The black ones were from the ‘Payless Shoes’ store near the Tenley Town Metro station, purchased just as August began. I threw my pair of white tennis shoes into the garbage, right there, and walked away in the same pair of black walking-shoes I wore into the Pentagon City Mall — now heavily scuffed and crusted with road salt. I looked at the mall map for a puzzled minute, then rode the escalator to a ‘Walking Company’ ~ some kind of shoe store I had never heard of before. I’m from the ‘stix’ of Michigan… via occupied Bethlehem. Pentagon City Mall might be more exotic to me than some of my contemporaries.
I might as well start with the shoes, if I am showing the passage of time. I am trying to write this with a minimum amount of second-guessing and I chose shoes as my metaphor — the cross-trainers from Ireland were the shoes that walked three continents. The white shoes from Plainwell represent the period of more crippling disarray between the bombardment of Gaza — while I was still in the West Bank — and the US Campaign to End the Occupation Conference that help start me on the road to greater peace-of-mind without completely losing a grip on justice. Lately, I’ve been making even more allowances for myself since I know that my most volatile outrage, however just or rooted in hard facts, cannot inhere lasting peace; the way of wi’am (and salaam, by extension) must be patient and creative — and kinder than I was a year ago, after steeling myself for the final flight from Tel Aviv. The mall can be too much like an airport, perhaps, but I felt more comfortable in my skin as I interacted with the shoe-clerk — as I noticed myself functioning normally. She was there to help: size my feet, make suggestions, bring me nice shoes. “Well, I like the brown ones — in brown, actually. Thank you so much…”
The brown shoes were all I needed: a fresh start. I could put them on and flee the strangeness of shopping malls. Yet there was something else I knew I needed from Pentagon City: therapeutic reconnaissance. I am emerging from an uncertain incubation period, of sorts, since I decided that my future lies more in libraries and classrooms than at the negotiating table — I wanted nothing less than to be a mediator like my ex-supervisor (Zoughbi Zoughbi). I wanted to feel about myself the way that I feel about him. Supportive friends are helping me see that I have gifts of my own. Of course, this journal needs to cease being an outlet for self-administered therapy. There was a story taking place: a missionary on a domestic assignment descended into a mall food-court to transcend his reverse culture-shock —and tinge of PTSD?— by immersion. He (I) unsheathed a lined-notebook and began journaling… in pen, on a table in the mall food-court. I dared myself to soak it all in without dilution, sans critiques about materialism or augmented reminiscences about open-air markets.
As the hard-drive in my skull de-fragments, day by day, the paradox becomes more clear: all of the pieces I need to succeed, except for the hours of practice soon to come, have always been with me. There is continuity. Simultaneously, there is an irreversible discontinuity: I’ll never walk through the mall like I did as a teenager. So many adept attributes have fled me forever and I’ll always be stitched together rather than fully integrated — always a little bit absent-minded, always unable to fully digest the absurdities. I have lived in fear of the day I learned I would never be normal again…
But this is good! I can sense the absurdity. Though I have struggled desperately with a confluence of disappointments, those mental fractures healed by the Grace of The Divine and became my antennae — like a broken foot that aches when storms approach. My tolerance is rising rather than the mall’s ludicrousness diminishing.
—after I had finished sketching some thoughts, I decided to take a walk around the entire building. I wish I had all night to talk about it: the whole experience was surreal. The Mall is the closest I may ever get to absinthe — it’s like my first time in a haunted house or like walking into the Garden of Gethsemane and whispering “Jesus cried & bled here”. It’s so much weirder than most of you can know simply because you are accustomed. All the wonders of the ocean are a mystery to fish.