By David Teegarden — A dear friend of ours was roofing her home last week, fell off the ladder, smashed her ribs on a concrete pier below, and bounced to the ground.
One of the very worst times in my life came in 1984, when Ruth, my wife of three years, left me. My dream of a long and happy marriage and family was irreparably dashed to pieces. I felt devastated and broken.
As I sat one day at my desk, feeling hopeless and numb, I noticed an airline ticket. Then I remembered: Ruth and I had planned a trip to Israel and Jerusalem. This trip to Israel would have been a time to deepen our spiritual and personal commitments. Little did I know how this plan would turn out!
Impulsively, I decided to go on this trip alone. As much as anything, I think I wanted to escape my miserable situation. But I think I was also searching for some sort of answer.
If I had hoped to find peace, I soon learned that Israel was not the place to go. Centuries-old territorial conflict, with its hatred, violence and revenge, permeated life in Jerusalem. When I arrived, I unwittingly caused a bomb scare by leaving my bag at the doorstep of a friend.
The next day I set out to explore Jerusalem. On city bus, a teenage soldier sat next to me. An automatic rifle was on his lap, the muzzle pointed at me. Was this a message? I got off the bus on a hill overlooking the city. Jerusalem rose out of the desert sand, appearing much as it did for centuries. The Al Aqua Mosque, the Golden Dome of the Rock and the great Western Wall of the second Temple stood together in one corner. It was Easter week. There were orthodox Jews, priests and nuns, Arabs in traditional dress, vendors and many others. As I walked the streets of Jerusalem, a group of Arab boys taunted and harassed me. I ran away.
I wandered aimlessly through labyrinthine stone corridors. Would I ever find my way? Finally, I stumbled out through a small wooden door. I came into a huge, open space. In the bright sunlight I realized I was at the foot of the great Western Wall.
Plaintive sounds of Hebrew chanting and praying filled the air. The Wall of ancient, graying stones stretched upward and outward, from the yellow desert sand seemingly extending to the sky. As I stood there, I felt very small and insignificant. I moved slowly, hesitantly forward. With every step, the wall seemed to stretch higher and the prayers grew louder, and I grew smaller and more insignificant. I reached up and touched the wall; the atmosphere suddenly seemed to be alive as before an electrical storm.
As I stood there, I suddenly felt strong vibrations of energy, cascading down the wall, shaking me and the very earth. I felt faint, and leaned against the wall, my mind spinning. As this energy engulfed me, I felt a wordless message powerfully conveyed to me, it said: "You are forgiven." I then wept, pitifully, uncontrollably. Time seemed to be suspended. I felt held in this state, with this presence. I don't know how long I remained like this. When I finally was able to look around, it was dusk and I was exhausted. I left and returned to my friend's apartment.
I didn't really talk about this experience and headed home. The tension and problems remained. I missed my plane because of security checks and, when I arrived home, my wife was preparing divorce papers.
But something inside me had changed. I felt for certain the reassurance that some sort of higher power did exist and that this power was beneficent. I knew for certainty that there was always the possibility of forgiveness and blessing. I knew this from the vivid memory of my experience. Connecting with this experience has always given me a strong feeling of peace and love.
I had this powerful experience at a site sacred to Jews. Does this mean I should convert to Judaism? I don't think so. I have a strong belief that no one group — not Christians, Jews, Muslims nor anyone else — has some exclusive "right" to a higher power. There are many paths up the mountain.
David Teegarden, a retired physician, has lived in Ashland for six years. He is a practicing Buddhist, sings in the Rogue Valley Peace Choir and creates ceramic sculpture.
You are invited to share your experience of inner peace. Send your 650-word article to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.