essay no. 5

Manhattan, NY

I grew up in the desert. I am accustomed to popsicle-melting heat that sends you tap dancing from the cool, green lawn across the scorching cement to the relief of your back door. The thermometer often boasted blistering digits that stapled you to any piece of shade during a midday soccer game.

Even so, as we approached the pyramids from 10,000 feet above, I could see that this desert was different. The sun lapped at the airplane window like a rabid dog and I shielded my eyes from its intense rays, still trying to absorb the sights below. Single-color buildings rose up from the sandpaper landscape, appearing like rigid firewood stacked on end, ready to combust if the sun god threw its flame. This place was very different.

We stepped out of the cool, familiar arms of the airplane and into the desert sun. I suspect that Egypt could sense my hesitation because it unfolded its entire tomb of mysterious sights and sounds and pressed them upon my frame to see if I would crumble. We were bombarded by a din of voices shouting Taxi! while another haunting voice demanded attention as it sang from the loudspeakers to call the crowds to prayer. We found a driver, his eyes would only meet Brad’s gaze, and we quickly agreed on a price. I climbed into the backseat behind Brad and our driver as the custom required. The ride was wild and we vaulted from lane to lane at great speed. I gripped the door handle tightly wishing there was a seatbelt for me. I was terrified. My senses sent me into a panic. I imagined what could happen to us as two unsuspecting travelers in such a foreign place. I could see the headlines.

The heat was wrapped intensely around me but I felt frozen. Brad turned to me, his eyes were bright, Can you believe we are here? Everywhere I look I am amazed by something new, and I love that feeling!

I shook my head of stone in complete surprise as I realized that he was having an entirely different experience than me. How could this be? Two people under the same blistering sun, hearing the same voices echoing through the streets...for me it was eerie and for him it was exhilarating. We were approached by the same people in unfamiliar dress and speaking in unusual tones. I felt threatened, he felt curious.

I wondered if we experience only what we expect. If I expect to be afraid is that the experience that I will be granted? If I expect to encounter kind, good-hearted and well-meaning people will I notice the good things more?

Days later, as we walked down the sand-washed steps of the Cairo subway, a small girl next to me began to slip down the stairs. Before she tumbled further I instinctively thrust my hand towards hers and she quickly grasped my fingers to regain her footing.  Both she and her mother looked from my unfamiliar hand up to my foreign eyes. The girl seemed grateful while the mother appeared to be wary. I wasn’t offended by the disparity, I understood. Not long before I had been the person shelled-in by fear and I missed the goodness and wonder of what was happening around me.

Now when I am afraid, I often think of that small moment that taught me to pay attention to how I approach new opportunities. I try to pull myself from the long shadow of fear to experience the desert sun.


"Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground." – Judith Thurman

Jill lives in Manhattan with her husband Brad and new baby Jane.  She has an inspirational knack for design, motherhood and seemingly approaching life with joy.

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Linz said...

what a beautiful story - very inspiring. your descriptive prose also had me feeling the heat and feeling the wonder. thank you for this beautiful post.

missy said...

My husband and I were having a similar conversation two nights ago.

Like when you are pregnant and suddenly you find everybody around you is pregnant too. It's easy to pick up and notice things when you are aware.

I'm convinced of your conclusion. It is the way we approach new ideas/situations/CHANGE that inspires the environment around us.

Eloquently put Jill.

kelli said...

In this world, it sometimes feels hard to not feel fear and doubt so easily. Like we need to constantly protect ourselves.

Somehow, in the biggest, most foreign situations (travel), I still delight in the wonder of it all. But then in the simple changes (new social situations), I'm uncharacteristically hesitant. I'm not sure how to find the right balance but loved your conclusion: we experience what we expect.

kelli said...

p.s. I'm curious- did you end up liking Egypt?

Jill said...

thanks for the great chance to write about my experience! i did love egypt, right from that moment. i highly recommend a visit if you get a chance.

Marisa said...

I absolutely love her line about pulling yourself out of the "long shadow of fear." So well-said. Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring essay!