Revisiting a childhood home can be a bittersweet experience. As my wife reflects on the first house she remembers going up for sale, we are glad that we spent the holidays there one last time a few months back. In my case sentiment is a little harder to find. The three residences I recall from a fractured childhood all bear the same distinction: they were torn down after we left. All that remains of my youth is three parking lots. Things are a lot more level now than they were back then. Whenever I visit the area, however, I still slow down the car and remember. Memory, whether singular or collective, makes a geographic location a sacred space. We rented when I was growing up, so those spaces that I think of as mine were occupied by others before and after us. (The razing did not take place immediately after we closed the door for the last time.) Whether those others—strangers to me—consider the place special I have no way of knowing.
In other cases the sacral nature of a place is hallowed by tradition. Say “the Holy Land” and most people will know that you’re referring to what is now Israel/Palestine. I only traveled there once, but was privileged to stay for about six weeks. Working on an archaeological dig is a rite of passage for young biblical scholars (for such I was at the time), and weekends were spent visiting the places I’d read about since I could first remember. One of the most jarring aspects of the holiness was the evidence of violence. Cars burning by the roadside. Bombs going off in a post office in Jerusalem. Sounds of heavy artillery lobbing explosives through a blue sky during the sunny afternoon. A place so sacred as to be continually baptized in blood. Humans, human memory, are what make a place sacred.
All of this comes to mind with the political posturing of New Jersey governor Chris Christie visiting Israel. God knows New Jersey has enough problems of its own, but it is a relief not to have him hanging around for a while. Nevertheless, what has Trenton to do with Jerusalem? One thing the Middle East doesn’t need is one more bully. Pushing, shoving, crusading, shooting, and bombing haven’t worked for that elusive peace. What value can our dauntless leader add to this unholy mess? Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I thought governors were supposed to take care of their own problems at home and leave international schmoozing until they got to the big offices. Maybe the race for a GOP nomination isn’t over yet. The most sacred space in this country is a white house that gets sold to the highest bidder every four years. At times there is more wisdom to be found in a parking lot.