A stream of humanity, pouring into Jerusalem. Swelling her narrow streets to bursting point. Travelling from North, South, East, West: Jews, Jewish diaspora, God-fearing Gentiles. Coming to celebrate a time some two millennia before, when God had raised up Moses to lead another stream of humanity out of slavery in Egypt, out to be a people, to be God’s people. Like water in the wilderness following a flash flood, they coursed this way and that, carving channels, forming pools, changing the landscape. And this moment of release comes every spring. So many people. Pick-pocket heaven. Some of them really believe those old stories are true. Some want to believe; believe on their best days, their best moments – which might also be their worst days, their worst moments. Some recognise the stories as foundational for their national identity, if not anything closer to home. Some are there for the party, an escape from the drudgery of everyday life, an adventure with the promise of different rules applying: What happens in Jerusalem stays in Jerusalem. Some are there because it is expected of them, though they’d rather not be. Please take the time to indicate your motive [leaving room for ‘All of the Above Apply’]. And animals, everywhere. Beasts of burden, carrying their loads, resistant in this frightening crowd. Herds and flocks for sacrifice, aware, as herd animals are, that this will not end well for them. Emptying their bowels freely. Emptying their veins; with innocent eyes that ask, why have you betrayed me? Noise. Bustle. Traders calling out. A mother lifting her voice, straining her ears for the cry of her child, swept from her by the crowd. Pilgrims setting up their makeshift camps on the side of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple. At night, the light of fires, and torches; the sound on song, laughter, raucous shouting; the furtive sounds of less-than-tender trysts. So many memories, the kind that tie communities together. Do you remember the time when…? And those here for the first time, writing the first page in a new collection. Religious leaders, enjoying their moment in the spotlight, stressing about logistics, irritable over lack of appreciation; conflicting emotions charging the atmosphere; pressure building in their temples. Soldiers representing an international peace-keeping force standing at the ready, check points at the flash points, reinforcements shipped in from the coast. Delicate diplomacy between the Roman Governor and the local king, who must be allowed to look as if he rules here, but must not be allowed to think he does: a knife-edge, a tight-rope, a conjuring trick, to entertain the crowds, distract and persuade them one way or another. Romans are more comfortable with aqueducts than wadis – and well-experienced at building them, literally and metaphorically. Still they stream in, into the maze, through cracks and in and out of hidden corners of the city, of the mind, the heart, the soul. It is intoxicating, disorienting, cup after cup, drank in comradeship but not without a bitter aftertaste, each moment simultaneously filling and draining – as if anything is possible; as if what takes place is inevitable. Everything moving faster than the human eye; everything slowing, stretched out, suspended in time, frame-by-frame. Can you spot you in the crowd? Now I see me, now I don’t. You don’t? There is still time, room for another. Stream in, to be here.
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