A Happy Waiting

A Happy Waiting June 17, 2018

Made a valiant attempt to sleep through the night but gave up around 3:30 and FaceTimed the kids. Technology, against which I direct so much personal loathing, is actually a dream and a song. I’ve been on the receiving end of regular emails, texts, and quick chats here and there from all the children. It’s absolutely the best thing ever. Elphine (not her real name) after a steady unrelenting diet of Angela Thirkell, emails missives of early 20th century/late 19th century prosy good humor. And Romulus (not his real name) begins every message with, “Hello Mommy, this is your favorite child.”

In between talking to my home-bound offspring, I have been walking around all the narrow winding streets of the Old City with the words to Jerusalem, My Happy Home jangling around in my head. My dad used to sing it to me when I was small (Happy Father’s Day!) and it seems like an appropriate personal soundtrack for this particular adventure.

I am completely fascinated, as I was last time, but the various styles of dress and the gentle overlay of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish ladies’ head coverings. The dress of orthodox Jewish women is charming. Elegant, particularly the headscarves, put together, but most of all, forgiving. It is restful to be around women who look like regular people. The modern American uniform of jeans or yoga pants and T-shirt, as I will go on saying even with my dying breath, is just so miserable. Unfeminine, unless you weigh nothing and are a hundred feet tall, not that comfortable, and certainly unforgiving of the matronly female shape.

Aren’t you glad that the Global Anglican Futures Conference could be gathered for this crucial moment—the moment of you receiving regular fashion updates? And the food? Oh my word, the hummus, the cucumber and tomato salads, the fruit, the sauces, the breakfast spread, the rather expensive but totally worth it shawarma just outside the Holy Sepulcher. And anyway, don’t complain because the conference hasn’t even started yet.

Along with a mental collection of headscarves, I counted scores of girls meandering away to school in the early morning. Cheerful groups, pairs in blue pleated skirts, single girls hauling whole suitcases (of books?), others with a mere purse slung across the shoulder. Looked in every direction for similar packs of boys. Boys must go to school as well, I thought, but found none. That is until we emerged from the Davidson Archeological Park into a throng, probably a hundred strong, of little boys waiting to go in. Apparently it was field trip day. Felt deep sympathy for the three or four long bearded men in dark coats and broad rimmed black hats, pacing up and down, trying to keep order. Escaped just in time.

Last time we went to the Holy Sepulcher I was quite undone. And not quite in the way I had hoped. It was moving, of course, to stand in the place where Jesus died, and rose again. But, well, it was overwhelmingly like being in church on Sunday morning, gazing over the junk that stubbornly finds its way into the coat closet, the dust that settles all over the bookshelf in the corner. This needs a good scrub, you tell yourself, and then wander away because you don’t have time. And nobody has time. For centuries nobody has time. And then after a while someone puts a plastic covering over the not very beautifully embroidered curtains covering the tomb. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

This time, though, I embraced the madness and had a good time. Some glorious chanting was in the background, and I enjoyed the pugilist monks shouting at the worshiping throngs to move along and hurry up. Every now and then a hapless tourist would be pulled out of a line and sent away for having naked shoulders and un-shrouded knees. “What else did you expect us to do,”I mentioned to God, gazing at the gold encrusted everything of all his work. “You’ve been awfully long in coming back. Meanwhile, we clutter it up with plentiful waiting.”

The whole city waits. The Jewish worshiper, adjusting his prayer scarf, rushing headlong to assemble his prayer desk and books before the wall, rocking back and forth in prayer, waits, desperately. The improperly dressed Christian rolling rosary beads across the stone slab, murmuring so many words, waits for something. Jesus? Or just to get back outside into the sunlight?

It is a happy home. The best, really, and some kind of heartbreak to not be allowed to live in it. In a few days I’ll have to go away again. And that will be the worst.

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