scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

leaving 1

The countdown is on and the first number is a 10. Ten days before I leave this place.
I arrived here unafiliated. Not Jewish, not Palestinian, not aligned politically. I’ve lived down the street from a silver-coated manger, down the road from a wall whose nooks and crannies are stuffed with paper prayers, in the shadow of a gleaming dome. Yet none of these sites are what drew me. I feel like I've been on a pilgrimage, and visits to all three sites have played an important and contributory role. It's funny how changing everything outside, the air that touched my skin, the rain that wreaked havoc with my frizzy bizzy head, the faces that filled my gazes, left so much room for plumbing the depths inside. My pilgrimage brought me to the Holy Land and to the Profane Marty. In the swirling madness of this land I've found clear notes of the peace I've been seeking. It's difficult to think about leaving.
In this fractious region I've made my home, on both sides of the wall that divides it. Each day I leave my office, a slick and modern restoration of a beautiful and ancient fortress, and ride my bicycle to the checkpoint. The sun sets early here, and it's usually down by the time I leave work. Dodging the glare of car headlights and army spotlights, I duck along a muddy path (last night there were some donkeys loose, frightened and blocking the way). The confused glances of the unfortunate youths in their green jackets who check my passport (why is this not-arab guy going in to Bethlehem at night, on a bicycle, wearing a tie) gave way some time ago to nods of familiarity, practiced phrases of English and, most recently, a call to “come visit us again”. I told them I would see them in the morning.
The change is immediate. I have been in poorer places in the world than the West Bank, but I have never cycled through them in the shadow of a wall, a physical symbol of the reason for the potholed streets and the rubble-filled gaps between the homes that line them (oversimplification alert).
There are, I think, more cats in Palestine than people. This comes in super handy when the garbage men go on strike (I would strike too if my paycheques were months late) and the bins start to return what they’ve received back into the greasy streets. It’s amazing how much can be piled onto a small bin before this happens. The cats love the garbage. They can make a serious dent in it too, and they love to jump out in great numbers as you walk by in the middle of the night (heart goes thump thump THUMP THUMP THUMP). They still burn garbage in the bins here. It’s a shock the first time you see it. The first time the acrid taste hits your tongue and the blue smoke fills your lungs, coating them with plastic. After a while your concern shifts to things like “I hope there were no cats in there when they lit it!” I’m a dog person I guess, but I still like cats.
It’s not like I’m returning to a place I didn’t like. Seattle was a home to me in the truest sense. It is interesting to me how I have translated that place into my home of the last months. The French café where I took my daily quiche and sat alone with the newspaper became a Jewish bakery where I sat with an Americano and read the same paper (God bless the New York Times/International Herald Tribune). The bar in the alley where I would sit and drink with old men became a falafel shop where I sit and smoke with old men. The daily motorcycle ride over the QA bridge, with its view of the Olympics to the left and the Cascades to the right, which honestly made me catch my breath every day, was replaced by a morning bike ride along the flowing skirts of Bethlehem with a view of the valley where the angels appeared to the shepherds, spotted with the descendents of those shepherds and their sheep and goats, with the hills of the Judean desert beyond. The catchy-breathy effect is the same.
I don’t know where exactly I’ll end up in this world, but I hope that the richness of each place I’ve been is carried with me, translated in a new language and given a new heart. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but so far it’s worked this way.
So it’s hard to think of leaving. But life and oceans both have their currents and swells, their tides and flows. How could I love the ocean so much and hate life for imitating it?
I promised myself a while ago, after reading my friend Mike’s blog ( that I would make my entries short and poignant, that I would ask for the friendly responses I crave, and here I am blathering on, multiple beers deep, and not even leaving space for you all. So maybe, if you like, respond with some idea about how the homes you’ve had, the places you’ve loved, which have been translated and reborn in new places and new homes. This could be a phd thesis, or it could be ramblings made in a noisy bar in Jerusalem with a long and mostly uphill bike ride staring you in the face.
A final parting thought, old and sugar-soaked tea bags held by the string look a lot like dead mice held by the tail.


At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heres my response, about homes and building blocks and renovating. It seems to me that it is not uncommon to take a journey to find yourself, a journey away from home. Heres the thing, and I speak from experience; nine times out of ten you will find what you are looking for, and you will despise it. This can leave a human being rather shaken, not exactly that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow you had expected. Their are two options at this point, in my humble opinion, either wallow in a trough of existential slop and rot, or, reinvent. The thing about reinvention is that, as a human being, I have found we must reconstruct with existing blocks, from the original pile of environmental and genetic rubble we were attempting to escape. Although this frustrates me to no end, I am also happy about it because, despite renovation, I will always carry home with me and can easily add a block at any point.

At 12:06 AM, Blogger Martin Penner said...

While I do appreciate a good wallow, I must vote for the latter option. The point, always, must be to build. Finding out you're not happy with who you are is the start of the journey, not the end.

At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you martin. Although it does feel like the end of the journey, most often, to me, I love your positive perception of this awareness as a beginning point. Change seems so difficult for me, I keep returning to this point. To refer to your analogy, the tides in, no wait, its out, shucks. I must embrace the ebb and flow I guess. Doldrums never permanent right? I also appreciate your attitude as it is supported by theorists of the social learning perspective, which to me offers hope, which is my staple most often. Have you achieved change? Following your blogs, it seems you have, how? Will it stick? Help. You mention that you do not know where you will end up. I know exactly where you will end up, at home!

At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe that drastic changes will not stick comfortably - only slight changes and small movements... these are the changes that can be passed down and that allow the next ones to make slight changes themselves... just my experience... but loving reading about yours

At 4:06 AM, Blogger Martin Penner said...

You don't know how scared I am about the impermanence of the way my heart has developed. So far my response has been to avoid the comfortable places that would allow my heart to return to its familiar and unpleasing shape. Maybe a new goal will be to be so much the owner of my heart that no matter where I am, I can still interact with it honestly.

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies if I have given the impression that I do know. I cannot simply read a heartfelt (and great!) snapshot of someone's valuable experience and walk away. I have a system, which may be offensive, of valuing experiences outside of my own by oversimplifying them so I can relate and apply them to my life. In this engagement you are impacting my growth. Please continue to have patience with my ignorance. I love anonymous II's baby steps principle and I am also a fan of your avoidance technique. It works on so many levels. Hopefully there comes a time when ownership of the new shape is permanent enough to go and kick the assess of all those places where you could potentially fall of the cart!

At 6:11 PM, Blogger mc said...

Consider a career as a writer. Or at the very least, keep writing and sharing.

I'll reserve my other thoughts for over coffee at my place.

Travel safely.


At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Rubber side down. said...

Hey Marty!

I have to hartily agree with the dude in the ginormous collar. Your writing is captivating. Its bittersweetness haunts me long after I close my laptop. Look forward to reading more and getting some first hand eyewitness accounts when I see your chapped ass in the yuletide,

Keep the rubber side down,
Josh Friesen


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