As Mega Man X enters Sigma’s fortress, Vile is still yet to be defeated. In game-play, I always assumed that Vile had no particular weakness and so spent time maneuvering, picking him apart with X-buster blasts, but the solution was already with me: The Shield. Vile’s weakness, all along, was a weapon called ‘Rolling Shield’ that X acquires in battle with another maverick robot. It makes a florescent bolus that rolls along the floor and bounces off walls.
The apostle Paul alluded to a ‘Shield of Faith’ in his letter to the Ephesians, though I lack the education to know which Greek word corresponds to ‘Faith’ in this instance. Faith’s multiplicity of shades and convergences with spiritual life are far too complex for blogging, more suitable to extended study. For the record, when ‘Rolling Shield’ is fully charged it envelopes X with an energy that makes him impervious to small opponents. My Faith must not be fully charged, yet…
Dr. Light created* X with an operating system compatible with the upgrades needed to pursue Justice. That resilient operating system endows him with the special ability to take a new weapon from each maverick he defeats. What I really needed, from the beginning, was some self-bolstering. I need to identify my own maverick moments and claim the character enhancements that came to me at each juncture. Indeed, I might need to do it more than once.
One ‘shield of faith’ came to me at the Chinese Restaurant in Bethlehem (there is only one), on Land Day in 2012. That was also the morning when Palestine changed to “daylight savings time”, swinging an hour ahead for the summer. The planned, peaceful demonstration was delayed 90 minutes due to time-shift confusion. The ‘real’ demonstration came an hour after that, when shabaab arrived with kefias around their faces and pummeled the floodlights and security cameras on every guard turret with stones, concrete chunks, and more stones. Several internationals and I retreated to the Chinese restaurant for lunch, which was a foolish mistake. The excited teenagers in the guard tower shot their tear-gas and the excited teenagers on the ground, in turn, pummeled their windows with stones – some of which missed and smashed through the windows of the restaurant instead. I finished eating – no good could come of being shaken.
Something comes loose and it is difficult to know whether it is an ability or a disability. The moment I keep coming back to, during my quiet anxious moments, is the day at Sheikh Hussein bridge and looking an Israeli guard directly in her eyes while I lied about where my work was taking place— I told them Haifa, consistent with my letter of recommendation. She said “we know you’re lying – just tell us the truth,” which seemed, to me, to confirm that they did not have enough evidence to turn me away and wanted me to crack and vacillate. I held integrity with my mission, not the reverse, but I always return to heaviness I felt when I willfully distrusted someone and, instead of being edified, was uncomfortably vindicated by their obvious interrogatory ploys and my extended detention. I regret nothing but I lament all of it.
The entire exile into Jordan should count for some kind of special ability. It was in Jordan that I really knew what it meant to live as a foreigner in a large city and cemented my ‘transactional Arabic’. Far from being perfect, there were too many days where I laid in bed and waited for news about my return but, at my best, I was walking the bending lanes of ‘Al-Ballad’ and learning the dark fissures that formed alleys between its building encrusted hillsides. I befriended the juice-man, the bread vendors, and the Iraqi restaurant owner who served me the best chicken dinners of my life. In Amman, I negotiated with cab-drivers and embassy curriers. In that city, I survived bed-bugs, high-fever, long-waits at the Israeli embassy, and long hours in the Roman gardens watching cargo-planes doing maneuvers. I wondered, sometimes, if my life was beginning there in the shadow of those ancient pillars.
These are the instances I often talk about, separately, but friends are encouraging me to put them together. As I recite, I remember even more lessons; Drew from Alabama helped me face my callousness last fall when he joined us as a new volunteer. I felt irritated by his learning process. The disturbance was intrinsic to me: the exile and return from Asia had changed me in ways that I still do not understand, typing in a Washington DC Starbucks. Drew and I had an uncanny moment when, best I could, I apologized for being so curt with him. He said, “I think God is telling me to tell you that you have been counted faithful.” As he shared that with me, I could see him getting misty and I wanted to soften and cry but I felt calcified. I am indebted to Drew for that tender moment.
I could do myself a great favor by remembering some other pieces I brought home from the middle-East. I developed a greater sense of others’ needs, an ability I call the ‘bottomless tea-kettle of hospitality’. That sense of togetherness was necessarily beyond words because we do not all share the same words. Yet, I felt connected. That gift began to hurt, in time. Months later, I felt continents away from my counterparts in Geneva. At Wi’am in Bethlehem we all could take care of ourselves but we chose to take care of each other whereas my two American colleagues were both so… individual. Perhaps I was waiting for teleonomic cues that were not coming – the tea-kettle within me felt very heavy in Europe.
Since I write so seldom on these topics, then it is not really boasting to share – though if there are half a dozen examples then there might as well be two-dozen because every experience is a chance to learn or unlearn. After six months in Bethlehem, I learned that I was fairly savvy about the conflict. Then I visited Ni’ilin village and promptly unlearned that because, of course, the context was too fragmented for a foreigner to be so savvy. I reinforced the value of my solidarity on that trip, still. After I ‘did’ something –planting olive trees– I watched a video of farmers being mercilessly abused while sitting next to the very same farmers. Just an hour ago I told my friend over the phone “if I were planning a trip, it would be advocacy focused…”
If my enhancements were instant, videogame-quality upgrades, then I would not have to go through a dark period, filled with artistic blocks, self-deprecation, compulsive behavior, and feelings of isolation. This is real life. That is good news; I may have already done most of the work. Results are delayed. Vile is still alive in me but I’ve recovered significantly since February’s slide. There is a subtle relief to embracing the strength I actually find from difficult memories rather than trying to suddenly change the timbre of my script or, as happens too often, trying to deepen the suffering to profoundest woe. Mine is a story of being bent but not broken. I remember long ago, when I finally capitulated and spent eight consecutive weeks seeing a therapist, the doctor and I had a discussion about my efforts. I said I was not seeming to get anywhere and he observed that I had not relented. Again, I capitulated and saw a therapist. This time, I visited once and have not heard back from him. He asked me “what makes you think you can stand-up to the challenges in your life?”
“—because I’ve stood-up before. I’m going to keep standing-up until I’m too dead.”
Where is the Faith in that? I think there is Faith throughout that — the string-like roots of that Faith are something I could spend a life-time examining.
Back to the beginning; Pt. 1: Returning