Sunday, 2 August 2009

Look into your neighbour's eyes or walk on by in fear?

There are things I really like about living in a smallish place in France. One is that when you go out for a walk people you don't know at all will greet you with a "bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur" as you walk past. It makes for a slightly more sense of belonging that the rather more standoffish British way where you might just marginally acknowledge someone as you go past.

I thought about this last week at the end of Bossey's interreligious summer school while listening to two young women - one from Palestine one from Israel. The young Jewish woman spoke about how difficult she often finds it walking down the street in the area of Jerusalem where she lives. She wants to be able to reach out in peace to all. Despite her work in peace-building she recognized every time she was on a particular street just how hard, how impossible it is for her to meet the eyes of others on the street, to greet them with a look or a smile or even words ... the deep sadness she felt at this situation almost led her to even give up the idea of trying to learn with others in an interreligious environment beyond her own.
The young Palestinian woman spoke about how hard it was to know anything about the "other" when you are simply holed up in your own territory and not allowed out. You can see the others you wish to reach out to on the other side of the fence but you cannot reach them. Even if you made a sign to them it might be misinterpreted.
Both of these young women are now back "home" on different sides of the fence, seeking somehow to overcome barriers of mistrust, fear and injustice.
So who will you be walking past today, will you be looking at and acknowledging at them, smiling perhaps? Or will you be walking on by in fear, preoccupation or indifference?
It seems right somehow that the next major seminar in Bossey this summer will be on healing of memories.