A year to the day ago, Hannah, Margaret and I visited their amazing school in Jerusalem for the first time. Later that afternoon, we experienced the city sliding into the peace of shabbat, and we waited for Terence to arrive so we could officially kick off our family’s sabbatical, the “year on” which we would collectively squeeze for every drop of experience and adventure.
This week Hannah headed back to school, starting first grade, in a uniform, on a yellow school bus. The highlight of the first day seems to have been the cafeteria (“you get a tray! and strawberry milk!”). It’s a Real American public school experience. Most of the time Hannah is focused on fitting in with all the other kids but sometimes she cracks, and we see glimmers of the unusual, the residue of her year on. At a juggling show the other night, the performer wanted to know who could count to 10 in a language not English. He expected Spanish, perhaps, but not Hebrew and Arabic.
This week, Terence also heads back to school. It’s a crashing wave of commitments that basically won’t end until June, a job so rigorous that it justifies the extraordinarily generous vacations and sabbaticals. And after Labor Day, Margaret and I will complete the quartet, starting a new pre-K and a new job, respectively. We’re trying to plan ahead, to figure out how we can switch gears from 0.0 to 1.8 FTEs in our family, and learn the ropes of three new organizations. We’re all excited but understandably wary. And cultural adjustment is still going on in the background of every experience, every encounter, making us susceptible to sudden exhaustion or overwhelm or nostalgia for all we have done and seen and felt.
It’s an emotional roller coaster. I have moments of feeling like all our adventures are over, everything interesting about us has vanished. No one looking at us now would imagine we saw the sun set over the Monastery in Petra, or accidentally stumbled on the Holy Week festival in Nabi Musa, or raced to the Old City one Friday after dinner to usher in Shabbat, and paid a quick visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on our way home. I find myself doing something so predictable: romanticizing and exoticizing our experiences abroad, which were often very quotidian, as this blog can attest. For every peak moment, there were at least five supermarket freakouts. And mostly I was confused.
At other times it feels good to be home, to be operating in a situation in which (even accounting for cultural confusion) we more often know what the heck is going on. It was a huge relief to discover that people had not forgotten me, personally or professionally, and to be able to wrap up a job hunt with only a touch of stress. And our little home state is charming us. Totally the opposite of Jerusalem, this place has never been on the front pages. But yesterday we went to the Olde Tyme Peach Festival and saw almost all our elected officials in the parade (along with marching bands, cheerleaders, beauty queens, antique tractors and representatives of many, many churches. I reminded the kids of the Lag B’Omer fair we went to in May — different religion, same outreach strategy, down to the bouncy castles). And then last night Terence and I went out to the movies and saw our senior senator for the second time in the same day. It’s all so coherent and peaceful and effective. Again, unlike the Holy Land.
I’ve been debating whether to end this blog officially, or just let you know I’m not sure how many and what kind of stories I will be telling from here out. I’m not good at endings and I don’t know what the future will hold. Do I officially close out our “year on”? Rename and relaunch a new blog? I feel like almost every entry this year ended with some version of this sentiment: I’m not sure what I think. And I suppose this one is no different.