Another night spent awake--at least from 3 am onward. Not even a late night bowl of mueslix and fresh milk could lull me back to sleep. Alas, there's much to think about in those hours and it's been more than ten years that this is my sleep pattern so whatter-ya-gonna-do? Embrace it.
It's like a secret I carry around with me when I hit the streets running--I know something you don't know because I saw the sun rise before the sunrise, the radiant, silver-blue light of pre-dawn, the translucent sheet music for those singing birds.
I was blinded this morning by the sun, glowing over Mount Zion as I headed down the hill before climbing up toward Jaffa Gate. "I lift my eyes toward the mountains." Check. "What is the source of my help?" I ask myself that question all the time. "My help comes from the Eternal, Maker of Heaven and Earth." No argument from me there, either. Though in God's occasional absence, in no small part due to my own choice to block him out during some occasional self-imposed periods of darkness, I am aware that 'my help' comes from others and even from my own small self.
I've been running in this city, whenever I visit, for twenty six years. Some real sublime moments have occurred--like the staring contest I once had with an ibyx on a nature path below French Hill; getting rock thrown at my head near Dung Gate; or today, watching two hummingbirds sip nectar from an opening morning glory outside the Greek Consulate. The combination of nature, science, amped up endorphins, and a decent amount of faith make running one of my more regular religious experiences.
Down near Damascus Gate this morning, there was an increased amount of police and military presence, as there usually is in Jerusalem on Fridays. Muslim prayers have the potential to lead to political demonstrations and since East Jerusalem is abuzz with the Free Palestine movement, precautions are necessary. Without breaking my stride I approached a soldier, asked in Hebrew if I would be allowed to pass, and when granted that privilege, did my usual routine of running the steps, touching Damascus Gate, and heading back up the hill to the western side of town. Younger Palestinian men were given greater scrutiny while Orthodox men headed with ease into the city with tallis bags and towels for early morning prayers and a pre-Shabbos trip to the mikveh.
It made me sad to experience the disparity of rights, cognizant as I was of the necessity for precaution. The soldier who gave me passage was no more than twenty. As cliche as it is, here was a youth with a gun, trained in crowd and riot control, on the lookout for a prayer to be turned into a combustible. It happens that fast; tear-gas and gunshots; bad Israelis, good Palestinians, more despair.
I kept running. I hate demonstrations. I really do. I suddenly wanted to set up a table and give away bus tickets to Ramallah, telling the young men to go tell Abbas to sit down at the table and talk to Netanyahu. And then I wanted to gather the tallises and towels of my co-religionists, grant them special dispensation for one day, to give God a break, give God a Shabbos from their pleas, and send them off to the Prime Minister's residence and tell him to sit down at the table and talk to Abbas.
I suspect that God in the Holy City has had just about enough of these competing pleas for vindication.
Heading back down the hill from Jaffa Gate, I saw a gaggle of young soldiers, sitting on the curb, readying themselves for duty. They were glancing at cellphones, taking one last sip of coffee, listening to the radio. In a few steps I was back on Emek Refaim, where I ended my run outside Aroma. I ordered coffee, drank some water, and watched men unload food from trucks, fill shelves in stores, prepare for Shabbat.
I think this war is a cruel addiction. For a hundred years there has been nearly every intervention imaginable--from Presidents to Prime Ministers to God. Today, however, it seems abundantly clear, that when this city's religious citizens--Jewish and Muslim--lift up their eyes to the mountains, they would do well to realize that once in a while the greatest source of strength comes from within, from the painful, difficult decision to help oneself.
God will take care of heaven and earth; man would do well to take care of himself.