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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeautiful Friends

It’s chilly out this morning;
nevertheless,
it’s also sunny
and something calls me
to the porch.
I resist the temptation
to answer a request to chat
with a new friend in Bethlehem
(I have so much work to do today):
I explain this in a brief note,
and go outside.
The birds have been all morning
at the feeders
just off the corner of the porch.
Today is the day this week
I count for the Cornell Bird Feeder Watch:
almost 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds,
10 Goldfinch,
40 or more Sparrows.
It is the couples
that thrill me this morning:
Bluejays
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
House Finches
Cardinals.
They all take flight
even though I step gently
out the front door.
I’m sorry to disturb them,
but they will return.
I stand in the cold air,
feeling it,
breathing deeply,
listening—
to the chirps high in the Hackberry,
where the birds await my departure;
to the wind in the Hackberry branches,
to a Canada Goose honking
in the distance,
to the kazoo-like call of a Eurasian-Collared Dove
flying overhead.
The Alpaca sit in the sun,
chewing;
goats, napping.
Then I hear the traffic
on the Interstate,
a mile to the west.
And I think beyond,
of my new friend
in Bethlehem
and how, a week ago when we chatted,
this teenage girl
told me of two young people
killed by Israeli soldiers’ gunfire—
one in her neighborhood.
I wonder if I just didn’t have the courage
this morning,
to hear what she had to say.
I am tearful
as I stand in this beautiful air,
in this beautiful, wide space,
listening to the beautiful birds,
watching the beautiful animals.
Remembering our meeting
in the shadow
of a giant wall
that confines her life,
I send all this to her,
and realize
this may be the most important work
I do today:
remembering,
that we are all
one living organism;
believing,
with heart brimming,
that somehow,
we hold each other’s
pain
and beauty.

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Coming home
from two weeks in Palestine,
requires transitions.
It’s been three days now
and I’m still there,
here.
There, in the clutch
of a people
occupied and oppressed.

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In the warmth and hospitality
of their eagerness
for us to know them,
their lives.
There, in their struggle
and resistance.
Images cling:
of fertile agricultural valleys,
a tall, cement wall that separates,
a blue sea that’s really a large lake,
ancient olive trees,
tables laden with food,
winding, steep, bumpy roads,
churches and mosques and synagogues—
some ancient crumbles,
some with spires rising to the sky.
Faces,
black and white scarves,
red scarves,
black hats,
long robes,
faces.
Children’s faces.

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Above all,
a sense of place
so profound
I can still sense it
here,
at home,
on the prairie—
where I now can see
what I caught no glimpse of there:
the color of the sky
before the morning sun,
the color of the sky
after the evening sun,
a short spectrum of rainbow
in the clouds this morning;
I can let the stars in the cold, black
big, welcoming sky
take me.
I don’t know what to do
about many things:
global warming and drought here,
the injustices of occupation in Palestine.
I just know,
now,
and stand
under the stars,
remembering,
the streets of Bethlehem.

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Home on the Prairie

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Streets of Bethlehem

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Today is Christmas Eve for the Orthodox Christians. And we got to see the day-long celebration at Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Our hotel is nearby and before breakfast, we heard the sounds of drums and bagpipes. Yes, bagpipes. Scouting  is popular here and the scout troops parade in tartans, playing bagpipes and drums. All day long, they paraded in the streets to Manger Square in preparation for the arrrival of the church patriarchs.

We went through the checkpoint and into Jerusalem to attend services at the Church of Scotland Afterward, as  we were approaching the checkpoint to re-enter Bethlehem, we saw many police cars and realized it was the patriarchs queing up for the procession. West Bank cars (you can tell a West Bank car because it has a green and white tag; West Bank taxis, yellow and green tags) are only permitted to leave the West Bank three times a year – at the western celebration of Christmas, the Orthodox celebration and the Armenian celebration of Christmas (mid-January) (by permission only.) It is a rare sight: Palestinian cars outside of the checkpoints.  By the way, it is illegal for Israelis to enter the West Bank. Giant red Israeli signs announce that it is illegal  for Israelis to enter because, the signs say, It is dangerous. Our experience in Palestine has been one of welcome and hospitality. More than once, we have been invited into the homes of Palestinians we have happened to meet.

Traffic was jammed throughout Bethlehem all day and even more so towards evening because the president of Palestine would be coming to Manger Square. On the streets people celebrated, Santas delivered gifts. In our hotel lobby, the manager’s family held their celebration, complete with Santa.

We visited Manger Square in the afternoon. It was packed with people as the patriarchs’ procession and introductions were made, bagpipes played, scouts crowded around. The call to prayer continued from the minaret at the corner of the square. As we shared Merry Christmas greetings with all we met today, we realized that many Muslims were returning or initiating the greeting. Here at ground zero, we are realizing, the people live together.

Meeting the people at L'arche in Bethlehem, Palestine

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The L’arche Center in Bethlehem, Palestine, is a day center for intellectually challenged people. Here, people over the age of 16 can come spend the day together. After morning gathering, during which they sing greetings to each person, they get to work taking washed sheep’s wool from local shepherds, dye it and felt it and create beautiful things, including purses, ornaments, gnomes, angels, nativity scenes. They are colorful and beautifully designed and well-made. This helps the shepherds, who walk their sheep and goats along roadsides, in town and in the country. But it helps a great deal the self-esteem of the people at the day center as they see people buying the things they make. They realize they are productive and their self-esteem is bolstered. In addition, the community comes to know that intellectually challenged people are to be valued. The staff also works with families, to help  them understand their children.

We got to visit the center in Bethlehem and a few of our team spent the morning with the people there, learning from them how to make wool felt — and receiving their affection.