It’s been a while since I’ve celebrated Easter in the the “traditional” since. As I write this, I can hear the nieces and nephews giggling around the table as they dunk their hard boiled eggs and fingers into the brightly colored dyes; color crayons and stickers scattered around the table to put the final touches on their works of art. My older niece came in to check in on me, since usually I would be out there with the rest of the “kids” getting my fingers just as dirty.
A “deviled egg,” yes, I could use a food break and I haven’t eaten one in years. Tomorrow I am sure I will get my fill of jelly beans and chocolates as I raid their Easter Baskets, but I don’t have the excitement that I once had in my younger years. Could it be that I am finally growing up? Or maybe I look at Easter through a little bit different colored pair of glasses.
It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was in the madness of it all, right in old town Jerusalem. The flocks of Christian tourists filled the cobbled roads as military police with their machine guns took their places along the streets to keep the order and peace. I remember my family being concerned at the fact that I was in the Middle East during such a big holiday, but honestly I don’t think there was any safer place I could have been.
The “Procession,”which follows the path that Christians believe Jesus took from where he died on the cross, to where he was placed in a tomb and was resurrected (at the site where the Holy Sepulcher Church now stands in Old Town,) could be seen from the roof of the hostel I was staying at. It was literally outside my front door.
I was awoken to the melodic chant of the Franciscan monks mixed in with the Muslim call to prayer early Easter morning. An amazing, yet bitter sweet moment as I had no-one to share it with. I decided to head up to the Mount of Olives later that morning, hoping that the crowds would be inside at a morning Easter service.
Now let me just explain something a little about my spirituality. I haven’t attended Christian services for many years. I have my own beliefs about what spirituality is, and I don’t believe that I have to step inside of a church to have that feeling.
Honestly with all of the different denominations in the city that Sunday, it was a little overwhelming and confusing. I preferred the idea of being in nature instead, away from the circus of it all. Then the homesickness I often felt on holidays abroad slowly crept its way in, along with the emotion of some “boy” problems I had the night before, and I found myself weeping right there outside of the Garden of Gethsemine. All I wanted was some solitude, to sit for a moment and enjoy the beauty.
A taxi driver who I had shewed off earlier that morning trying to push a tour to Bethlehem approached again, but this time took his salesman hat off and put on the hat of a concerned father instead. What had happened? Why was I so upset? He offered to take me to Bethlehem at whatever price I could afford to get away from the rest of the zoo. A little skeptical of course (and tired of unwanted attention I had been attracting there) I got into the cab in search of my reprieve.
I firmly told him not to talk with me, and if there was any discrepencies in his ability to act like a professional, not only would I NOT pay him, I would do something quite violent to his male anatomy. A bit stunned, he agreed to my arrangement, saying nothing on the drive other than pointing out the occasional tourist spots and asking if I wanted to stop for photos. He made a few calls along the way, but they were in Arabic so I had no idea that he was calling ahead to arrange a tour for me in Bethlehem.
We finally arrived and he informed me that I was his “V.I.P.” guest for the day. He left me with the tour guide (who never charged me for the tour,) and came back a few hours later to pick me up. On the drive back to Jerusalem, I finally began to open up to him. I explained the events that happened over the past few days, and why I had been crying. All of the sudden it became his personal mission to make sure my weekend was turned around.
The next thing I knew, he was driving me down to Jericho (a few hours away) and brought me to a much more quiet place of worship, the monastary build around the Mt. of Temptation. I crawled into the cave where Jesus supposedly fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. I wept again, only this time not in sadness. An overwhelming sense of peace and happiness came over me. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling, and the best part was I WAS alone to feel it.
People often ask me what the most peaceful place is that I have ever traveled too. I have had a lot of peaceful moments; watching the sun rise on the mediterranean without a spec of land in sight, swimming with the fish in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, sitting high on a mountain top in Montenegro seeing nothing but land and sea around me. But in a country where they are fighting so hard for peace, I have to say, THAT was the most peaceful feeling I have felt in my whole life.
I don’t know what happened to Sami the cab driver. We lost touch after that weekend, but he stayed true to his word and never once made any advances. I even went hiking alone with him to another monastery further in the canyon the next day. Some people call me crazy and say that I was much too trusting. Somehow I felt protected in that sacred place. After all of that, he still wouldn’t accept payment from me, and it should have cost at least a couple hundred dollars, not to mention the business he lost from other paying customers on that busy tourist weekend.
So a man who acts like a brother or father, who made a sacrifice to help me work through some of my own personal problems… I was beginning to see the lesson here. I am full of gratitude and weep even to this day thinking of the man who was “my savior” that Easter weekend, an Arab Muslim helping a Christian girl realize the true meaning of Easter.
I don’t know what denomination you are nor do I feel it matters. If I could leave you with one thought this Easter Sunday, it would be to just think about all that you have in this life, and be grateful for whatever source you feel it came from. And if you ever find your way to Israel or Palestine, be sure to say hello to my friend Sami the cab-driver.