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Taking a Closer Look

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Cassandra N…

When people ask me about my time in Israel, I have trouble figuring out how to respond. Part of the problem is in the way that they ask. It’s like they want me to tell them about my little vacation. That I just laid around and tanned at the beach, drank by the water, relaxed, chilled.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is I can’t neatly pack away my experience in a few sentences. I can’t tell them a little blurb about my trip and show them a picture of a sunset and be done with it. I’d have to really sit down with them and really tell them. There would need to be a dialogue. I’d have to get them to turn off the tv; miraculously, somehow get them to put down their phone. And even then, they wouldn’t want to hear me.

Conflict is a foreign concept to us. It is something that we tend to hide from. Even fellow law students I know will literally go to great lengths to sometimes avoid an argument if it involves looking the truth of the situation dead in the eyes. If it means the chance that they are wrong. That they are vulnerable. I’d like to believe I’m better than everyone somehow, but the truth is I’m not. In fact, I might even be more stubborn than most and don’t you dare tell me I’m wrong.

So what do I do? Do I tell the story through all its moments of uncomfortable experiences, of second guessing, of changing my mind? Because if I do, then they have a real story about growth and learning. But in order to really tell that story I have to capture what it felt like to hear and see other people tell me about their painful experiences. I’d have to do it in a way that allowed the other person to somehow artificially feel like they heard that person too. But even this is impossible because you can’t channel someone you don’t understand. And as hard as I listened, as much as I felt, I simply will never understand what it’s like to violently lose someone you love.

What I’m left with is fragments of the truth, pieces of an experience. Pieces so small that I can’t even pass them on to others. I say things like it was “life-changing” or “I meet so many people that were just awe-inspiring people.” Even this runs the risk of warranting an eye roll, of making people disinterested. I caught myself saying the other day, “it was cool.” I don’t know how, someone can experience something so colorful and meaningful for two whole weeks and turn around a few days later and reflect upon it in three simple words like that, but I found a way.

I don’t think I’m the only person who does this. I think that people do this all the time. We abbreviate. We simplify. It’s human nature. It’s universal. It’s one thing I can say I saw there and here. On both sides of the wall. And let me just say, for the record, I’ve been on both sides of the wall and the houses are the same and for some reason I thought with all this conflict there would be a bigger difference, but there really isn’t.

Universal simplicity. So much is lost by not taking a closer look, by not really listening. Part of my experience is seeing this in others and their frustrations in being able to both adequately express themselves and their experiences and beliefs on one end, sometimes causing them much pain, and on the other in being able to take a closer look at something that can simply be classified as evil.

It is truly commendable that anyone was able to break through those barriers and pass things onto me. It is a remarkable thing. I only hope to remember enough of their stories to pass them onto others, when the time comes that someone who asks me is truly interested in understanding the complexity of this part of the world.