Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 189- Anonymous

Dear Mr. President,

After an inexplicable night of insomnia, I found myself awake at 5am. Bird song, and the early first light were too tempting to pass up, so I donned my running shoes and went for a jog. The city was empty. Skyscrapers on the horizon were just beginning to reflect the pastel light of the rising sun, which was still competing with street lamps for dominance. Crows dotted the wires of telephone poles, the lines of the intersection on the empty road, and scuttled away from me in the park. It was the perfect morning, warm, but only beginning to hint at the oppressive heat that would rule the rest of the day. After I got tired, I walked for a ways, read the newspaper on a bus bench, and watched the city begin to wake up. I've never been a morning person, so this voluntary predawn excursion seemed to signal something deeply wrong. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was an indication that I've finally overdosed on 90's sci-fi television. Maybe I was just restless for the expansive luxury of an empty city street.

Then I saw the interview you gave with an Israeli journalist. Your answer to the question about what parts of your old, pre-white house life that you missed, struck a chord with my strange morning excursion. You miss going for walks, being anonymous, experiencing the world in private. This freedom, which I take for granted, most days, is the steep price of your office. I am often overwhelmed and frustrated by my invisibility, my smallness, my inability to affect change. I have not often stopped to consider the benefits of this anonymity; the peace of insignificance. When one is as alone in the world as I often feel myself to be, it is hard not to envy some one like you.

You also spoke of Jerusalem, of walking through the streets of the old city. Even reading your words in the simple light of my laptop screen, I could almost see the affection that compels them. Every one I speak to, young, old, Israeli, Palestinian, American, every one I know speaks of Jerusalem this way. It is why I dislike hearing it referred to as "The Holy Land." It is not about the shrines or the churches or the mosques or the synagogues. It is not about the dead men who died so that others could die for it, or who died trying to take it away from the people who died to take it away from the people before them. It is about the living. The sounds of the old city markets, the smooth stones in the street, the punishing sun brought low at sunset, spilling a softer, more forgiving light across the palm trees and the balconies and the minarets and the satellite dishes. The clothes that dry on lines, the foods that cook on street corners, the hum of so many people in one place. It is the same beauty, perhaps, of every city, but made all the more precious by the great powers that have battled for it in the background of its entire life. The life in this city, not the history or the blood spilled, but the mundane, anonymous, boring life is what makes it so beautiful. These things that cannot often be found in briefing books, or, as you've sadly reminded me, practically anywhere in the lives of those in power. I am glad to know you still remember it, and while I am grateful that you've given up that part of your own life for this service to our country, I hope that one day you are again able to walk in the old city, or in any city, and feel anonymous, even if it is only for a moment.

Respectfully yours,


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