Part of doing something is listening

Time is a whirlwind. So many special things have happened in the last week- and I can barely believe it’s already been a month since I’ve been here. In the last week, I:

  • Went to an interfaith conversation last Tuesday evening (March 11) at the Ahmadi mosque in Kababir, a community here in Haifa
  • Visited family friends and their adorable little kids
  • Flew to Turkey on Thursday for three incredible days- got to see my boyfriend and other friends from W&M, another who has been studying in Scotland for the last two years, and met some other really cool people in the hours that I wasn’t with my friends
  • Got back late Saturday night just in time for Purim (basically the equivalent of Halloween here, except people really go all out)
  • Went back to the Ahmadi mosque on Tuesday to have tea and talk with the Secretary General of the Ahmadi Muslim Community here, who also runs three different projects: one is a program for conflict resolution in schools and workplaces, another is to reintegrate teens who have been incarcerated, and the third is to help girls who are survivors of domestic violence. Just all of the things I have ever wanted to do with my life…he is inspiring and I am looking forward to learning about more of his work
  • Finally was just in Haifa this weekend- went out, walked around Carmel Center, which is restaurant central, and found an amazing hummus place and tried to settle in a bit more here…I realized I’d been exploring so many other places that I hadn’t had a chance to just enjoy where I’m living (it’s hard though since we’re on top of a mountain and have to take buses into town)
  • (and yes, between all of those things, I went to class, too)

It’s all a little overwhelming. Actually, to be completely honest, it’s very overwhelming. Everything here stretches my mind in different directions, and my heart a little too, and my levels of exhaustion. It’s hard being away from people you love. But I’m also finding things I love about being here, and people I love here. I love about having this kind of time to explore and be independent and free, too. I’ve never felt this kind of freedom before.

I love being able to meet different kinds of people. At the interfaith conversation, I met people from around the world- Focolare Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Jews from here, London, and the US (I also went with some other girls from the International School here), and others who didn’t specify their backgrounds but just wanted to be part of the conversation- this week we talked about faith and modernity. We learned a bit about the Focolare and Ahmadi movements, which are, at their essence, focused on love. Someone asked why we never hear about them- the response: “to cut down a tree makes a lot of noise, but to let it grow is quiet.” What I found particularly striking about this group of people sitting in the room with me was that everyone wanted to listen. You don’t find that often- it seems that everyone always wants to talk, make people understand where they are coming from, and that they have to agree on everything or else they can’t be friends. Here, that wasn’t the case. People simply wanted to hear stories, experiences, and opinions of others, and share their own. No one was trying to change anyone. That was really refreshing. I was sitting next to a woman who, when I met her and shook her hand, just held my hand for a few extra moments. It caught me off guard- we are so easily caught up in moving through the motions and not fully being in certain moments, but she took the time. And for the next couple hours, we all took the time. “If listening doesn’t lead to love, then there is a bigger problem with humanity,” she said as we wrapped up our discussion. Little did I realize I was going to meet some other really special people later that week, too.

On a water taxi from Eminonu to Kadikoy (from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side), I decided to move to sit outside so I could take pictures off the side of the boat. There were birds flying along with us that I was pretty focused on getting a good shot of- my camera keeps me company in lonely moments. The guy sitting beside me pointed out that if I looked a little higher and past the birds and the Bosporus, I could see the beautiful skyline of mosques, too. Then we started talking about how we each ended up in Istanbul- he is from Syria, and I was the first Jewish person he’d ever met. We talked about politics, the conflicts, our backgrounds, and hopes, and goals…and Seinfeld. He told me he thinks we have more in common in some respects than he does with other Syrians. I met his friend, a woman from Istanbul who studied at the Hebrew University. Over fish, while sitting on a restaurant on the Bosporus, we listened to each other and asked questions. He asked me if I believed that these kinds of conversations would do anything for peace. I hope so. I believe that they are the small steps, that if we take the time to listen and make human connections with each other and just try to learn how to love each other other a little more, maybe we can get somewhere.

Sometimes it feels like there’s so much to do here, because the news always seems to be talking about violence erupting or hate or prejudice or war or death- the media doesn’t always focus on the life and respect and peace that is here, too. And we always hear about so many people trying to work to “fix” it all. So then I feel like I have to fix things, or else what am I doing with my time here? I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to learn or go somewhere or do something, and I feel like I need to plan it all out and know what I believe and think about what I’m going to say.

But I always talk about how the stars ground me. Which is a little ironic, I know, because they’re up in the sky and they make me feel like a tiny little dot on this whirling ball. But, like I’ve said before, they put things in perspective. Sometimes we see only a few, or just the moon, or the sky is black, or it glitters with millions of pinpricks of light. But from anywhere we stand on earth, anywhere we come from, they are always up there, and they are always beautiful. And when we look up, we are listening too, even though it’s quieter than what we’re used to listening for. I’m learning a lot about how the earth makes me feel more settled even in really unfamiliar places, and how many different experiences others are having under the same sky, and how it’s okay to wonder and question and feel small and a little overwhelmed. We all do. But we also have this really special capacity to just listen, and sometimes that’s all we need.

“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.” (-Madeline L’Engle)

Today, after hiking down Mount Carmel to the beach, I just sat listening to the waves and sand and the sunshine and laughter- and it was perfect.

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