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I’m going to Jerusalem

June 13, 2014

I decided that I’m going to Jerusalem. Next year…next summer, I’m going to Jerusalem.

I’m not a disciplined person. I often make goals and blow them off. My dream list of to-dos is long and varied. From photographing yard Mary’s to earning a doctorate. Most of the time, I’m too chaotic to bring any of them to fruition. But every once in a while I make up my mind to do something and I do it. Like going back to school or leaving my husband. One of my most consistent life wishes is to travel. I say it and write it on list over and over again.

I don’t know why, maybe it was my friend posting pictures of all the places she’s been, maybe it was just a bad day at work. Oh, wait. I do remember. It was my last meeting with my life coach. She read over the things I had written and the things she observed. One year ago I wrote that I wanted to have a plan to travel in a year. Just a plan, she reminded me. One year this July. I didn’t remember saying that. I started to think of all the reasons I couldn’t or shouldn’t travel. My mind starting down the chaotic maze of what if’s and how’s and why not’s that usually keep me from accomplishing my goals. Then something just went off in my head and I just decided, “I’m going to do it. I’ll give myself a whole year to plan. But next summer, if it’s the stupidest, most irresponsible, even last thing I do, I’m going to fucking travel.”

Where? The first obvious choice was India. India has held such a weird, romantic place in my mind….it was too much to contemplate. I’d either hate it and be disillusioned or love it and never come home.

I thought about all the places I’d like to see. France, my ancestor’s home. Italy, England……Bali, Japan. One place kept coming back to me…….Israel. It’s the one place that I don’t want to miss seeing in my lifetime. Narrowing down to one city to explore for a couple, three weeks….Jerusalem.

Being raised Christian is reason enough for Jerusalem to occupy a special place in my imagination. But this is no spiritual pilgrimage. It was a college humanities class that first taught me some of the truths behind my religion, or the history of it. I gradually became an atheist as I looked at my faith with the rational eyes of a girl becoming a woman. But still Christianity and religion in general fascinated me. The different belief systems, the histories of their founding, the chaos of wars and violence in their names, along with the beauty, art and peace that they also delivered.

One day in the mid- 1990s, I guess, Elaine Pagels was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. She talked about the Nag Hammadi library and the Gnostic texts,  a group of writings by Jesus’s followers, excluded from the collection we know as the Bible by the Nicene Council in 325AD. This blew my little Catholic-up-bring mind. I didn’t understand why the whole of Christendom didn’t come to a halt and rethink its entire foundation.

Reading about the Gnostics sparked a continuing fascination that led to other authors like Bruce Feiler and his amazing book, Walking the Bible. On the political side, I also became interested in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I read Thomas Friedman’s, From Beirut to Jerusalem. I wrote papers in college and continued to soak up more of the history of Christianity and religion. Karen Armstrong became a favorite. I watched Frontline documentaries and debated with friends willing enough to take on the subject, always happy to find a kindred spirit who knew what the Gnostics were or had a open mind the complexities of the political situation. (Now you know why it was so fascinating to me to get to know a practicing Muslim, the Abrahamic faith I know the least about.)

So, inevitably Israel is a place of interest, a place I want to see and experience for myself. Since I can’t afford a long stay and I don’t want to rush around the small country, I’ve decided to concentrate on Jerusalem, that place of history and mystery…….and hopefully a hop through the wall and the checkpoints to see Palestine, as well. Hey, if the guys from Idiot Abroad can do, this little coon-ass can too.

So, I’ve been scouring websites. I’m rereading Friedman’s book. I have a stack more to read. I’m listening to Jerusalem, The Biography on audio book during my walks. I signed up for an online bank that will allow me to manage my savings better. I have the Lonely Planet, Israel and the Palestinian Territories edition. I’m updating my photo and name on my passport. And I’ve arranged to meet my co-workers parents when they are visiting here from Jerusalem this summer. The quest is on. I’m on a mission. The atheist visits the holiest place on Earth.

(You can see the mummified hand of Mary Magdalene!)

Summer, 2015. I’m going to Jerusalem, bitches.

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