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Self Worth: Living the questions

living the questions

[cover image] INSIGHT OUT

Life fills me with questions. And living in the Gaza Strip, I am now filled with even more questions than usual. Almost every aspect of who I am and what I believe has been questioned by life here. Not just the simple questions posed by living surrounded by an alien culture, language, and religion. But the complicated questions posed by living with one million other people, on 81 square miles of sand, surrounded by barbed-wire and an army.
I often feel trampled by the enormity of the questions life here throws at me - about identity and justice, about pain and hope. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is perhaps one of the most painful and complex of this century, and living in the midst of it questions all your beliefs - your very humanity. Never in my life have I so longed for some answers.
I understand the pain of a Palestinian when the land where his great-grandfather is buried has been confiscated and given to a Russian Jew whose ancestors have never lived here, because he is a converted rather than Semitic Jew, and who arrived in the Middle East for the first time only two months earlier. But I am an immigrant myself, and I also understand that a land not yours by birth can still be your spiritual home. In a strange way I am an immigrant in two directions - born in my father's land, brought up in my mother's land. The hills of both Scotland and New Zealand are where my soul belongs - although I have never really lived in Scotland, and no longer live in New Zealand.
Here identity is something people die for. But what is identity? When a Gazan asked me where I come from, and I replied New Zealand and Britain - he insisted I must choose. For a man who has fought all his life for a state for his people, it was unbelievable that I could be confused about where I come from. He declared that a person cannot possibly come from two places regardless of how many passports they have. Normally I never hesitate to identify myself as a New Zealander if I have to choose, but it suddenly seemed important that I should not have to choose, that I should not have to provide a convenient answer. I realised I may never have an answer, I may spend the rest of my life torn between the two hemispheres that are mine. And because I have married a Dutchman, I have chosen to impose an even more complicated question on the children I hope to have.
As I struggled with this very personal question I found comfort in the wisdom of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke - be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart - live the questions themselves - and perhaps one day you will find yourself living into the answers. Gradually I have come to realize that I must learn to live all the questions in my heart, no matter how much I want answers. Questions about identity. Questions about a just settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Questions about pain and healing. Questions about peace and hope and human rights.
The human need for clear cut, tidy answers to everything is perhaps one of our greatest failings. Answers can be very insidious deceptive things - we long for them, and once we think we have found them, we venerate them. But they can put chains on our hearts and minds. The ideologies which have ravaged our planet this century were all supposed to be ultimate answers.
There can never be a tidy answer to the tragedy lived by the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. The situation is in many ways unanswerable. No matter how it is finally settled politically there will always remain pain and unresolved questions. There will always be Jews who believe all the land should belong to Israel, and there will always be Palestinians who wonder why they have been forced to pay the price for Europe's persecution of the Jews. I am not saying there is no hope. But if there is to be a lasting peace in this Holy Land it will be created by people living the questions. The closest thing I have seen to peace is in the eyes of a Jewish Rabbi who is trying to live the questions - not only of his own people, but of his Palestinian friends. He has no answers. He lives in Jerusalem, the centre of his faith, but lives every day aware he is living on Palestinian land. It is by really living the questions that we can become part of the spirit of paradox and wonder that is the only solution to human confusion and pain.
A few weeks ago my husband and I were at a Gazan wedding. As I attempted to join the festivities and learn to dance Arabic dancing, a tiny old woman, dressed head to foot in a
beautiful white hijab (a form of Muslim dress), kissed me and danced holding my hand. Without a language, religion or culture in common, we danced together with joy, each in complete acceptance of the other as a child of God. A profoundly affirming experience. Perhaps that is what living the questions means. Perhaps that is who I am - a child of God.

Janet Gunning, NZ/UK

Last update: 2000-02-06 10:50:08 (EEST).
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