Thursday, December 14, 2006

Journal Entry About Friends Lost and Found
I started addressing my Christmas cards tonight and it surprised me how many friends and family members in my address book are no longer a part of my life. Many have died within the past few years, two aunts, several high school classmates, and my husband. There were former coworkers I’ve lost touch with who were once an important part of my daily life. I believe I’m not replacing the old friends and family as fast as I’m losing the earlier ones. I lead a very active social and work life. These days I seem to always be with people at work, at my place of worship, and at civic endeavors who are younger than I.

Last month I volunteered to help campaign for the Virginia Democrats running for Congress. I met new people and many who knew my son, who has for years been politically active in the DC area. They were for the most part young enough to be my children. People are attracted to others who are near their own age. Though always very polite to me, I know they will not include me in their inner circle because of the age difference.

I belong to a Quilters Guild, a large group of very talented women whose beautiful quilts intimidate me even though I won a national contest with a quilt block I designed many years ago. They are all ages, many older than I am, but they do not have careers so have the time to develop their talents. I’m caught between two worlds, old enough to retire, but lacking the funds to do so, at least in this country, I continue in a career that even though I have the health and energy for it, I do not have the enthusiasm that I had even ten years ago. I work with people who, for the most part, are a generation younger than I, people who though they like me are not likely to invite me to become a part of their social life. I live twenty-eight miles from my meetinghouse (place of worship) so it is difficult to become active enough to really get to know my fellow Quakers.

I made many new friends while I was in Palestine. I became closer to my in-laws and got to know them better than I had before. Sami had said before he died that I would love the villagers once I got to know them. After three months of living among them I understood what he meant. Palestinians are extremely polite, hospitable, and sensitive people. They were honored by my presence as a guest at their weddings and came to me, sometimes the next day, to thank me for attending.

The sensitivity surprised me the most. You can embarrass or offend them with a harsh word or the slightest public criticism. Once when European students attending Bier Zeit University visited in the village, a local woman on learning that a young Norwegian woman was married to a Muslim announced that she must become a Muslim. The young woman, a Christian, was offended by the suggestion and voiced her dislike saying Europeans would never even ask another’s religion much less attempt to change whatever it was. Thinking the village woman did not understand English I sympathized and announced that people who are self confident and sure of their beliefs do not have this constant need to proselytize. The Muslim woman’s daughter spoke to her a few times and on observing her reaction I realized the daughter had understood enough English to relate to her mother what we said. The mother was very quiet the remainder of the visit. Not having meant any harm by her suggestion, she was mortified that she had offended us.
The week I left several of the neighbors came to say goodbye and they wept. I was very moved, not since my late mother has anyone cried because I was leaving.

Sami’s funeral, with the ensuing receptions, lasted for three days. Although exhausted by it, I could see the psychological advantage. I’ve always heard it said that the worst part of the grieving process is when the last guest leaves after the funeral and the family is left all alone. The Arab custom not only does not leave you alone for many days, it shows you gently how you still have so many others even though you have lost a loved one.

Looking at my address book tonight I realize I don’t have that many others. I need to return to Palestine.


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