“…we do not expect people to be moved by what is not unusual. The element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the course emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling for all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.“ – George Eliot, Middlemarch.
I started a new book today which begins with this quote from George Eliot. I had to read it several times before starting the novel to take in the beauty and poetry of the words. It seems a fitting quote to reflect upon at the end of my first week.
It’s been an eventful 7 days in Cairo since my arrival last Monday afternoon. I’ve been to the doctor, attended an ordination, enjoyed an evening falucca ride, met three new students and become re-acquainted with many more. But it’s eventful in very ordinary sorts of ways – traffic, heat, trips to the pharmacy, enjoying a cool breeze, catching up with friends. It’s daily life which doesn’t always make for interesting and dramatic blog posts, but it’s what I love about returning again and again to Egypt.
The first time I came to Egypt, I remember saying to Hans that I felt alive in cells that I didn’t know I had. I’ve learned since that this kind of reaction is a fairly ordinary response to new surroundings and new experiences. While I don’t have that same sort of response each time I return, I’m aware that my time in Egypt allows me to hear a little of “the other side of silence,” which Eliot writes about. Ironic considering the constant din of horns, barking dogs and other assorted sounds that rise from the streets outside my open window.
In this place with no clouds to obstruct my view, every night I take notice of the size and shape of the moon and the position of the stars as they move through the sky. In this place – so monotonous with browns and beiges – I notice the spots of green, the blooms of flowers, the scent of jasmine that fills the air. In this place, I stop the movement that is so much a part of my life and I sit in silence and pray – or at least try. In this place, I rejoice at the familiarity of the Ordo of a Latin Rite Mass and rejoice to harmonize during The King of Love My Shepherd Is as it’s sung at Saturday Mass down the street. In this place, I give thanks for my baptism in Christ which gives me an identity which allows me to enter this place as a sister and friend by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
That which is “not unusual” in this place still moves me.