We are learning, and I am in the process of writing a paper about, the diaspora. These are the Jews who were exiled by the Babylonians and I am to write about how this exile affected them as a people and as a nation.
There are other meanings of the word, though. Diaspora can refer to any group of people living outside of their home country, it can refer to even a small group of people who are, for reasons varied and complex, living outside of their community.
Many of the exiled Jews were the upper class, elite families, and those who were left behind were field workers, day laborers. I don’t know why, exactly, but I think I can try to guess. All worlds, not just this one that we happen to occupy, have their own class or caste system. All worlds have an upper class and a middle class and a lower class, we think we have moved beyond these things, but we haven’t.
I’m not sure, really, that I even wish for the world to not be this way. Someone needs to occupy houses like Highclere, where Downton Abbey is filmed. There is a rich and varied history there and anyone can find and read books that tell about life in the morning rooms, life with tea gowns and multi course meals, life with a woman who follows you around and zips you up and does your hair. And there are the stories of life below stairs, a different class of people, with different codes of conduct, different values and goals. I state it as an unequivocal fact that those below stairs worked harder. This is the way that humanity is, people who work hard, and people who seem born to luck; but we have to love each other.
Watching old stories played out like Yentl, like Fiddler on the Roof, we get only a small taste of the lower class people who were probably left behind and not carried bodily out of their country, their land of milk and honey, by the invading forces of Babylon.
So how am I to write about what life was like for those elites who were exiled? There isn’t much out there that isn’t fiction. I am learning to be good at fiction, and so I see it kind of like this: life went on. It went on in that the people you knew were and who were in your social circles were probably near you. It went by in that your family had the resources to fund decent housing and possibly even servants. Many of these diaspora communities became influential and didn’t go home, even when Cyrus said they could.
I don’t think exile changed the people who were exiled a whole lot. It did change Israel from a nation of people to a practice of religion, it did take away a temple, and a king, but looking at the way the world is today, and reading and watching post-apocalyptic stories I don’t think that, when it all comes down to it, having your temple remain intact is the most important thing.
So I am working on this seditious paper, working on putting it together in the way papers need to be crafted for academia; not as a blog post, not with my own feelings inserted in the footnotes (Hager, A., felt this way 9/30/2015).
Today Avery had a birthday party for a friend she is in class with. It was at the local movie theater and included seeing the all new Hotel Transylvania 2. We stopped and bought a very soft and pretty giraffe for her friend (who I hope actually likes giraffes, otherwise this will seem strange). We got to the theater and out of the car, and about halfway through the parking lot and the tears came. Ave stopped and sat on a bench outside the theater, resolute, refusing to go one step closer. We were temporarily saved by a friend named Braisley (really!) and we made it inside and to the party room.
Once at the party room she vacillated back and forth between panic and hiding her face in my shirt, and wild giggles with her friends. I ended up striding out of the theater, a cowed six year old mincing along behind me.
I was very angry. I was embarrassed that mine was the only child who was crying. I wanted to whisper threats and damnation in her ears, I wanted to bully her into staying, I wanted to spank her and make her realize how silly she was being. I wanted her to be like me, again, or like her sister, again.
I was ashamed of myself for feeling this way, about two miles down the road, as Ave sobbed int the backseat, clutching the gift basket all the people who came to the party would receive.
I was glad that I hadn’t given into that instinct, to threaten and bully her into staying. We drove back to Grandma Hager’s, where Kaia was, and Ave sat in my lap for a long while.
We snuggled and I spoke softly to her, I told her how when we say we are going to a party people plan on us, how it is bad manners to suddenly duck out. I told her how she can do things even though Kaia isn’t there, or mommy, or Tess. I told her how much I loved her soft heart and her tender mind.
And a little while later she decimated the peanut population and carried a baby doll in from the front porch named Toby, who she happily pushed around in the same stroller Kaia rode in as an infant when we would come down for long weekends at home from up north.
We are each our own diaspora communities, we all live a life that is separate from the greater community. We all have our tents, our own fires to tend on this red road, we have our own sassy girl children and anxious girl children, our own old dogs and list of problems.
And we are all, truly, in exile.
My mother in law talked tonight, laughingly, about how cleaning out her basement is her own purgatory, a place where she pays for the sins of keeping things she does not need and buying things she, likewise, does not need. Tonight, maybe as an act of penance, she gave me a small and delicate table, a magazine rack from when Casey was a toddler, a huge cutting board Casey’s oldest brother made in high-school, more than 30 years ago. These are odd moments of grace.
Today, the mother of the birthday girl asked, eyes wide, is this sort of something you are working on? And she gestured to the almost seven year old sobbing, with her face pressed hard into my middle. And I said, I thought we were past this, but yes, apparently it is something we are working on. And she was so kind, squatting down, asking Ave if she wanted to have a one on one playdate with the birthday girl, giving her her little birthday party basket full of popcorn and pencils and a carmel apple. And she gave me grace.
It is our kindness, our acts of grace, that bring down the walls of our cities.
It is our kindness, our willingness to come outside our own ways, the ways our own people get things done, that build communities, that reconcile people to to one another.
I saw a photo of a refugee camp the other day, and it looked not unlike an aerial shot of our village: these straight thruways, houses lining the roads. The main difference was the lack of any sort of building material, there were no pools, no cars, no rivers or lakes. But it was laid out in a square, and all of those people, all of us people, were forming a community, a diaspora.
I’d like to think that we all really have more in common than we will admit. I’d like to think that so many of us are working to reconcile all of God’s people to one another. I know that there is work to do.
We are a diaspora. We are living outside of the promised land, we are toiling away in the dust for another paycheck, another rent payment, another week of groceries, and so sometimes, we don’t look up and see that others are toiling too, for mostly the same things. We are a people with the common human experience to bind us tightly together, if only we would stop snipping at the multi colored ribbons that would tie all of humanity to one another. If only we would stop declaring our personal freedom, our personal goals, and start looking for ways to make all people free.
We will remain a diaspora until we realize the kingdom of God here, right down here, in our little village, in refugee camps, in rickety boats crossing the sea, hundred of years ago, and still today, in search of a community we can belong to.
And we will have, if we will see them, our odd bits of grace, our sustenance on this journey. We will have a Pope who loves the poor and also meets with women we vehemently disagree with (because we are called to reconciliation, not to ignore, not to condemn), we will have parents of children whom we do not know who squat and look loving into the eyes of our own children to whisper peace, if only we will let them.
We can have people we interact with in our daily jobs who tell us, I couldn’t have gotten through this without you. We can have our own families, the shelters that we think of as our own, if we can cut our losses and take those imperfect people.
I don’t know how to end this, I rarely do.
But I would tell you that tonight the rain is cold, and there are people in our city who are also.
I would tell you that the lake is stormy and angry, gray and green with foamy whitecaps.
I would tell you that my geraniums are abundant, new blooms replacing the old as quick as the old, withered stems drop to the grass.
I would wish abundance on you. I would wish your own diaspora, and I would wish you to step outside of it, until we are one united people, simply longing for home.
I love you still.
We belong to each other.
So I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through, and if I can’t let me fall on the grace, that first brought me to you. And if I sing let me sing for the joy that has borne in me these songs, and if I weep let it be as a man, who is longing for his home.