I sat in an eerily white room settled beneath the earth– perhaps a basement. A lawn chair (of all things) held my body up in the cold room where I met Susie. She began to explain her life as a resident in the Moshav on the border of the northern edge of the Gaza Strip. My body and mind were exhausted from the intensity of the week, so I found myself grateful for the lawn chair’s support, though it sat unusually indoors. I relaxed in the lawn chair like a day at the beach, probably not paying as much attention to Susie as I should have. I was selfishly supported by this awkward chair until I learned I was sitting in a bomb shelter. I could no longer feel comfortable in this oddly placed chair because I knew what happened in this room, what happened when others sat in this chair. I had heard the melancholy white walls correctly. This lawn chair held a people with a resilience I could never understand. How many bodies had this chair held during Red Alerts?
Susie held up the demolished remnants of the rockets that had terrorized her neighborhood. It was difficult to imagine what they had done to the people and areas around them just by seeing how much these makeshift rockets had managed to tear even themselves apart. Susie raved about the sense of community her Moshav had despite the belligerent attacks they knew all too well.
My lawn chair at home held my privileged body while I roasted marshmallows on warm summer evenings with my friends, my community. But their lawn chairs held their all too broken spirits while they sat, with their community, waiting for safety to arrive. I sat there angry, I sat there sad, and probably more than anything, I sat there confused.
How could the Gaza Strip be so full of violence and hatred? How could they use such manipulative weapons to threaten the lives of a community who intended for nothing but peace. How could they?
I had so many questions and couldn’t fathom how they could possibly be answered. Finally, my friend Lindsay asked the question that was pestering all of us, but that we were all too terrified to ask. I’ll never forget what she said and how Susie responded. Lindsay calmly inquires and says “I hope this doesn’t come off as ignorant because I certainly don’t know what this is like, but why don’t you just move?”. This seemed like a reasonable response to endless violence and rocket threats. Susie answered plainly and simply. “Because this is our home, and if we don’t stand by it together, what else do we have?” I was stunned. In America we run from anything remotely dangerous that comes our way. We embrace individualism to a fault and our only sense of community lies in how we entertain ourselves. It’s mundane, and it’s meaningless. But not Susie. Susie’s life meant something and she was going to peacefully stand by her home.
I am from a place where lawn chairs represent the utmost relaxation. They are a people where lawn chairs represent the fear that racks their lives every single day… a rather sickening irony.
It was difficult to sit in the bomb shelter, but it was worse to touch the wall.
We drove up like it was another biblical site on the laundry list of them, and quite honestly I think I felt more emotion here than anywhere else we had gone.
It’s hard to envision how tall 9 meters really is. 9 meters of concrete separates the broken people of Gaza from the broken people of Israel. It was ugly, scary, and intimidating. I didn’t have my lawn chair anymore, just the open sky and a wall so tall I couldn’t fathom what happened on the other side. Thank goodness someone from the Moshav had chosen to make something so symbolic of tragedy, beautiful again. A local woman had painted a mural on the concrete wall and it was awesome, in the genuine meaning of the word; though I still did not have words for what I saw. The dichotomy of peace and danger are found intertwined once again and I don’t know what to do with it. She had taken a dark situation and tried to make it light. Susie told us that the closest Palestinian village in Gaza could even see “Path of Peace” written in their language (Arabic) on the ominous wall. A solution to the conflict was far from reach, but this woman had done something comparable to the nature of Christ. He brought light to the darkest world and continues to be the beauty and hope in our brokenness. This woman had made something ugly just a little more beautiful. I saw God at the border of Gaza because this situation requires more trust and prayer than I have ever thought possible. I was nauseated by the juxtaposition of the concrete wall that prevented persistent threats and the awe-invoking art that proclaimed peace over the conflict.
I find myself still confused. How could I be envious of the community I witnessed in the Moshav? I think maybe because Susie was supported by more than a lawn chair. She had a community of people who were there for each other like something I had never seen. Maybe I was envious because Western culture is plagued by a sense of false loneliness. Our individualism leaves us depressed and anxious with little to no real external threats. We self destruct as a people because we forget to rely on God and one another. There is much to learn on my part about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I learned about Susie and that was enough for me.
I stood next to a war zone. They live in one. I sat in a lawn chair. And so do they. But we’ll always stand for shalom together.