Coming Home, Again

I returned yesterday afternoon from a five-week, three country Odyssey combining professional courtesies, travel, physical challenge, and the opportunity to cross off a few more items on my personal “Bucket List”. As the trip ultimately involved a complete circumnavigation of the globe, I was a bit understandably upset that there was no one leaping forward upon my re-entry to present me with a gilt-edged certificate recognizing the “around the world” feat, much like the first time crossing the Equator, or the International Date Line (come to think of it, I didn’t get a certificate then, either). The fact that the temperature was only 37 degrees also cast a bit of a pall over the whole arrival thing, and I recollected that “Yes, we usually have snowstorms in May, in Wyoming”. This was of little comfort to someone who had been basking in the 105 degree readings in the Upper Nile Valley, only four days prior.

As a happenstance, I was fortunate this evening to read a quite eloquently-written blog, “Coming Home”, that encapsulates many of the same feelings I experienced upon entering the front door of the house. Fleeting thoughts abound, many of them repetitious of ones that invaded my personal thought canals while lying awake during the long, quiet nights on the Nile river boat; others appeared at odd times among the many hours of flight between target destinations. Often, that “stream of consciousness” of James Joyce would begin with a look back at the day’s events, and ramble on hither and thither trying to achieve some sense of completion or closure.

But always, there appeared to be a sense of unease; something was making me uncomfortable. In Korea, I had visited the DMZ, and felt, but what? When I looked at a palace, or a viewing tower, or a freeway, I saw, but I didn’t feel. When I viewed the pyramids, I was impressed, but the feelings I had didn’t seem based on the pyramids themselves. Temples at Aswan, Luxor, and in-between—they were all so similar that they blur in memory into one amalgam, one Ultimate Temple. Again, no feeling. Later, Buckingham Palace made no stirrings; the people and pigeons in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly were more of interest; the stroll along the haphazardly laid out streets in Central London held my interest because of what people were doing, not where they were doing it. My visit to Stonehenge, high on my list, evoked nothing but fatigue from the long bus ride to and from, and registered only as an item of interest.  And then it was in the massive foyer of the British Museum, that an epiphany occurred—I suddenly realized that I really didn’t want to see any more “stuff”, I’d had it with famous structures built on the backs of the masses—folks like us. It meant nothing to me that, given time, money, and abundant labor, any of these structures could arise. And I began looking back upon my other trips for validation of this perspective—palaces in Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Istanbul, Cairo, Nurenburg, Paris, and others—-all a tribute not to an idea, or an ethic, but merely evidence that given enough resources, it could be done. And for whom? Therein lies my unease.

So, what did I learn? I reflected back upon people I had met—the Scotsman in St. James Park, with whom I shared a two-hour conversation beginning with observations about the weather, and expanding to discussions of our homelands, elections, and other “people topics”, and all on an uncomfortable park bench.

There were the people at the three schools in Cairo, and one in Jeddah; their passion and enthusiasm for what they were doing was infectious. One of the schools has the most comprehensive special education program I’ve seen (I was a special education director for a number of years), with total inclusion. One of the parents we interviewed has an autistic son, and had heard about the school while she was living in Saudi Arabia. She moved to Cairo strictly for her son to attend the school, and for the first time, he is showing progress. And this in a region of the world that barely recognizes special needs children. All because of one woman’s vision and perseverance in establishing this program; her early demise has led to a strong commitment by the school’s staff to carry on her legacy.

Many times during my voyage, I longed to be able to share thoughts and ideas with my former “muse”, no longer available. This was especially true when I met Rula Zaki, the wife of the principal of one of the schools, and a well-known singer in the Middle East. She has a personal “mission” not unlike that of the Muse, to break down the barriers between peoples to achieve Peace and Harmony. One of her songs I especially wanted to share, from the rula.zaki website, combining a video with beautiful pleas toward mutual understanding and the recognition that Islamic and Christian faiths share the same foundation. Ms. Zaki was delightful, and we had an enjoyable time singing Broadway song duets while her husband transported us in his speedboat, down the Nile to lunch at a riverside café’. Her husband, Muhammed, is a former surgeon turned educator, and they and their two sons are planning a trip to Yellowstone this summer, and may visit us in Thermopolis. Later, I shared one of my poems with her, one that mirrors her mission and stresses the concept that believers can find Safe Harbor and Serenity through their faith, regardless of their religion.

So again, I think I have grown. I now consciously recognize that people are the most important thing for me, not giant palaces or temples, or cathedrals, or anything else which is merely a product of resources and not ideas. I enjoyed greatly seeing how people do things, differently from us, I liked watching them argue in Egypt as their first Presidential election approached. My guide would provide me with summaries, after he cooled off enough himself from the various exchanges he had with his neighbors.

Yes, I will continue to struggle at golf, as the ravages of age interfere with achievement of unreasonable expectations. It is difficult to accept the fact that many of those days are in the past. I hope to be able to continue my travels, not so much to see tributes to power as to experience friendship and mutual respect with persons of many religions, races, and cultures, elsewhere.

I think I shall be able to resume chasing after some of those elusive thoughts, once again providing myself excitement and comfort as I further explore the inner workings of my own mind. I want my writing to improve so that each word is a necessary building block toward a complete thought, not so much for others to understand but for my own self-clarification. And who knows? Maybe the Essence of that Muse is still dimly somewhere in the shadows, urging.

Always Be Happy!                                                                                          To Our Youth Everyday!

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