Liminal Space

I had to return to the Mount of Olives.

To walk there and back would take the day; it was twelve miles from where I lived and no buses would run until sundown.  So much of Jerusalem is orthodox that even people with cars travel mostly by foot on Shabbat, if they go out at all.

Concerned neighbors and the few acquaintances I had by that time warned me against going alone.  A single woman in that part of the Old City was a target for abuses ranging from the offensive to life threatening.

But I was a street smart, big city girl on a mission, and it was fueled by a ferocious obsession with my Ultimate Right to be there. Buoyed by faith and driven by compulsion, nothing would get in the way of my bittersweet adventure.

So secret.

So solitary.

I’d taken the small apartment on Antigonus Street just weeks before, and those late summer days were soaked in a heavy unction of grief and hope and destiny. I planned to sit on that immortal hill and let it wash over me.

I was in shock, and that’s all I could think of.

I kept my pace brisk, my armor on and my senses primed.  Playing it pretty much by ear, I’d been there once, had a good sense of direction and was confident that I would find it without much trouble.

After an hour or two I pressed through Damascus Gate, its massive fortress doors held open for the swarm of fanny-packed tourists, fast walking, poker-faced merchants in jellabiyas, sweltering Hasids in fur hats and black wool suited to 19th century European winters and other assorted locals that jammed those historic streets that time of year.

I walked past ancient remnants of limestone walls framed against pale, rippling grasses and the impossibly blue sky of Jerusalem, golden in sunlight. A skinny Arab boy in shorts that matched the tawny landscape herded goats; they wove in and out of the ruins to my left, as I wound my way around the far edge of the City of David.

The high desert sun reflected off the cobblestones; cool strings of sweat snaked down my sides.

I clocked miles, half conscious of the inner compass guiding me to that shady hillside overlooking the city, dense with lore and olive trees, the soil stony with olive pits, the whole of Jerusalem spread out below.

I became aware of someone following me.  A man.  Every turn I made he followed.  

I pretended not to care and that my glance backwards to see him was unintentional.

He wore a long, dark blue robe with the standard black and white keffiyeh wrapped around his head.

The warrioress in me directed my steps.

I turned left. He turned left. I pretended to know exactly where I was going, and walked faster.

I turned right. He turned right.

The path wound gradually upwards, the crowd of the Old City now far in the distance as I drew closer to my destination.

I turned left again and the man behind me also turned left.  No one else was in sight.  My system surged with adrenaline as I instantly mapped out moves.

Let him pass me, I thought. I won’t play this role. I was afraid that if he followed me all the way up Olive Mount I would be in genuine danger.

So I stopped and waited for him to catch up, letting him see that I Had Attitude. This badass sister was making her stand.

And he did catch up to me.

His kind, elderly face, which I had not seen in the hasty check over my shoulder, conveyed both compassion for my fear and assurance that he intended no harm.  He looked into my eyes with the serene intensity of a loving brother with secrets of his own.

Shalom, he said.

Salaam, I answered back.

With a sweeping gesture of welcome he drew my gaze to the right of where we stood,  as if to say, “Look.”

I noticed we were near a sunken church yard of some kind…Rows of ancient olive trees,  thick and knotted, spread out beyond closed iron gates.  How could I not have seen that?

“My name is Daoud,” he said, and motioned for me to follow him down the short path that lead there. “I am the gatekeeper at the Garden of Gesthemene.

Whenever you wish, you may come and I will let you in. When it is closed, I will let you in and you can have the garden to yourself, with no one to disturb you.” He bowed.

He spoke with slow, calm reverence, each word reverberating like a tender note in a dream-like melody of shared understanding.   His eyes shone out from coppery folds as he smiled gently, searching my face for agreement.

The stalwart virago that had sprung full grown from the head of my dying soul,  the exoskeleton I clung to lest I have no means to stand upright at all,  dissolved.

I felt around six years old.

He pulled out a set of appropriately huge old iron skeleton keys, opened the gates and walked in.


He turned to face me and bowed again.

“Please come whenever you want.

Will you?

I will always let you in.”


Posted on November 12, 2014, in Excerpts and Expurgations. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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