L is for Leaves of Grass

“I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Isn’t that how all good love stories begin? With celebration and singing, assumption and belonging?

I am still not sure if I fell in love with the boy because of himself or because of the already fiercely loved words tumbling out of his mouth. Or maybe I never loved him at all, at least not without the words, not without the land.

It is summer – hot, hot summer in northern Israel. I am there on an archeological dig through Duke University, but really I am there to find myself. I am on a journey. I grew up in a reform Jewish home, didn’t have a bat mitzvah and, at 19, I crave identity the same way a small child craves chocolate for the first time: I’m not sure what it tastes like but I know it’s going to be good.

Still, finding myself will not be as easy as eating chocolate. I am earning credit for this program, which means being on the tel before dawn, pickaxe in hand, ready to haul gufas (buckets) of dirt out of the earth. It is quiet on the site before the sun arrives. Just our heavy boots shuffling along the dirt pathway up the hill, hushed whispers traveling among us.

Some days the hard labor comes with the sweet reward of unearthing a shard of pottery painted with ancient Hebrew or a hand crafted tessera that hints of a mosaic treasure somewhere further down. My hands callous and my thighs grow strong while my eyes grow keen, catching covered coins and petrified camel bones crevices and shallow cracks.

Muscles aching, hair caked with dirt, we are done for the day at noon when the sun become relentless and cruel. We head back to our host village for showers and lunch and afternoons washing and cataloging the day’s finds. We have “free time” after our last lesson, before dinner. Kids play basketball. We buy Drumsticks from the makolet. It is like camp.

8240-green-grass-leavesMoshav Nahalal is a beautiful place, in the heart of the northern Galilee. The village is laid out in a concentric circular pattern, like ripples on the water. It is in the middle of the middle where I find him. He is stretched out fully, stomach flat to the ground, propped up on his elbows. Reading. I grip my own slim burgundy volume in my hand. I am almost right in front of him when he looks up. He smiles.

“What are you reading?” he asks, his English near perfect.

“It’s Leaves of Grass.”

He pushes himself up and reaches for the book. I sit down across from him. The grass is prickly on my calves. I notice his Nietzsche.

I’ve seen him on the dig site working a few squares away from mine. He is a local, home from university, helping out for the summer. He is tall and thin with dirty-blonde hair shaved on the sides and a flop hanging across his forehead. His eyes are dark blue. It is 1989. We are 19 and 20. We are all Say Anything and Dead Poets Society.

He opens my book, then his mouth. The words come tumbling out, sweet like chocolate. Walt Whitman in the northern Galilee. My heart sings in celebration. Finally, I belong.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

2 thoughts on “L is for Leaves of Grass

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