Ordinary life, extraordinary place

Terence came out here last spring break to do some reconnaissance and met a friend-of-a-friend whose young daughter had grown up here. As they drove around the city, discussing the political and historical context, this five-year-old piped up from the back seat, pointing to the walls of the Old City: “that is where I take music lessons.” (Oh yes, and where more civilizations than I can count have conquered and destroyed).

Six years ago, when we were neurotic expectant parents, Terence and I were interviewing prospective pediatricians. We asked one man a bunch of questions about what foods to avoid when breastfeeding: no garlic, strong flavors, spices? He looked at us, laughed, and said, “well, babies do live in Indonesia.” (Right then we knew he was the doctor for us).

There are so many ways to raise children, build a family, and conduct the business of every day life. It certainly looks (tastes, feels, sounds, smells) different in Indonesia and in Delaware, but parents everywhere have the same basic hopes for their children.

One of the lessons of this year has been that regular life happens in the most extraordinary situations. Here we are surrounded by splendor and conflict everywhere we look, but we still spend most of our energy getting our girls to sit in their seats, eat their vegetables, stop whining. Back in the fall, Hannah and Margaret’s first trip to Ramallah included visiting an amusement park. This winter, their second involved taking a long, hot bath at their aunt Anne’s new apartment. After five months of showers only, what a joy to take a bath! Worth crossing Qalandia for.

But the corollary is also true, and I thank Terence for showing me this. If you’re going to be doing “regular” stuff anyway, why not do it surrounded by complexity and beauty? So while I work at home sometimes, Terence always heads into the Old City to the Austrian Hospice (an amazing retreat which, we were dismayed to discover, was written up in last week’s New York Times and now is crowded).

I’m trying to embrace a little more of this point of view. So this weekend, after the floppy-hair-in-the-face situation became untenable, we took Hannah and Margaret to get their hair cut at a salon in the Christian Quarter. The people couldn’t have been friendlier, we got to drink sahleb while we waited, and the cuts were way cheaper than at Hair Cuttery back home in Middletown.

Haircuts in the Old City. Baths in Ramallah. We know how lucky we are.

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About hilarymead

Taking two young kids, a great husband, and a whole lot of questions to Jerusalem for a year's sabbatical.
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