Once Upon a Time

by Simon Goland, April 17, 2012

I recently had a chance to visit the Old City of Jerusalem and wander through the narrow streets of this ancient place. Because my partner was with me, and it was her first time to Israel, we decided to spend about 3 hours with a tour guide. It was a fascinating experience, filled with stories of history, architecture, religion, and more history of the area. Reality shows itself through the stories we tell and hear, and suddenly the Old City of Jerusalem presented itself in a different light – of neighbours, of blurred boundaries, of friendships, and collaboration and coexistence.

“It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do.” – Margaret Wheatley

In an area of about one square kilometer, four major world religions found a delicate, yet balanced coexistence. There is a Jewish Quarter, a Muslim one, a Christian, and an Armenian Orthodox one. There is also an Ethiopian village, tucked away up a flight of steps behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most ancient parts of the area which make up the most sacred of Christian sites in Jerusalem. While the Quarters are divided, the boundaries are somewhat fluid, and one can see a mosque in a Christian Quarter, or a Jewish flag in an Armenian one. A join existence can be seen and experienced everywhere in that small and crowded area, yet oftentimes, quickly forgotten as we leave and step outside the ancient walls.

People everywhere are drawn together in groups to remember who they really are. In light of the various challenges we are all facing at this time, the yearning to reconnect is growing stronger and deeper. To re-member, meaning to join, to become whole, to fill the place where a part was missing. There is a part in each person that has not forgotten that we are not that separate as many try and portray us to be, and so there is a natural desire in each of us to return, and to experience again the joy of being a part of a whole. This cannot be accomplished individually and separately. We are required to join with each other, literally in group gatherings, and also across distances – to level the playing field, remembering for each other, enabling all to experience joining in one mind and one spirit.

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Stories are pervasive everywhere in our lives. They shape us and our world, our experience of ourselves, and of each other. In the Vancouver Playback Theatre group, of which I am a member, we currently focus some of our performances on the topic of anti-bullying in schools. During our performances, we invite kids from the audience to share their experiences of either witnessing, or being on the receiving end of bullying. The themes are often similar, of feeling scared, disempowered, alone. Ultimately, witnessing a visual playing back of one’s story creates an opening for a way to do something different. Of healing the injustice. Of saying no. Of extending a hand. Of sharing ourselves with someone else. Underneath our differences, with enough layers peeled, the commonality of our human experience is easily evident. Once we let go of a story that has served its purpose once upon a time, but no more.