Israel / Palestine
I never knew I wanted to live abroad until I did.
I was 11 years old when I boarded my first flight overseas despite never having set foot in an airplane before. The concept of land borders was still a foreign (haha) concept for my brain to grapple with at that age and as far as I was concerned, the entire U.S.A. was a country filled with 50 states that probably looked and felt exactly like my home state of Minnesota.
My parents never flew our family to Disneyland or to Disneyworld (and to this day, I couldn’t tell you where either of these “happiest places on earth” are geographically located) and they certainly never considered piling all five of my brothers and I into the same vehicle for an iconic American road-trip across the country that would potentially stress every individual to the fiber of their being but perhaps bring us all closer together in the end through a series of failed comedic mishaps. No, I was born when my oldest brother was already 18 years old and long past his expiration date for sibling bonding.
So, my mother and I travelled across the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of Jerusalem, the golden city and the golden child who instigates ancestral hostility and resentment just through her existence. Much later on, I discovered that the only way my working-class parents could afford a trip like this was by renting out their bedroom to a previously-evicted neighbor while they slept on a futon in the living room closet for over two years.
But this post isn’t about “my first trip to the Middle East” (probably the next big t-shirt or onesie slogan). Instead, this post is an attempt to map out a few of the fundamental reasons behind why a Northern-North American woman would leave her friends, family, and hopes of a professional career before age 30, in order to fly south of the equator line where snow is almost as foreign as her accent.
Tracing the outlines of our lives and recalling all of the tiny decisions that led to our most critical yes(s) and our most decisive no(s) gives us the opportunity to bear witness to the profoundly interconnected spider web of moments that brought us into the earth and into this present day.
My mother, Constance, devoted herself to prayer and to people. There was no atheist or homeless hitch-hiker untouched when she sat behind the wheel. I can confidently say that our journey to the Holy Land was a mutually agreed upon calling from God. And although my perception of God eventually crumbled down from brick-walled Christianity back into into the basic elements of clay, earth, and sand themselves, my belief in higher consciousness assures me that our intuition is often the purest form of truth. At ages 9, 10, and 11 years old, my intuition begged my mother to fly us to the Middle East—despite my lack of Jewish or Palestinian heritage.
At age 29, with many additional countries stamped into my passport, I am still processing my first trip to Israel.
When I was fourteen, only a few years after our journey to Jerusalem, breast cancer moved into my mother’s lungs and grounded her body permanently, leaving something to be desired as a teenage girl. Throughout the rest of my teen and early adult years, I collected the few memories of my mother that were left unscathed by time and glued them onto the scrapbook pages of my heart. One of the thickest folders tucked away into my personal archives of our time together was entitled, “Israel”— And every time I mentally accessed this folder, my physical desire to re-live each individual file grew. Perhaps, I thought, I would find remnants of her earthly spirit in this place.
Israel quickly transformed from a-historical-land-that-I-vacationed-to-that-one-time-with-my-mom to a country that I had to return to someday in order to discover more answers about who I am and what my mother wanted for me. I wanted my life to mean something. I wanted my mother’s death to mean something.
At the time, I did not know that a place is largely a vessel for the people it holds. Although intimately beautiful, a physical place will never smile back, hold your hand, or stroke your cheek as you drift off into dreams.
With my junior year of college approaching, I carefully clicked through a series of input boxes on my university’s learning abroad website until I reached a page confirming the submission of my application. A few months later, I had successfully convinced two different schools, my boyfriend at the time, friends, and family to send me off across the ocean once again.
The day I flew into Tel Aviv and mistakenly paid too much for a shared taxi to Haifa, (unfortunately, not an isolated incident), I immediately felt my bones ache as I cracked my tear ducts open and spilled myself out onto my dorm room’s worn-in twin bed.
“What have I done? What the hell am I doing in the middle east?”
“Like the slow digestion of food, it was only later that I felt the full effects of this choice.”
It took losing a pint of tears, a moderately sized mid-day nap to fend off the jet-lag, and eventually, venturing out of my dorm room in pursuit of friendship, to convince myself that booking an immediate flight home would be a rash course of action. I believe that our human condition allows memories to fade so quickly as a protective measure. For example, a woman might reconsider carrying a second child if her first labor vividly crashed into her conscious brain every morning upon waking. And if my fond memories of Minnesota were granted permission to conquer my thoughts on a daily basis, there would have been no chance of living out my full term abroad. With each passing day, the growing pains eased and the heart ache of loneliness slowly filled with the curiosity and joy that each new friendship brought.
But without that perpetual nudge fueled by my mother’s absence, I never would have moved away from my home community. The threads of my life were completely wrapped up in Minnesota and I cared little for global matters or really, matters outside of my inner friend circle. Like the slow digestion of food, it was only later that I felt the full effects of this choice. Instead of being married with children, I continue on in my nomadic lifestyle with fewer and fewer hopes of living out the conventional American dream.
Essentially, Israel was the kick out of my front door. Without Israel, there would be no Australia.
And although my study abroad trip unraveled into a now-comical series of mistakes that a young 20-something commits as a right of passage into adulthood; somehow, I know my mother was still guiding me towards the woman I am today.
More to Come…