Mariah Proctor is currently studying at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies
I’ve said goodbye to the Western Wall. We went there as the sun was setting and everyone was preparing for Shabbat. The first time I went to the wall was under similar circumstances and it made it a poignant bookend to go to the same place in the same lighting with the same faces, but this time it was a scene featured in the falling action rather than the catalyst for the most amazing rising action of my life.
I don’t know how I feel about goodbyes. I’ve struggled my entire life trying to reconcile my inclination to fiercely cling to the past while having the overwhelming desire to run full speed ahead, because I know that the best times are yet to come.
I had the hardest time tearing myself away from the wall that night. It was the strangest sensation to feel like there was a force pulling me back to it. I kept turning to go and then just stopping, turning back and shamelessly staring. It sounds strange, but I feel an otherworldly bond to that place and it felt as though, if I turned away; that bond would snap and I would bleed inwardly.’
I don’t want to turn my back on this place and snap that bond. I want to remember every detail; I want to remember that the priests of the Ethopian mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are always barefoot. I want to remember how the chemicals that they use to preserve the Dead Sea scrolls smell like fresh bread and almost put me into a food coma. I want to remember that the brochures for Armageddon include the words “have a pleasant visit” on the cover.
We’ve reached the point in our journey where every day that passes is the last day of its kind; our last Friday, our last sunset into Shabbat, our last Shabbat, our last Sunday free day. It’s ridiculous really to think of it that way, but that’s the only way my brain is willing to process it.
The past three and a half months have been unreal. Literally, it doesn’t feel real. I feel like I’ve been living my whole life at warp speed, and then the ship suddenly slowed giving me a chance to just stare at sky and stars and on Thursday when I step off the plane in Salt Lake the stargazing will end and warp speed will commence leaving me no time to wonder at what I just beheld. I know that a million moments in my life have glistened with that type of suspended reality, but each one feels like a uniquely slowed moment in an otherwise rushed existence.
I sound so mopey like a 4-year-old whose ice cream is quickly melting, but honestly, I love the poignancy and pain I feel at this experience as the most refreshing and revitalizing feeling in the world. It could only hurt this much to leave if I truly loved and treasured what I had here. I’ve learned to love keeping myself open to the whole range of human emotion. If this experience has taught me one thing, it’s to be human and open and real and let things hurt and let things move me and let things make me laugh uncontrollably.
I’m bouncing all over the place and nothing is coming out right, but I feel compelled to express my gratitude for this chance that I’ve had. We went to the Templar Cemetery in Haifa (in Northern Israel) and there, in the middle of a crop of German-Jewish graves, were buried two boys from Farmington, Utah. These simple graves and the sacrifices of the men that they commemorate are one of the main reasons we were able to build the Jerusalem Center here. No new religions were allowed to enter the Holy Land after 1948, but because these two missionaries from the early years of the church, left their families behind to preach thousands of miles from home; we had proof that the gospel was already here and so we were allowed to stay.
So many nameless sacrifices conspire to get you where you are in life and half of them you not only don’t appreciate, but you’re not even aware of. Those humble, hidden graves have made me recognize the absolutely essential living influences in my life that gave me the experience I had here this summer; not only financially and logistically, but emotionally and spiritually. I’ve decided that the second I realize the influence someone has had on me, I need to just tell them right then. I can’t just wait because what if my confidence gives out or my perception changes and I never get a chance?
That’s what finally allowed me to turn away from the wall that night and be at peace about putting miles between my body and that piece of my heart. I’ve had my moment to spend on myself and now it’s time for me to turn and be that affirmative influence in someone else’s life. I can’t just live at this juncture for always, when there are people waiting at the next station that the Lord needs me to bless.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”