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April 2017, vol 13 no 1

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Jessica Ramer

Bethlehem 2000

Childless at forty, I crossed from Jerusalem into Bethlehem to mark the birth of another woman's child. December rain in hillsides unwarmed by Mediterranean currents, two checkpoints, and a newly birthed Intifada had left Manger Square empty of all but men in rough woolen robes, white-haired women in grey veils, and me, in Israel to meet an illicit love, swaddling our virtual affair, at last, in flesh – our own Incarnation, the Church of the Nativity a mere side trip.

In the grotto, I watched as celibate women worshiped a virgin's son, their age-creased faces immobile in meditation, and wondered if they, too, were forcing themselves yet failing to feel the presence of the Christ child and dreaded going home to a twin bed in a narrow room.

After sixteen years, I remember less a peasant baby placed in a feeding trough than an unknown mother's teen son, his Galil slung over his shoulder as he stood outside on a frigid evening and, handing my passport back to me through an open taxi window, wished me a Merry Christmas in my own tongue.

on barren hillsides
jeeps, Gregorian chants
sound in counterpoint