“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
If that’s the definition of intelligence, Jerusalem is a good place to hone it. Especially for children and other people whose minds and hearts are still wide open to the strange and contradictory things they see and hear here.
I’m having lots of complicated conversations with Hannah, introducing her to the idea that what seem like nice and logical principles may have hidden flaws or contextual complexities.
Sunday was Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the city’s re-unification after the Six-Day War. Depending on your perspective, this is either a celebration of a miracle and/or a moment of great irony and/or sadness and humiliation. We were walking through Mamilla Mall on Sunday, Jerusalem Day, when a hyped-up right-wing activist jumped out at us. “NO DIVIDING JERUSALEM!” he boomed, and pressed a clipboard in my face. “No, thanks,” I said and walked on, pulling Hannah quickly so she wouldn’t focus on the ensuing tirade (“No thanks? And you wonder why Hamas is gaining power…”). When she asked what the heck had just happened, I mumbled: “well, he wants me to sign a petition that I don’t agree with.” “You do want to divide Jerusalem?” “Well, it sounds like a good idea for people to all share the city. But I’m not sure it works that way. I want to make sure there are still places where Palestinians can live.” “Right, because otherwise Miriam and Mahmood wouldn’t have a place to live.” “Right! So today is a holiday for a lot of people, but I think it’s more complicated than that.” How do I explain the idea of honorable divorce to a six year old when I don’t understand it myself?
Speaking of beliefs, Hannah has recently decided she’s too old for Sunday School and elected instead to stay through the entire service. So now the liturgy is stuck in her brain and she wanders around muttering: “Take. Eat. This is my body that is given for you.” Or singing the Lutheran Easter anthem: “This is the f-e-e-e-e-ast of victory for our Lord.” Beautiful, but unnerving, especially when she belts it out in public in West Jerusalem. Time for another ‘opposed ideas’ conversation:”Hannah, please stop it. We believe in that stuff, but we don’t want other people to think we’re saying they should believe in it too.” “But why did Sunday school teach us about telling other people about Jesus?”
We’re right on the border between critical thinking and utter confusion. Mother and daughter both.