Analysis, Memories, Narrative, Reflection

A Hot Idea in the Cold Air

cropped-mi_bethlehem_coffee1.jpgA person becomes an idea as soon as they disappear into the ground; I mean down the escalator of the DC Metro, in this case. If I could get out of my own head long enough, I might be able to see myself as an idea too — getting smaller and smaller as I stroll into the darkness of a cold January night on Capitol Hill, letting go of a moment in faith there will be at least one more like it. Let go. The boiling-point of a hug is low. The gesture sublimated into the air and joined the fog pouring from me. I imagined I was one of those suspiciously conical ‘hills’ in Belize, seeping ghosts from a doorway long-overgrown with vines — temple? Gradually, I am absorbing that something happened Saturday — exactly one year after I visited the site of Christ’s baptism.

The cold wind tried to drink me with every pass, sipping the flush from my still-blushing cheeks. Something caught my attention on the sidewalk by the Library of Congress… I should have been less surprised when I saw it: a finjaan, turned lip-down on the sidewalk. The walls between my realities are Capitol Citythinning, as I grow accustomed to allowing myself to pass through them. I was not noticeably shocked. Another pedestrian waddled past without acknowledging my perplexed pause. Those tiny cups are everywhere, in Palestine and Jordan, because the rituals in which they play a part are ubiquitous. There was at least one dirty finjaan (or perhaps “finjaantyn”, 2) on my desk at Wi’am at any given time, a halo of Arabic coffee grounds nestled in the bottom. They were common in Bethlehem, usually bore the same designs in either red or green, and it was normal to see the shards of muddled conversations, perhaps even fumbled mediations, lying on the ground in the form of broken finjaneen (multiple, tiny coffee cups). Yet I had not seen one since Jericho, a year ago on the exact same date: the Orthodox Epiphany. I was a little surprised.

Of course I wanted to touch it! Immediately, I picked it up in my bare hands and flipped it, looking for the tell-tale rings and streaks. It was clean. I was baffled. In fact, I was a little bit sad to see that the finjaan was laying empty on the ground forgotten — as if it had never been used. Bonds forged over coffee can change lives. Insha’allah. I started to walk away with the cold, tiny cup clutched in my left-hand. My veins felt strangely warmed, which I wrote-off as having more to do with where I had just been than where I was going. Then again, where I had just been was exactly where I wanted to be going: to coffee. With someone. The finjaan heated quickly, and soon felt almost as if it had just been filled. Glancing down, I startled. It’s creamy bottom seemed etched with the remains of coffee. Tower

Then I was in Bethlehem again, on the patio at the Wi’am Center staring at the West Bank Separation Barrier. There was no one there with me but I realized, by the scorch marks still on the guard turret, that three of them were with me — with me in Jericho, drinking that last finjaan a year ago! The power of coffee opened a link to the last day of work I never had, the day we went down to the Jordan River instead of into the office. The wind was also blowing in the West Bank, yet slightly faster, wetter, but (mercifully) less cold: filling me with the scent of growing sage and mint. The coffee tray sat on the picnic table beside the herb garden, epitome of hospitality. The pot at its center was hot to the touch. I ran to the door of the center but it was locked. From whence came that hot java, I’ll never know.

CRACK. A stone hit the scuffed pane of the turret. When the stones hit the turret, we used to evacuate before the soldiers retaliated. My colleagues were not eager to be tear-gassed. The protests, as much as the detentions, inhered my PTSD; it was never a severe case …but mild infections sometimes go unnamed longer. In Bethlehem, I absorbed every impact without so much as a chip but the reverberations were inescapable — they haunted me upon return, made me angry and sullen last spring, demanded I undergo therapy. I learned to stop turning the strain inward, in good time.

They battered it down to the wire...
They battered it down to the wire…

That awful November it was Israel that bombed Gaza, the US which blocked Palestinian Statehood in the UN security council, and shabaab in the West Bank who made the protests blazing hot, really and figuratively — during all of that, I went to work to write grants and reports. That was my statement. Hollowed, I returned to the snows of Michigan with no more fuel to push myself out of bed each day: a wraith. Mission accomplished: I lasted. I was done. six months passed in D.C. and I decided to return to an old dream — to this dream: to write creatively! To finally do all the ‘bad writing’ that my perfectionism would not allow. In a sense, I evacuated from the new sense of purpose I was given in Bethlehem and all of what I had learned about myself before ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. I spent the Autumn reacclimating instead of preparing for the next battle. Now, I’m kicking myself because I wasted time: I’ll never be happy in the shadows, now. The writer I would have been will never exist and I am at peace with that because… …because I evolved. Peace & Justice work became part of me and broke me from my cycles of dysfunction. Saturday, the coffee brought me back to crisis again — in the best way.

Rhinoceros crushes annexation wall
Sometimes I wish I were just a little bit bigger…

Alone, I stepped closer to that wall. The crack of another stone erupted, faintly, from the next turret. I looked again at the tray of finjaaneen. Once, in a moment of creative clarity, I sat next to Adnan drinking coffee on the bench and imagined that all the tiny finjaan in Bethlehem floated to ‘our’ section of the separation barrier and, like a swarm of locusts, pelted the wall by the thousands. Each finjaan bit a chunk of concrete out of the wall until the section was obliterated. I had imagined raising my arms in the air like Moses, cleaving the wall with a plague of quaint coffee cups. Yet I knew, as the frostiness left my breath at last, that the ‘medicine-touch’ rarely works in such a way. I poured myself a cup of rich, cardamom laced Arabic coffee and savored it to the last drop.

A Hebraic voice ripped the air. A teenager met eyes with me from his perch in the tower. Pouring another cup, I raised it in honor of him and said “someday, my cousin, your blindness will pass. What should work, by the name of God, will work but what should not be will eventually be laid to waste: one cup at a time.” Shaking a little, I sauntered to the base of the wall with my full cup of coffee and stood there while the Israeli soldier yelled, sipping my coffee and ignoring the boy quite intentionally. He calmed, after a while, and the sound of stones faded even further into the distance. Taking the empty cup in my right hand, I dug it hard into the graffiti stained concrete. Though it was solid to the touch of my finger, with the finjaan I could scoop a piece of the wall as if it were all made of ice-cream. One chunk fell from my cup and, shocked, I exclaimed: “You really can destroy Apartheid with coffee! Praise Jesus!”

The cup went frigid again: I stared at the awkwardly nude figures in front of the Library, a stone’s throw from the US Capitol Building. I could still feel the coffee in me but it was American coffee. Just a half hour before, I had enjoyed some coffee in the capitol hill area, though not alone. “Praise Jesus,” I said with a contented sigh, “you really can destroy PTSD with coffee — but not just any coffee…”

I have more to say but this particular piece is done. There is a danger in saying too much. Sometimes, something or someone needs to disappear for a period of time to be recovered fully later. Insha’allah: God brings me closer every day. I’ve decided to keep my ideas and let people be whomever they need to be. If I am mindful of myself, perhaps I will be invited to linger… to catch the same sentiments as they condense again…

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