This week we experienced something of a small miracle: rain.
In a Middle Eastern climate, rain is precious. You yearn for it in the same way that you miss a loved one whose absence has been felt for such a long time that it makes you weary. This area hasn't seen rain in 5-6 months, and so when it rained for the first time on Wednesday, it changed everything.
As the first light of dawn was blossoming over the hillside, I found myself being summoned from sleep by a vague rustling sound outside my window. As the incoherence of first-consciousness faded away, I soon realized: "No, that's not rustling...that's rain!" When I officially awoke about an hour later, the rain had stopped, but the wet ground below betrayed its visit. I found myself standing at the window grinning like a kid watching snow fall on Christmas morning. Rain! This was so exciting! And why? Because I realized that Wednesday was the eve of Sukkot, also known as the Jewish "Feast of Tabernacles" or "Festival of Booths." It is an 8-day festival which has, as one of its purposes, the supplication for the Lord to send rain. I have been in Israel during Sukkot once before, but it wasn't even close to raining at that time. Thus, when I made this connection it was truly awesome. I imagined hundreds of Jews throughout the land waking to this same realization and praising Yahweh for His provision.
Yet even on this side of the wall where Jewish festivals are neither acknowledged nor appreciated, change was palpable. The air throbbed with anticipation. In the courtyard below, kids coming early to school laughed more joyfully than usual, and each teacher coming around the corner had a look of pleased bewilderment. This was a special day.
In my apartment as well, precipitation brought blessing. It was a rare morning when I was awake before my roommate (ah, those unfinished lesson plans), so when she awoke I happily informed her, "Hey, it rained this morning!" "Really?! Did you seeitfeelithearit?!?" We laughed at her exuberance, then she said, "Well in that case..." (disappeared to her room and reappeared) "...Happy First Day of Rain!!" and handed me a brand-new Green Bay Packers umbrella. As I am a born and bred Packers fan (this is putting it mildly), the kindness of this gesture rendered me speechless. I finally managed to stammer, "Wha-uh-when-how did you get this??" She grinned, shrugged, and said, "Hey, I'm from Wisconsin."
(digression: I live with probably the only Wisconsin native who is a VIKINGS fan. sorry to those of you who are not inclined toward football, but the incredible irony had to be noted.)
In the minutes that followed (while I was supposed to be preparing my lesson for that day), I started contemplating the changing seasons of my own life in this move abroad. It's been 7 years since I willingly uprooted myself to go to college, and in that span of time "home" became both my loving family in New Hampshire, and also my dear friends who have loved and supported me on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Don't get me wrong: I've been thrilled to embark on this new adventure which is the realization of a God-given dream-come-true. But that doesn't mean it's easy to leave.
Recently I was telling a friend what it's like to miss home. I shared with her a W.S. Merwin poem called "Separation":
Your absence runs through me
like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
And this is why I love poetry: because there's really no better way to say it. What I feel about having left isn't so much a constant sadness...not usually a sadness at all, really...but sometimes a dull ache just on the fringes of my awareness. It's a recognition that those I've left behind mean so much to me and it's something I constantly carry with me. I tend to think that every interaction changes you in some way, no matter how big or how small, and when you leave those who have consistently been in your life for a long time, the separation is even more poignant. I remember so vividly the moment on the plane ride over when it all of a sudden hit me what I had done. I had spent the whole day crying off and on as the reality of leaving started to sink in, but somewhere over the Atlantic I all of a sudden had this moment where for the first time I comprehended the full weight of what it meant. Transitions are funny things. Even the best ones come with mourning...with a sense of loss...or at the very least, a need to reckon with the weight of the change.
But as you all know, just because a change is hard, doesn't mean it isn't good. Really ridiculously good, even. I was reminded of this when I stood in my kitchen Wednesday morning twirling my new umbrella as the guy I love strolled in smiling. Nothing like some good old-fashioned perspective.
So to this I say: bring on the rain.
(For more of my thoughts on the theme of water in the desert and the festival of Sukkot, see one of my previous postings: http://rebeldwellings.blogspot.com/2009/05/40-years-of-wandering-and-other-desert.html)