|Posted on July 26, 2012 at 2:05 PM|
When was the last time you thought those words….even maybe said them aloud? Perhaps you were on a beach somewhere enjoying a cold one while the warm breeze ruffled through your hair. Or maybe you were at the wedding of a dear friend or relative, witnessing a partnership's new beginning. Was it during your last escape to the “cottage up-north”? Even if you do not have those memories, we all know and aspire to them – the “Good Life”. And everyone associates those words “this is the life”, with that feeling of peace, and freedom that we are supposed to feel when we have arrived at “the good life”. Everyone knows what those words mean. Even if you live in poverty and struggle for your daily bread, when you hear those words, you understand.
But what if you not only did not experience the good life yourself, but you never saw it around you either? What if your daily struggle was not only your struggle, and not just the struggle of your relatives and your neighbors? What if, all around you, all you saw was hardship? Maybe in some distant place you dreamed of a different life. Maybe occasionally you see glimpses “over there” and know things are different someplace else. But you understand this is your life, the life of your grandparents, and the life that will be for your children? What would the words “this is the life” mean to you then?
In Palestine I heard these words many times; usually in response to my questioning of some (in my American perspective) systemic craziness. In my time there I came to know and care about many people. All of them have unique stories, but they are all united by a theme of struggle. Often the struggle, to me, seemed beyond comprehension. “What do you mean there is no help from the government to fix the water pipes?!” [said by me after watching my neighbor tear up the road to fix a pipe himself]. “Ahhh, this is the life”, was the response.
There is a very American trait to want to make sense of the nonsensical. For people in general this is a facility of the mind – we fill in the pieces to “see” the whole picture. Many optical illusions are based on this truth. However, the degree to which we will go in our mental perceptions of events to create “sense” of them, I think, is uniquely American. Perhaps it is a product of our history, but Americans cannot tolerate nonsense. There must be a reasonable explanation for everything, even the unreasonable.
Sometimes I think it would be easier for Americans to understand the struggle in Palestine if it were simply a matter of poverty. Everyone knows what to feel when they see pictures from Africa illustrating the devastation created by a conspiracy of poverty and natural (and man-made) disasters. It makes sense. There is no question of the response demanded by seeing those photos. But how do you illustrate the degradation of spirit created by occupation? How can you understand “why” an Israeli settler would beat up a young Palestinian shepherd who was just tending his flock? You can’t make sense of it, so we create context where there is none – he must have thrown rocks at the settler – yes. that must be it – there has to be a reason for the unreasonable.
But while we try to make sense of it all, to put Palestine and Palestinians into boxes of reasonableness, they go on with their lives. If the government doesn’t fix the water pipes, you fix them yourself. If the checkpoint is closed, you find a path around it to get to school. If you want to pray in the mosque, you don’t wear a belt so you can get through the metal detector easier (which was set up at the entrance to the mosque after an American Jew took in an automatic weapon killed 29 people and wounded 125 at prayer - how do you make that make sense?). You continue to live your life the only way you know how. This is “semud”, steadfastness – This is the life.