, and fairly visible, things were achieved.  What’s horrid about this is that many of those “failures” both make me defensive, and are completely personal.  No one at home thinks that a lack of bok choi is going to ruin dinner, but I still feel I have failed at the deeds of the day.

Not today, not really, but in general.  I have the sense that something I did, which wasn’t getting bok choi, was undeserved, wasted, a pointless distraction from what I ought to have gotten done.  It’s my internalisation of the Puritan Work Ethic.