“Our duty is not to see through one another, but to see one another through.” Anon
The passport does not tell an orderly story. The stamp, Republique Libanaise comes before the visa stamp for Egypt. The same goes for the one years later for Costa Rica. But the passport is forgiven for it still brings back the gigabytes of memory that might be forgotten. The name for the capital city in Lebanon is spelled Beyrouth in the passport. We took a taxi from the airport to one of the nicest hotels, part of an international chain in the city. That evening we wandered up and down some of the streets close by and ended up buying a camel saddle. Mind you, it was the kind we might use in our living room not on a camel. I’m sure we were not considering that we’d have to carry it all over Europe to get it back to Canada.
The next day we exchanged money and made arrangements to get it back to my brother-in-law Norman in Egypt. Now a strange note about money—after we sold everything in Brazil and bought our air tickets, Doris carried every dollar we had in her purse. The big reason was that U.S. dollars could be exchanged anywhere but not Traveller’s or personal cheques. The Egyptian exchange rates were a good example.
Something else of interest. When we were in Beirut the political situation was relatively quiet. But in the months and years to follow, terrible fighting occurred so that sections of the city were largely destroyed. The lovely hotel where we stayed ended as rubble. What a pity all the useless destruction and suffering in the world! And another interesting note! The reason we were in Beirut is that planes from Egypt were not allowed to land in Israel. So Beirut was the way around, for anyone to get to Jerusalem from Egypt.
We did not join a tour group in Jerusalem but made our way wherever wished and when we wished. Our stay was in a YMCA hostel not far from the Damascus gate. I recall two things about the hostel—it was cool enough to make our stay a bit uncomfortable and that we had to carry our luggage up three floors to our room. In Jerusalem we had the opportunity to visit the Church of the Sepulchre. History says it was the likeliest place for Jesus tomb. It was extravagantly lovely but did not seem nearly as real as the Garden Tomb outside the city walls. While in the Holy City we went down to the pool of Bethesda—down yes for the city has been built up on rubble over the centuries so the pool is “down.” The story in John 5:1-11 tells of Jesus healing a disabled man at that pool—so it was special to be at places where Jesus walked.
We planned that our plane tickets would allow us just a few days in the Holy Land. Our combined memories don’t tell us how long we were there nor does the stamp into the Kingdom of Jordon. The stamps in and out of the Jerusalem airport were in Hebrew so that’s no help. Certainly we needed to make good use of our time. The best way to get where we wanted to go was by taxi. They seemed both reasonably priced and quick. We visited Bethlehem with the Church of the Nativity that has the low entrance that is described as the Eye of a Needle. While there we visited the Shepherd’s Field and the cave that might have been used as the stable, the real birthplace of Jesus. Close by was the Tomb of Sarah, the wife of Abraham though over the centuries, it is hard to be sure of the accuracy of the story.
I recall a special scene as we travelled from Jerusalem down to Jericho and the Dead Sea. A shepherd was leading his flock of sheep close by the road and it brought to mind the words of Isaiah used in Handel’s Messiah. “All we like sheep have gone astray…” Too, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jericho seemed to be a sad city of refugees forced there by Israeli occupation. Not far away was Elisha’s Fountain with water that has been running during the centuries.
In the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem we saw the Absalom Pillar. It is supposed to be built by Absalom as his own memorial and it has the marks of stone thrown at it. Those stones remember his rebellion against his father, King David. Then we stopped by the Garden of Gethsemane that commemorates the agonizing prayer of Jesus before his death. Not far away is the church of St Anne (the mother of the Virgin Mary) located at the start of the Via Dolorasa near the Lion’s Gate of the city. We visited the Church of All Saints close by where we were shown a piece of the ancient mosaic floor of a church destroyed by earthquakes centuries ago. From that area we could look across the Kidron valley to the walls of Jerusalem and the Golden Gate that is closed up solid. Jewish religious tradition teaches that the coming Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate.
From the Kidron valley we travelled to the Mount of Olives to see the Tomb of Lazarus—actually where he had lain till Jesus brought him to life. We did a bit of wandering around Jerusalem and if I remember correctly it was near the Damascus Gate that I bought a nice ring for Doris. It has lovely Alexandrite stones that change colour depending on the light source.
That pretty well covers our time in the Holy Land—really a short but busy stay. Then we took a taxi to the airport, stopped a few hours in Athens and then on to Rome. As I look back on those travels I recall our family flying together from Cairo to Beirut. We were the only young folks on that plane. All the others were older showing much grey hair. So many times I’ve been thankful to God we did that travelling when we were young—in our thirties—when we still had strength and energy. Our children still recall parts of that trip for we dragged them along wherever we went.