One Thursday night I went to a Diyar Consortium violin & piano recital with Rajaee. Afterwards we took a walk through old Bethlehem along the Star Street. The unique uncanniness of being in Bethlehem so close to Christmas silently washed over me as my friend and I joked about how cold our noses were and tried to whistle familiar Christmas melodies. We ate ice-cream and walked home giddy.
The next night I was out with Dawid, my Swedish friend, at a hole-in-the-wall place a block from our office. We eventually ordered some pitiful excuses for entrees and continued talking about everything forbidden in polite conversation: religion, politics, culture, and language (though the last is not so taboo). I hardly remember the walk home because the whole episode ran so seamlessly together. I think it was while I was eating my “chicken pie” (which didn’t look like the photograph in the ad) that I lamented my lack of discipline at Arabic. The Swede was not quite dismissive of my worries but he encouraged me to keep studying, positing that I was still better off than the majority of Americans just by starting to learn two additional languages. “Plus,” he said, “English is very useful.” Our conversation took a more prophetic turn when I started talking about graduate school. “You know, when a person begins to travel they usually keep traveling…”
The next morning, a Saturday, I awoke late. I had not studied the night before and I had an Arabic lesson at 2pm. Still, I busied myself with doing the dishes and preparing the laundry. The sun was high and bright so I decided to open some windows to allow fresh air into the apartment. Some windows have a rolling, metal shutter that can be drawn into a wooden chamber on the inside, above the sliding window panes. The assemblage is quite clever, though at that point I did not fully appreciate how much. As I raised the largest shutter to open the window, I gave a brief thought to how mundane that is. I funneled some of my more exotic or bold encounters into this blog but this simple chore was basically the same as opening my thick, blue curtains in Michigan and for the same reason: to catch the Sunbeams that fall all across the world we share.
I managed, though, to get the shutter stuck in the raised position, which would be an issue later when the Sun passed over the horizon and I needed insulation. The fix was quick: I opened the wooden box and un-wedged the part that was stuck, unfurling it again. Again, I raised it but this time it became stuck half-way raised. I thought it needed some physical persuasion so I gave it a strong tug.
Something came loose. The shade unfurled again, blocking the sun. At that point, I thought about giving-up and waiting until later. Still, I reopened the box and looked inside. I diagnosed the problem immediately: the belt (cord, whatever) is supposed to wrap around the spool that draws the shutter upward into a roll, then down past a pulley and up again to another spool that takes the slack. All the slack had gone into the lower spool when a knot came undone on the upper. Thinking I was smart, I retied the knot and shut the box. I pulled on the cord. Nothing: there was no length of belt going around the spool so, therefore, no belt to withdraw from said spool, turning it in such a way that it would lift the shutter. I learned all of this by taking apart the box on another window so I could finally understand what I was doing. For the sake of time, here in the blog, I will not mention how long it took me to do that.
While I was fixing this shutter, I had the idea for this epilogue. Modernity has many advantages but we have lost the value of fixing things as a practice. As we became more task and product oriented, we allowed the process of repair to leave our schedules. From an instrumental perspective, that would be fine but, from an intuitive perspective, this is a disaster. Previous generations spent significant time making and repairing their own practical contraptions. If ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, maintenance is her sister.
I picked my attitude carefully. I could have chosen to berate myself for ‘wasting time’ that I could have been studying but I decided I would rather embrace the experience and draw metaphors from it. On the deepest level, my blogging life has always been about repair or maintenance. This is the medium where I learned to write with ease and also the place I could go to air my grievances and get attention, for better or worse. At the ripening age of twenty-six, I struggle with the notion of wasted time. That Saturday, I decided that repair is never wasted time if we take the time to do it well. Often, it is failing to maintain that leads to the need for radical over-hauls. I should not chastise myself so quickly for taking time to heal from misfortune. Nor anyone…
On a less profound level, I did not mind tinkering with the shutter. The solution was as simple as first rolling the shutter into the box by hand and only THEN tying the knot, so that when the heavy shutter unfurled it also rolled a length of belt around the spool. That extra belt is what raises and lowers the shutter later. I got some dirt on my hands and remembered my grandfather, who traveled the world as a business man until around the time I was born. For all of the time I knew him, he liked to fix old houses and rent them for income. He was a hands-on landlord.
I used to repair things with him.
I had time to compose an Arabic text for my lesson, a quite successful lesson. At the end, my tutor and I drank the tiny cups of strong coffee that I have come to love. There is a world of small memories, details from here and elsewhere in the world, waiting to be unlocked when I quit trying to encompass everything about life and peace in 1,101 words.
If this blog takes a strange turn toward the Avant Gard, consider that part of its life-cycle. There is never just one exile nor one reversal. Meanwhile, Sunlight streams through the open third-story window of an apartment in Bethlehem, Palestine two days before Christmas.