Being people of the circle

The phone rang early in my Jerusalem hotel room this morning.  It was
a friend calling to invite me along on an errand he’d agreed to run in
Hebron.  He was to deliver some cash to a family there and wanted
company.  As it had been years for me between visits to the south of
the West Bank, I was immediately interested.

We arrived mid-morning to a city teeming with life.  A place not
unlike San Francisco with its hilly topography, el-Khalil er-Rahman,
as Hebron is known to the local residents, is a favorite of mine.  In
spite of its considerable difficulties, this bustling metropolis has
found the means to survive, even flourish, in hard times.  I had many
things on my agenda today:  the old city market, the ceramic and glass
blowing industries, and the tomb of the biblical patriarchs and
matriarchs with its extensive Herodian architectural exterior.  With
our plans multiplying, my friend and I put off as long as possible the
point of the visit:  the delivery of the money.

This turned out to be a mistake.  The family did not live in Hebron
after all.  In the afternoon we set out on a trail in search of them
that led first to a small town and then, after hiring a driver with a
car with no license plates (!) and pounding for a half an hour on an
unpaved rural path, we arrived at a khirbeh on the edge of the desert.
A khirbeh (“ruin” in Arabic) is a tiny hamlet of 20 to 30 small
houses and yards often built in a circle for common protection of the
homes and their terraced gardens.

We were invited in by a gracious host and treated to the warmest in
village hospitality:  sweet tea (qubbaya), continuous rounds of Arabic
coffee and food, and joyful conversation, occasionally punctuated by
long, nervous silences.  Minutes turned into hours.  And my friend and
I grew anxious to do what we had come to do and get back to Jerusalem
before nightfall.  But there seemed to be no way out.  Things to do
with money and business are always left until the very last.

As I fiddled with my meal, it occurred to me how linearly I live my
life.  Always thinking schedule, checking my watch, what’s next in
line, take care of what I have to do with dispatch and move on.  In
the end though, managing to fit in what I want to do.  Our hosts were
not like that.  They were “circle people.”  They lived in circles, sat
and ate in circles.  And these circles anchored them, bringing them
back always to what life is lived for.  Time meant little in a circle
of friends.

I thought of the exquisite poetry of the first psalm:  the life of the
“wicked,” it says, is of little substance (“like chaff,” 1:4),
endlessly moved about by the winds of time, change and personal
agenda.  Not like the tree (1:3), which is deeply rooted in soil and
water.  The tree’s life is found in the life-giving environment
beneath it and around it.  I remembered the conclusion of the psalm
that the wicked will not have a seat “in a circle of friends” (1:5,
translation mine).

Do you ever find yourself chasing after things that turn out to be
behind you in the end?  The older I get the more joy I take in my
family and my friends, both old and new, and in the times behind me
that, though past, offer strength for living.  I decided this
afternoon to join the party.  To circle back and to enjoy the company
of some really fine people who just wanted to say “thank you” to two
strangers who had brought them a gift.

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