I returned from Palestine with a new daughter. No, she didn't fly home with me, but she is in my heart. It happened this way.
One morning rather early we trudge up a hill to visit the French sisters who care for elderly Palestinians in the Home Notre Dame Des Douleurs. As we climb, the winding dividing "wall" towers over our heads, dwarfing us in its hard ugliness. Police stop us to say, "You can't go there," referring to the Home. "But we are guests of the sisters," Kathy responds. The police drive away. My mind races, "Why don't the Israelis want us going up to the Home? Why do they try to keep us out? Shouldn't the whole world be allowed to see the effects of this illegal wall? What is this doing to their national soul?"
The sisters from the French order welcome us into the reception room. They tell their sad and urgent story. The wall cuts them off in such a way that families of the elderly can no longer come to see them, something cruel and unbelievable in Middle Eastern societies. Palestinian residents can not be taken out for medical care because they do not have Jerusalem permits to receive care in facilities on the side of the wall where they are now forced to be. Workers and caregivers who live on the other side of the wall can no longer get to the home, or they must travel for hours getting there and back. The wall is so close to the Home that emergency vehicles cannot get to them; only a small van can get in. The home has become an island of unimaginable despair. The sisters are perplexed, not knowing how to care for the elderly ones in the future. All of this we learn in the reception room.
Then we are invited to visit some of the residents. My spirit wavers, "Can I face these folks knowing what we've just been told? Oh, come on, get yourself together!"
As we enter the day room there is an almost audible collective gasp. "It's so clean! So bright! The elderly ones are alert and it doesn't smell bad. We've never been in a facility like this!"
We walk among the residents smiling, touching, stopping to listen and sing. Suddenly for me the wall becomes a symbol of the evil existing in this inhumane occupation perpetrated on an entire population called "Palestinian." Even people in the end stages of their lives are not spared. What kind of beings do this to others? In a flash, and without warning, a tsunami of grief and horror sweeps over me; I sob uncontrollably. Crushed down, as if by a diabolical force that has engulfed this place of refuge and light and me along with it, I grope along as my tears spill onto the floor. "How would I have felt if I had not been able to see my aging and dying mother for whom I was strength and comfort? I would sooner have died myself." If the thought pains me so, surely it is greater here in Palestine where families are so revered.
Some of our group stand helpless in stunned silence, not knowing what to do with me, as others walk on. With one arm around my waist and another on my arm, a little sister of the Home Notre Dame leads me away, saying softly in my ear, "Courage, courage (be brave, take heart)." My mind reels as my heart cries, "How can this sister who lives daily with all the pain of this threatening wall be telling me to 'have courage?' What grace!"
Gently she leads me into the spotless, shining dining room. I look into her face, a simple plain one that glows with a radiant inner light. Surely it is the light of Christ! Though we have no common language, we share a common (and uncommon) Spirit!
She points to the crucifix above us and then gestures to our hearts. In a flash my Protestant educated mind that puts a wall between "us" and "them;" they have a dead Christ on their cross, but ours is empty... melts. In Palestine Christ surely "suffers still" as hymn writer Brian Wren expresses:
In every insult, rift and war
Where color, scorn or wealth divide
He suffers still, yet loves the more
And lives though ever crucified.
This truth gives the little sister hope and an unearthly joy. We face each other, hands clasped. Then we embrace as the little sister says in English, "You are my mother." Zelda, a new friend from our Sabeel group, leads me on out of the home. "You cried the tears for all of us today," she comforts.
And this, my friends, is how I came to have a new daughter by way of the wall and by way of the Cross.