This post was originally written in April 2017. It was interrupted.
“A second story room is never preserved.”
Our guide said it solemnly. We were walking on a street in Jerusalem, following him, as we had been for nine days, soaking in the way he set the geography and ancient sites in the context of Biblical stories. As we were approaching our next stop, a student had asked:
“Is the Upper Room that we are about to see the original location?”
He explained that, while the place we were heading may have been built on top of the historical location of Jesus’ Last Supper, time, decay, and conflict together undid any chance of a tour group in 2017 standing in the original Upper Room.
This was not unique to this site or city. Archeology teaches that, while foundations remain, second stories are never preserved.
As I traveled with this tour group for the first two weeks of January, my heart and mind were weighing a possibility that neither they, nor my friends back home across the River, knew about yet.
One that would require letting go: of my sweet second-story house in the Middle East, to live who knows where. And of my joy-filled work with Young Leaders, to work one year as a teacher and mentor for graduate students who were seeking future employment in cultures not their own. And of the country where I had learned and wept and loved and been loved for three and a half years, to replant in a place familiar but different– and knowing that I would be different, too– than it had been when I left my beloved basement apartment there behind.
I could scarcely wrap my mind around the prospect. I was just getting the hang of living in the Middle East. We had finished one 18-month cohort of leadership development with at-risk teenagers; we were about to begin another. I spoke Arabic like a precocious kindergartener, able to use my limited vocabulary with enough heart that, in general, people did not mind hearing me out.
My teammates and I had just celebrated the holidays together, feeling like a family, enjoying loving visits from our local Muslim friends, and buying footie pajamas for our group’s children AND adults to wear as we enjoyed Christmas morning together. Nope. Not putting that photo on the blog.
So the words hit me differently than our tour guide meant them. A second-story room is never preserved.
Fast forward, but the old fashioned way, like a VCR in my growing-up days: with quickly-moving glimpses of the scenes in between where you were and where you are going.
I pray and seek counsel, and after I return from this trip to Palestine and Israel, I accept the job in New York.
My colleagues and I launch a new chapter of Young Leaders, trusting a new director will emerge; one does.
My teammate, whom I began dating last fall, and I do life together with each other, our team, the Arab mommas in our women’s handicraft project, the new and old teachers in Young Leaders. On the back porch of my second-story home, he asks me to marry him.
I say yes. (There is so much more to this story; please ask if we one day see each other).
His contract is up mid-April; before he goes, our community center friends throw us the best engagement party we could imagine, complete with ululations and blessings from Arab women; dabke dances from the men and a slow waltz from Ed Sheeran; handmade favors from an Arab grandma and heartfelt kisses, as is culturally appropriate, from man to man and woman to woman.
Note in 2019: This is where I lost words, and allowed my writing to be interrupted much longer than I ever anticipated. By the time I returned to the Middle East, not only was my second-story home occupied by someone else, but an apartment building had been put up beside it, obstructing much of what had been my view.
Second stories are never preserved. I would not stay there; I would not return to that season.
But the stories formed there would stay with me.