By Friday morning, I can only think in fragments. My brain has expended its analytical and synthesizing capacities and all that is left are quotes. Little fragments of wisdom are swimming in my head, crystallized from weeks’ worth of discussion on gender, conflict, international development, the life of aid practitioners, peacekeeping operations, and negotiations. I am craving a forum to share my learnings — even more than that, I am craving the presence of mind and cleared space in that cluttered head with which to isolate that which is worth sharing.
A year ago, I was writing about the crackling of pomegranates, about Jerusalem’s portions of beauty and suffering. I was longing for this: the classrooms, the crowded brain, the rushing thoughts. The notes, the notebooks, the fall. The leaves. I could not shut up about the leaves.
I miss the crackling pomegranates — the crackling life we led then. It was a life tinged with warm light and apple-flavored smoke, steps on stone streets and heartbreak around every corner. We are profoundly shielded from heartbreak now. “Netflix is streaming too slowly” is not the stuff of heartbreak. It is hard not to be grateful for the wish-fulfillment quality of being here, or exhilarated by learning exactly what I had dreamed of learning.
But, in many senses, I miss myself out “there.” I miss making memories — I miss using my memory to file away joy and heartbreak, instead of bullet points. I miss the marriage of creativity and writing, the lack of footnotes. I miss spontaneity and the places that inspire it. I neither wish to shake the Eternal Nostalgia, nor to become the kind of prisoner of it that cannot be mindfully present in whichever memory is unfolding. Simply put, there are places that make it easy for you to succumb to them and the learning lies in that release, the magic in that unraveling. I call them “the involved places.” Involved as I may be in this new life, in the new lessons, I miss the magic. I am holding my breath for that moment of unraveling.
“Nobody has ever loved fall more than you,” said Elijah while we were walking under an arch of red leaves. Everything has shifted. We have replaced desert sand with raincoats, Jerusalem stone with Harvard Square brick, the Old City with the library. Nowhere do I feel that change more than in the foliage. The red leaves represented the object of my longing while I was at every “there” away from here. I missed the crispness, the seasons, the visible passage of time reflected in nature. I needed the environment to punctuate time to slice up memories, to make nostalgia digestible.
The fall is my anchor. I have yet to reconcile a grateful heart, a cluttered mind, wandering feet, and the curious blend of restlessness and fatigue. It is the leaves that remind me I longed for this, the crispness that grounds me here. While I piece together the rest of the fragments, I leave you with the leaves and, perhaps, with the beginning of an unraveling.