Sometimes life seems to throw us a curve ball. The breakup of a marriage, death of a parent, a traumatic accident, loss of a job - any of these can catch us by surprise and cause us to feel angry, depressed, and victimized. We might even ask "Why me, what did I do to deserve this?" It might feel as though we're wandering in a maze of darkness, loneliness, and isolation, cut off from the life we knew.
Es Siq, Jordan
Last night, a friend of mine commented on my upbeat attitude and positive outlook on life and wondered how I could maintain it. After all, he said, you deserve to feel victimized after what you went through these last couple of months. He wondered why I wasn't angry or bitter with the person who caused the injuries that almost left me paralyzed.
I'll admit that there was a time where wallowing in anger and self-pity is exactly what I'd be doing right now. But when I was 23, I met someone whose message forever changed how I looked at these tough events in our lives.
During the summer of 1989, Andrews University and the Government of Jordan hired me to be an archaeological artist on a dig just outside of Amman. My job was to draw each object found on the dig - no small task since the dig encompassed three sites, the smallest being the size of an American football field, and the timespan of the dig ran back to 3000 B.C.E.
Madaba Plains Project dig site, 1989, Amman
I had a lot of antiquities to draw but even then, I still had time to wander through Amman and soak up the culture.
Roman theater in Amman
On one of my forays into the city, I stopped at a small shop that sold ice cream and a bewildering array of confections. Jordanians love their sweets! The owner of the store, a man of about 55 to 60 years old, surprised me by striking up a conversation. Now this was very unusual for 1989 in Jordan - to have an older, married man start a conversation with a young, unmarried, foreign woman just wasn't done. But he explained that he had gone to college in the US and just wanted a chance to practice his English.
He stood about six feet tall and wore the typical jellabiya (long white linen robe) of Jordan. His face was classic Arabic - beautiful aquiline nose, lean, sharp features, dark brown eyes, and very tan, weathered skin. His build strong but lean. And he spoke flawless English.
During the course of the conversation, he let on that he was Palestinian.
Fear clutched at my belly. The late 1980s saw a lot of unrest between Palestinian terrorists and Israel, and I had no idea what this man in front of me was capable of. During the few months I'd been here, several innocent people had died in border skirmishes. The danger was real. I was here, alone, no one at the dig knew exactly where I was. My first thought was: I'm going to be a hostage. Dumb Dumb Dumb.
I think he saw the fear on my face and reassured me that I was safe. His smile and easy, relaxed demeanor allowed me to let my guard down a little.
I gathered my courage and asked him how he felt about the terrorism, the hatred felt between some of the Palestinians and the Israelis. I wanted to know how it had impacted him and his people, and if there was a way out of the circle of violence and anger.
He said that the violence greatly saddened him, that it was time to just let all of this anger and bitterness go and get on with the job of living in peace with each other. I asked if he really thought it was possible, to just let it go and move on with life.
He responded by telling me about himself: how in 1948, when he was a young man still living with his parents just outside of Jerusalem, American and British soldiers knocked on the door of his family's home one night. The United Nations forces were clearing out portions of what used to be Palestine to aid in the creation of the new country of Israel. He told me that the soldiers gave the family only a few hours to pack up their belongings, to leave the home they had lived in for over 350 years, and move.
They had no idea where they would go. They were now refugees.
In time, the family ended up in Amman where his father was able to start a small business. Eventually, the son studied in America but came home upon graduation and helped with the business. By all accounts, this man in front of me said he had a good life: a beautiful wife and children, a business, a home, good health, but he admitted to missing the family home he knew and loved as a child. Although, he said, no family home was worth the violence gripping his people.
I asked him if he himself was angry or bitter, if he harbored any resentment towards Americans or the British. His answer moved me to tears and has stuck with me to this day.
No, he explained, while he missed his home, what's done is done. At first, he was angry about losing his family's home but he quickly realized that there was no point wallowing in negativity. Doing so would ruin the life that he was living now. He preferred to focus on the wonderful things he did have. He said that the United Nations forces were doing what they thought was right. And too, the Jewish people did deserve a home after what they'd been through...this man's only wish was that the UN and Israel would have given the Palestinians a chance to stay and live in peace with the new government. He believed it was possible, and still believed it was possible, but he understood the situation too.
He said that happiness was a choice...so was living a life of hatred and bitterness. His preference was to live a happy, peaceful life and get along with those around him.
What I realized was that he had wandered through a maze of anger and decided to come out into the light. Once he made the choice of happiness, a beautiful life unfolded...
El Kazneh (The Treasury), Petra, Jordan
I remember this man every time I even start to feel bad about events in my life. He is right - what happens to us, happens. Often we have no control over it. But how we choose to go forward with our life is completely up to us. We can waste our time being angry or bitter, or we can let it go and embrace joy and happiness.
I don't know about you, but I choose to focus on being happy...
For more information about the exodus from Palestine, see Plan Dalet on Wikipedia.org.
All text and pictures copyright Nancy Rynes, 2014. You may share links to this page, but please do not copy text or photos without my written permission.