A popular website, Soul Pancake (made famous through the adorable “Kid President” videos ), recently asked the question: Does verbal language fall short in attempting to describe the complexities of the emotional landscape of the human being? Is language adequate enough to describe our most complex dimensions (e.g. Spirituality, personal inner experience)? Or is it a measly condensed attempt to connect with others and find ways to bridge the distance between each other?
This question sums up how I feel about blogging my experience from Bethlehem and running the Right to Movement Marathon: the emotional landscape, the spirituality and the years of personal experience cannot be summarized adequately through language but I desperately want to convey as best I can, so others too, can connect to this place, perhaps being compelled to travel next year and experience it for themselves.
If I were to solely write about the running, I’d tell you about the difficult environment, the long inclining hills, the heat I wasn’t used to because I’d been training in snow, the sun that left me with ridiculous tan lines and weighed my legs down as early as mile 3. Or the donkeys – yes there were donkeys – who moves to the left, to the right, am I playing chicken with a donkey? The burning trash along the way, which smell made me nauseous as my body began to cramp, become dehydrated and shut down even though I had been drinking water every 2-3 miles, I was so angry at that burning dumpster but that’s how they do it here.
I could tell you about being force-fed bananas and salt tablets at mile 20 so the muscles in my legs would stop tightening, the muscles in my diaphragm would stop seizing. Ravaging through orange after orange to keep my energy levels up, giving up on my electrolyte gels that I always use because my stomach couldn’t bear them, my mouth couldn’t chew them because it was so dry. I’d tell you about being exhausted by mile 16, hitting a wall for 4 long miles but along the way finding runners from last year and chatting, filming selfie videos with them, only to push through and get back on track for the last 6 miles.
I could tell you about the rough parts of the course – donkey and burning trash included, in addition to rocky roads, sharp turns and steep uphill climbs which hurt less running up than they did down – oh, the strain on my knee and my hips at that point! I’d want you to understand running through the refugee camps, being overwhelmed with emotion: anger – that places like this even exist, that my tax dollars support it and oppress the wonderful people, now cheering for me as I run through their neighborhood; I felt gratitude for being SO welcomed into the community, so LOVED, with open arms, gratitude that my life, no matter how difficult my struggles have been – is so blessed to have the opportunities to travel, to move freely as I wish, to be a representative, although undoubtedly unworthy, for those who are given no such opportunity. I felt deeply loved as friends I had met that week, stood outside all day in the sun and heat, cheering for me, waiting for me at the finish line. I felt the irony of just days before, in the very refugee camp I was running through on the course, where I tasted the remnants of tear gas for the first time – enough to draw tears in my eyes, and making it difficult to swallow, swell my tongue (finding out later that a woman was killed on Sunday after inhaling this same “tear gas”), the camp where I felt such a threatening, aggressive presence not by the kids throwing rocks, but by the gun being pointed at my face by an IDF soldier, for no other reason than walking down the road, this road, with Palestinians. The injustice is palpable.
Now imagine this for 26.2 miles – 4 hours – or in my case 5 hours, and somehow I have to attempt to tell it in a clever, eloquent and entertaining way, where everyone clearly understands the pain, frustration, joy and perseverance endured, ending with my tears, (sobbing actually), at the finish line. Getting a huge hug from one of the race organizers while cameras surrounded, and a new friend walking over and handing me an orange. Being whisked off to the side, immediately to do interviews and somehow gather my thoughts and emotions into coherent sentences – I’m pretty sure I failed miserably.
But I was lucky enough to be an ambassador for the race as a Storyteller, which gave me the opportunity to discuss with several media outlets my reasons for running the race, and my experience. Throughout my week there, I filmed with a British documentary crew who wanted to capture different stories and during the race, they popped up at different spots, running with me, asking me questions from “How are you feeling?” to “What’s on your ipod?” Beyonce’s Run the World, naturally. They were great guys whom I enjoyed filming with, chatting with and very excited to see the work they have done.
I could continue on and tell you about the after party, the amazing food, the beautiful sunset, the post-after party, party with an amazing band, and great new friends, dancing, drinking, singing, smoking hookah, and discussing religion, of all things. My arguments with the taxi drivers, in Arabic, because I knew they were ripping us off – even for tourists, which just adds to the insane, surreal experience that was my trip to Palestine.
As mentioned, being a storyteller for the race, I’ve been given the opportunity to tell a version of the story in several capacities, with different media outlets, including a documentary film. On this personal blog, I’ve discussed the logistics of my training, I’ve briefly discussed some of my own convictions, my own experiences, and even pointed to facts on the ground. With my friends and family, I’m able to talk about the spiritual pull and significance of this place for me, including my fears, the upsets, and frustrations. With my political peers, I’ve debated the policies and continue to try to challenge the status quo. With part of the Christian community who remains indifferent to injustice, I remind them of scripture that calls us to be active in pursuing peace and defending the oppressed.
But in all of these mediums, I don’t feel like I’ve ever fully expressed, nor am I able, the ENTIRETY of what motivates me but it’s ALWAYS the question I’m asked, “Why did you choose to run the Palestine Marathon?”
This journey is so much more than 26.2 miles and the story is still being written, so it’s hard to fully capture in words. In 2011, I took what would become the first of many trips to Israel-Palestine. I had no idea why I was going on the initial trip, I wasn’t a missionary, I wasn’t an activist, nor a zionist, and had very little knowledge of or interest in visiting Israel past checking off a life-list objective of placing my feet in the Jordan River, but never imagined as my first-ever trip abroad. But, provision (random provision) had been made and I felt a prompting which can only be described as an inexplicable nagging excitement towards the uninteresting.
Now I can say that in the months leading up to that first trip, things had already begun to shift and God started to prepare me for what He wanted me to see, hear and feel. One very funny Skype conversation with someone who our group would be meeting on the trip peaked my interest past a prompting and I committed to the trip. On that trip, He spoke boldly to me at the Mount of Olives, a specific verse that has since framed my faith, (“I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me. [Hosea 6:6]) and a moment in time I will never forget, seeing Jerusalem from the place where Jesus prayed and wept over his city, even though I didn’t understand the magnitude of this verse until nearly 2 years later, doubting at times that God even “speaks” to people, little alone me, only to find that He does, in fact, speak these words (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).
It was the very next day that my heart experienced a heart ache deeper than I’d ever had before, in Dheisheh Camp, walking side by side with the Palestinian refugees and taking the time to hear their stories. For the first time in my American life, I was confronted by the realities of our policies. Of all people to be sitting in a Palestinian refugee camp, I was a political operative from Washington, DC, a Republican, a conservative, a Christian, – it was a message I had never heard yet somehow, my mind (and my politics) had already accepted an idea that overlooked everything these people were telling me. Everything the surroundings were telling me. And acceptance of this would go against everything my religion calls me to. As I was welcomed into their homes, I was entrusted with their dreams, fears and hopes, and suffering, pain and oppression were never again faceless to me. I was shaken to my core and forever changed.
Three years and four trips later, I remain confident in God’s desires for me – that are ultimately desires for His Kingdom, but I’m still waiting, and for what… I’m not even sure. Who knows what that even means? My sarcastic, impatient side chimes in with, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
None of it – the multiple trips – are exclusive from the other, rather pieces of a bigger story that I’ve learned to embrace the ugly brutality and deeply beautiful one that is slowly, SLOWLY, being written for me. There is frustration but solace in that statement, in the waiting, in the uncontrollable. There is hope and destruction laced between my words, and I’m simultaneously confident yet warily reliant on God.
The initial trip, the injustice, is what convicted me to action, in my faith, in my politics, in my daily life, conversations and prayers. The people, the excitement, the love, is what continues to draw me back. And because I can run, I chose to use that form of expression. What an honor.