One Street - Two Names / Jacob Raz


One Street – Two Names / Jacob Raz

 

To the leaving you, To the staying me, Two autumns / A Japanese haiku poem

 

Force speaks these days and does not bother to justify itself anymore. It is there, doing its thing, existing as if from the time of creation, as a power of nature, a typhoon of sorts, destructive yet accepted. ‘Those in the know’ say: there is no consolation; it will take a long time, another hundred years, forever. It will always be here. True, it, Force, hurts and corrupts, but it is necessary. And we nod our heads and raise our shoulders. It’s painful but there’s no other choice.

When it’s there, Force, there is no need to see the other. The tactful, sensitive ones tell us there’s no time to see the other now, for ‘he’, the other, does not give us time to see him, needless to say hear him and listen to the contents of his story. He, the other, always he, brought us to a state where we must use Force. Sorry, are Forced to use Force. He started. We are only reacting. Perhaps some other time, when he understands, we will talk, if there is anybody to talk with because ‘he’ only understands the language of Force.

That is what we say. That, precisely, is what ‘they’ say.

Not only is it impossible to see the other and speak with him. Forever with an abstract name – Jew, Arab, Settler, Orthodox, Ashkenazi, Russian, Druze – he, the other, should not have the right to have a story, or a private name, or a past, plans, toys, dreams, pain, loves and hardships. When was the last time we imagined him singing a lullaby to his child, playing the guitar, talking nonsense with his friends, going to the movies, or reading a science-fiction book?  He is forever bad, satanic, planning our destruction, murderous, waking up in the morning with evil in his blood, sizzling for action. And with such evil what other option is there but to strike with Force?

That is what we say. That, precisely, is what ‘they’ say.

For if we heard the story, if we saw the love and the fear, knew the plans and dreams, we might, God forbid, discover that he is so very like us, almost a mirror image, and perhaps we wouldn’t be able to hit with sufficient Force. Perhaps we would stop for a coffee, God forbid, maybe even for a hug. No, we shake ourselves; he can’t be like that. That is why we must strike, with Force.

That is what we do. That, precisely, is what ‘they’ do.

Force strikes with Force. It is strong, fast, harsh. It moves with violence, kills, injures, insults, devastates, corrupts. It has no compassion. Of course it has no compassion. It has long since devoured the space for compassion. Compassion seems absurd, it lacks backbone, it’s traitorous, weak, groveling, submissive, defeatist. The arms of Force are hard words, tanks or germs. They are blunt, fast, indisputable as a karate blow. No doubt. No hesitation.

That is what we do. That, precisely, is what ‘they’ do.

A mirror image, like a mirror opposite a mirror and no end to the reflections.

That is what we do. That, precisely, is what ‘they’ do.

The Story

Force draws its power from memory. From story. Every man has a name, a past, a biography. Every nation creates a name, a biography. A past. ‘History’, it’s called. The mythic power of history is in the exclusivity it claims. There is nothing else but this story. And there isn’t, there cannot be, another story. A type of logical formula, a sort of a law of historical identity, that does not leave any space for a different story. This is it and there can be nothing else. And any other story threatens the existence of ‘our’ story. Enough to go to war for.

Wars happen not for territory. They begin because of our mythological claim to the exclusivity of ‘our’ stories. They happen because of the messianic feeling that there is no other story but this story. This past. This memory. Wars begin because of the tyrannical, intoxicating exclusiveness that claims to be of divine origins, that demands to be eternal, that can’t be contended. Wars start because of symbols that demand totality. Symbols that accumulate a paralyzing and deafening Force. So much so, that there is no strength or ability or readiness of the body and the heart to listen. The mythic and apocalyptic costume of the symbols and stories makes them the essence of our lives, the rock of our being, the meaning of our existence, the axis of our survival. The spring of our violence.

And so, any story that is different from my story is a threat to my survival and must be annihilated. Usually, in the name of God. Wars happen between stories that claim exclusivity. They happen because of the intoxicating magical power words have on us. They are so magical they shape our joys, our sorrows, our fears and hopes, our very existence. Words generate reality and mobilize armies.

We have fought ‘gangs’. They fought ‘the occupation’. We had ‘riots’ (‘the Meoraot’); they had a ‘resistance’. We had ‘independence’ (a story of flags, ‘Hora’ dancing, settlement, security, a place of our own); they had a ‘Nakba’ (a story of exile, humiliation, hate, dream). We are defending home. They are defending home. We are repelling evil. They revolt against evil. They deserve death. We deserve death.

It happens, at times, that a story may stand, suddenly, awed by the similarity between itself and the other. And then it does not believe. It can’t be possible! It faces the other story, rubbing its eyes, and does not believe. Does not believe there is a different story. And does not believe the contents of that story. So it fears that story. In that story, too, there is fear and hope and mourning and children and lullabies and endless sadness. Whose story is it? As if different. Yet, so similar.

So that story must be silenced. So it must be annihilated. The story and its tellers.

That is what we do. That, precisely, is what ‘they’ do.

Aggression is the other side of fear, of feeling threatened. To counteract fear, aggression creates a ‘situation’, produces ‘perceptions’, invents mythological, paralyzing words: ‘security’, ‘independence’ for example. ‘Ours’, ‘ours alone’, for example. Words that build—with that wondrous, cunning of consciousness—the protective walls, walls impervious to any claim apart from ours. Supplied with the power of Force, the Force of myth, the Force of cosmic totality, of history without doubts, supplied with unequivocal, simple, words that know no hesitations, we charge into the home of the other, into his heart, his children, his dreams, and we destroy. No regrets, only justifications (security, independence, for instance). And then, intoxicated with itself, Force needs no further justifications. After all, it needs to protect what Force accomplished.

Wars happen because of the refusal to acknowledge the infinite abundance of stories in our world.

Place

A place becomes a place because someone tells its story.

A place becomes a place because it exists in that someone’s heart, as a story. As a relation.

Rocks, houses, streets, mountains, lakes that do not have someone to tell their story are not a place. They are just rocks, houses, streets, mountains, and lakes. Sometimes not even that, when there is no one to call them ‘rocks’, ‘houses’, ‘streets’.

I see a street. You see a street. I tell the story of the street. You tell the story of the street. And here are – behold the magic – two different places. Even the name of the street is different in my tongue and in your tongue.

If you could ask the street, it would tell my story. How I crossed the street, anxious; how I bought candies at the store; how I feared the shootings; how I loved the aroma of the coffee; how my grandpa used to walk here, holding the rosary behind his back, pointing to the other side, as if to a point beyond the seas, and told strange stories on its inhabitants; how I learned my language from peddlers, almond sellers, coffee drinkers, rabbis, friends, porters.

If you could ask the street, it would tell your story. How you anxiously crossed the street; how you licked honey at the candy store; how you celebrated at the sacred house to the sound of string instruments; how you feared the prayers; how they showed you my house and told you strange things about me and my family; how you learned your language from peddlers, porters, hookah smokers, hajj storytellers, friends.

One street. Different places.

A place is the relation between a man and the rocks, streets, gardens, houses, and the combination of all of the stories told by his ancestors, his family, and the stories told by oneself only to oneself, secret stories unknown to anyone else. Each place carries the cargo of stories, culture, scents, and views of those who tell its story. And it is sometimes hidden, not to be revealed, unless in a moment of grace.

It is, therefore, the law of nature, that two people come to the same hill, and create two different places. And these two places do not meet.

Do they not?

Places

Instead of deciding which is the true one, one can see clearly: all stories are true. When the desire for one truth - exclusive, violent, alienating – is gone, one can see the world in its diversity, and listen to the other place that dwells in this very place. And the other no longer threatens.

One hill. Different places. Different, sometimes contradicting, stories. Physical laws do not apply here. The plots are sad and joyful. For both teller and listener: exile, wars, killings, grace, beauty, sunsets, rains, olive trees, the smell of the earth, millstones, a toy.

It is the nature of the world that on the same hill people will come, a man, a woman and their children, and build their house, and tell their different stories.

A man creates a place. And the place generates for its dweller the way in which one builds one’s home, the materials from which one will build it, the design of one’s clothes and the materials form which to sew them, the stories to tell one’s children one’s prayers, one’s dances to one’s gods, one’s masks, and one’s legends to tell about one’s ancestors, one’s love songs, body language, the colors of one’s house, clothes and dishes, the herbs, the food and the plates, the paintings, films, negotiation rules and reconciliation rites, one’s language and the medicines to cure one’s mother, the wooing rituals, weddings, funerals, one’s musical instruments and the echo they generate in one’s head, one’s philosophy, the way of wars and the prayers of peace. And the enigma of thoughts. And the memory of the place.

And the other listens and does not understand. Obviously it is not the same ‘place’!

But, we would like to say; yes, it is the nature of the world to create different stories for the same hill. It is in the nature of world that a place is created from the time and circumstances and origin of each man, and from the individual and communal story of each.

And thus, it is in the nature of the world that stories will dwell side by side and the one is not better than the other, is not more absolute, exalted, beautiful, than the other. Is it not the stories’ sadness that can make enemies, who claim the exclusivity of the place, meet in amazing similarity? My nightmares that are your dreams. Your dreams that are my nightmares.

One can tell stories. One can listen to the different stories, without these stories being charged with the slogans, passions, arrogance, denial, ignoring and ignorance, threatening, and the illusion of exclusivity.

It is an extremely difficult task. We think: there is no solution to this contradiction. But, maybe there is a seed of grace, a lesson that the place offers the tellers of its story: live with your different stories. Listen to the other place in this very same place. There is no solution to the contradiction except in the insight that all of them - all of us - are here.

In this endless listening that is in every one of us we can empower the tellers of the stories. The communities that occupy the place can be richer, stronger, more diverse. Nobler.

One can see the grace. One street is numerous places. Opening to the different places it contains. Like a womb.