Hello my dear ones. I’m writing this from the Highlands of Scotland, in the wee cottage I often come to when I need to rest, reflect and regroup. (Each time I’ve been here before, though, I’ve had my greyhound Judy with me. This time, I’m alone, and I’m missing her something fierce.)
A year ago, I was preparing to leave Old Saint Paul’s and move to Israel-Palestine.
A month ago, I had just been to Tel Aviv Pride with a dear friend, was attending meetings with partners in northern Israel and the Tabeetha School Board in Jaffa, and was preparing to baptise a young woman in the Jordan River.
A week ago, I was coming to the end of my first day of three in Gaza.
24 hours ago, Justin and I had not long arrived in our lovely wee place in the Borders after an overnight flight via Istanbul.
Yeah. I need time to rest, reflect and regroup. Life has been mad. In a wonderful, unpredictable, fabulous way. But mad nonetheless.
As the time for this holiday approached, I started making a list of things I missed about Scotland. Cool weather. Marks & Spencer. Indian food. Real queues. Personal space. Green. On the plane, I watched Sunshine on Leith, and it was all I could do to keep from sobbing like a baby. I hadn’t realised how much I missed this place until I saw the familiar skyline and streets and shops.
But I had forgotten about reverse culture shock. And it’s been a bit surreal.
At passport control, Justin and I both slipped into what we affectionately call ‘checkpoint Hebrew’. Because that’s just the language we use every time we have to show our passports. Which for me has been a lot recently.
As we got into a taxi, I realised as the driver was loading our bags that I was calculating whether or not he would be able to take us where we needed to go. And then remembered there are no checkpoints, no wall, no West Bank, no Area A, B, C, no settler roads here in Scotland.
We popped into Tesco on the way home to pick up essential items and realised halfway through one of the most inefficient, wandering shopping trips that we hadn’t even bothered looking at the signs above the aisles to see where things were located … because we’ve gotten so used to not being able to read them.
My heart started beating faster with anxiety as I went to put petrol in the car because I still haven’t worked out how to use the pumps at any station other than Paz in Israel. But then I breathed a sign of relief when I remembered the touch screen would be in English.
At each traffic light and roundabout, my hand instinctively went to the horn at the merest hint of hesitation from the driver in front. I had to stop myself from going full-scale Israeli.
There were no soldiers with guns standing at the bus stops along the A7, no concrete blocks in front of them, protecting the waiting passengers from car-rammings.
When I got home, I took one of the longest showers I’ve had in ages, because using water in Scotland doesn’t feel like a decision freighted with politics and guilt.
There have been times over the past seven months or so that I wanted just to get on a plane and come back to Scotland. But I am glad we waited. It would have been too easy, had we come sooner, to keep looking back, rather then adapting to life in Israel-Palestine and move forward. I love Scotland. I love the green. I love the open spaces. I love the hills and the rivers and the seas. I love steak pie and bacon rolls and whisky. It will always feel like a home.
Just like when I think about Virginia: I love the Appalachian mountains, Southern food, bluegrass, balmy evenings on a screen porch, the four distinct seasons. It will always feel like a home.
But now, from Scotland, I think about Israel-Palestine, and can already name things I’m missing. I love the sun, the beaches, the biblical geography and ever-changing landscape, the depth of history, the diversity of cultures and religions, the fresh fruit and vegetables, and even the madness of the drivers. Now it feels like a home.
No place is perfect. Each carries its own challenges and stresses — in daily life, in community life, in politics. And no place makes me perfectly happy. Each place I have lived has a part of my heart, and I now always feel a sense of longing wherever I find myself.
Reentry into an old familiar place is never easy.
But when this is the view I see while I’m enjoying a nice glass of red wine, it’s really not too bad.
And on that note, I shall unplug and unwind. Because the time has come at last to rest, reflect and regroup.