A few hours ago, I was sitting near the spot of Jesus' ascension on Mount Olive. The sky had just unleashed a torrent of rain, and the dark and foreboding clouds were still rolling over the hills and valleys of the Jerusalem. A few rays of light pierced the clouds, falling on the shimmering golden facade of the Dome of the Rock. Before me lay all of the Old City of Jerusalem, its massive walls, the imposing Temple Mount, and the sweeping hills soaked with history and memories and war and suffering and hope. And I felt so far from the tiny town that I came from.
My family didn't have much when I was growing up. On my dad's side, my grandfather was a construction worker and my grandmother was illiterate. My mom immigrated from Taiwan when she was 16. Her parents were divorced. And her mom did data entry at a hospital while her dad had gambling problems.
My parents weren't able to finish college. They started a family while they were young, and had only a small apprentice salary in the beginning. At first, they could only afford a tiny attic apartment in rural Pennsylvania, but they slowly saved up for a small house. I think sometimes about how hard it must have been, all the sacrifices they made to save money and provide for their kids. I remember the cold nights during the winter because heating was too expensive, so we huddled around the fireplace and chimney to do our homework. I remember sorting through coupons at thrift stores and clipping them from newspapers, as we tried to save every penny we could. I remember the recycling centers where we could bring cans and jars to exchange for money, and I remember the dry milk and large bags of kashi cereal. I remember the slow painstaking renovations on the house every weekend. Our weekly and nightly ritual of home construction.
Despite everything, my parents provided a lot for my brothers and me. We would take vacations every year, epic road trips to Canada and Wyoming and Montana, sleeping in the car or cramming the whole family into small hotel rooms. They taught us to be good people and take care of those around us, provided us all with great educations, and gave us opportunities that they never saw. By the time I was in highschool and heading to Princeton, my parents had built a comfortable life for themselves and their family. I don't know for sure what the American dream is, but I'm fairly sure that I lived at least part of it.
Someone recently commented to me that she hoped I'd find experiences, memories on this trip that would make me feel grateful. I know I have, but even more than that, the trip itself, just to be in Jerusalem, makes me feel grateful. I'm here because of hundreds of different choices I've made, but more importantly, I'm here because of all the difficult choices my parents made. For the values they instilled in me, the education they gave me, and for the opportunities they provided me.
I'm in Jerusalem, and I'm very far from home. But I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my home. And despite all its craziness and complications, for that I'm very grateful.