I thought of Terry as my split-apart, my soul mate — the same person, split apart in the Heavens and sent to Earth as two separate pieces of the same whole, with the driving need to find our other half. We were two trees with the same root, endlessly reaching for each other.
But when we finally found each other, all hell broke loose.
When Terry died, I took myself to Egypt on a pilgrimage to reconcile that which was fractured in me, to heal what was broken.
Five years to the day after Terry died, I was watching the sun rise from the top of Mt. Sinai. I had thought if God talked to Moses on that mountain, maybe He would talk to me, too.
I threw everything I thought I’d need for two days and nights into my leather backpack: a change of underwear, a toothbrush, cigarettes, passport, cash, my journal. I was to climb Mt Sinai, and what I took with me, I would carry up 2,600 vertical feet. And back down. So I was traveling light – without the highly coveted blow-dryer for my hair, without my Lewis N. Clark Model DK2000 Dual Converter with Adapter Plugs, without a jacket, without a change of clothes.
From St. Catherine’s Monastery, a motley cast of tourists launched our attack on the 2,600 vertical feet rising between us and the summit. There, the sun would light upon the very same place on earth where Moses received the Ten Commandments of God. And we would be its witnesses.
But first, the Steps of Repentance. Orthodox monks built 3,750 steep steps into the barren mountainside, adorned with arches and chapels of stone. This path has also been called the Stairway to Heaven. The distinction, I believe, depends on whether you are heading up them, or down.
Most tourists who climb Mount Sinai choose another path, a longer path, gently sloped and winding to the top. Still, a four-hour excursion waited them, in the dark, on an unfamiliar path. It is said that the local Bedouins – with camels for rent – just hang around and wait for people to collapse. I chose the steps.
The Bedouins sell hot cocoa and chocolate bars from little tents on the mountain. They rent pads and blankets to keep us warm. They also sell stones from the mountain, about the size of eggs, as souvenirs. Each one is broken into two pieces, dull and rough on the outside, but embedded with magnificent crystals. Two halves of a whole, soul mates, split-aparts, like Terry and me.
It’s in my nature to contemplate rocks and sunrises and people. To scrape at the surface of things. If a rock, broken in half, could reveal beauty, couldn’t it reveal wisdom? Couldn’t it whisper into my ear: Beautiful and ugly co-exist in the same spaces, in the same moments. Bad things happen to good people. Life is more than it appears. Grief is lovely. Grace is everywhere.
I thought of the grapevines growing in the rocky soil of Burgundy, France. Too sweet the soil, too easy the journey, and the grapes become a plain and simple fruit. It’s the struggle that gives them their complexity; the journey gives them their character.
Looking back, I can see that to be broken is to reveal the beautiful, to experience the magnificent.
Excerpted in part from Lost & Found in Egypt: A Most Unlikely Journey Through the Shifting Sands of Love and Loss.