Looking inward A Palestinian woman's never-ending journey to look under the surface

Vibrant colors of the Pennsylvanian trees filled her senses, making her rethink all of her past beliefs. Wadad Abed stood, observing the tree, confused about how something so beautiful was rooted in American soil.

“I had to have a real honest conversation with myself,” Abed said. “I remember telling myself: if you cannot see beauty because you put limits on it, then you're heading into real trouble.”

Abed realized that she was afraid of losing her purity. Her identity that she owned for years.

Her purity came from being Palestinian. She came to America when she was nineteen with her whole family — five sisters, two brothers, her mother and father. As a child, her parents told her and her siblings that after school they were going to travel to America for college and job opportunities. Enjoying a different place other than Palestine was different and scary, but from that point on, Abed decided it was time to ‘integrate’.

“I came up with this word, but I had no idea what it entailed,” Abed said. “It just sounded good.” She embarked on the long journey of life, to discover who she actually was.

The years leading up to this moment were lonesome for Abed; she tried to isolate herself and make the world around her seem smaller than it actually was. She didn’t want to lose her Palestinian roots and who she used to be. But, from this point on, she decided it was time to assimilate.

Abed started by looking inward. She learned more about what worked for her and what she believed.

“What did I allow myself to be? What are my values? What values should I let go of? What is my fear? Why am I resisting something? Why am I not open? How much do I want to open my heart to?” She found it to be a relentlessly painful process. It’s a continuous back and forth with asking the questions that matter and digging deeper to find that explanation that will leave her satisfied.

Abed created a thought process that worked for her. Some find it helpful to have a friend to talk to about their problems and discoveries. Others go to therapy sessions to dig deeper. Some go through journal after journal writing down every little thing they have to say without the fear of judgment. Instead, Abed listened. Listened to her environment, listened to people. She taught herself to trust her subconscious through this journey.

“The conscious thoughts rationalize the things in your mind and give excuses, the subconscious is honest.”

Abed classifies herself as a very sociable introvert. Abed processes her feelings and opinions privately and deeply rather than burying her irrational thoughts. Instead, she hits all of her thoughts head-on, ignoring the fear that comes with it. “Fear comes with limitations.”

This process of listening to her subconscious is allowing her to be comfortable holding two strange ideas together, as long as they're honest, truthful and authentic to her. More specifically, this has helped her deal with the issues concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Instead of being stubborn and only believing that she was wronged as a Palestinian, she opened her heart to the humanity. She faced the idea that she doesn’t really believe that there is hate in this world.

LEFT: Wadad Abed classifies herself as a sociable introvert. She spends a lot of time with her family and firends and also takes the time to process her experiences in a private setting. RIGHT: Abed has changed many things about her life. But, within the process of finding herself, she has been able to stay optimistic.

Abed believes that there are too many emotions in this world, but everything is anchored by love and fear. “That has been my guidance,” Abed said. “And it started out with a stupid little tree when I couldn’t see it's beauty.”

Through her own experiences, Abed discovered the complexity of fear. Zionism is one of her fears because it’s a physical threat to her and her people. The fear that she has of the fascism of Trumpism is another one because it’s destroying the life that she voluntarily chosen.

Through her belief that love is the second anchor of emotions, she learned to withhold judgement before she knows the full story. Whether it is the first time she is meeting someone, or watching something on the news. “I need to love, even if you're my enemy,” Abed said. “I need to figure out a way to love the divine in you because that's me. And that's all of us because we're all connected in that sense.”

Growing up, Abed was raised practicing Christianity. But, as she learned more about the religion as an adult, she began to question her values and beliefs.

“I don't believe in organized religion,” Abed said. “I think organized religion puts limitations. ‘Here is the book and here's the truth’.” Over the decades, she came to the conclusion that her beliefs didn’t root from religion, but spirituality. Her 40s were when her spiritual awakening began.

“My spirituality is the fact that you and I are connected in a real sense because if I take anything from my practice of Christianity I believe there is a God,” Abed said. “But if there is a God, I don't see him as a person, I don't see God as sitting up there, but as being here. If there is a man, whatever that God is, it is here with us.”

Abed learns about her spiritual beliefs through readings and the study of philosophy. During her undergraduate studies in her 20s at the Academy of the New Church, outside of Philadelphia, she majored in elementary education and minored in philosophy. Although she was interested in philosophy, it didn’t take effect until she was in her 30s, a decade later.

Today, she still enjoys reading philosophical pieces. “The spiritual reading that I do is more like poetry,” Abed said. “A lot of times you read a poem, and you don't get the impact of the poem, maybe not the first time.”

Most people take a book and understand every word that they’re reading. Abed believes that philosophical pieces are extremely complex and there’s no way to understand everything. But, she does believe that within time, the readings and the meaning behind what she reads, will impact her subconscious.

Abed loves to read books. The difference between her and others is that she doesn't make sure she understands everything that she is reading. She reads for the rhythm and believes that within time, her subconscious will take what she read and help alter her opinions on certain issues.

“Some days I say something that I never thought I would hear myself say,” Abed said. “But it's a truth.”

A book that influenced her tremendously was “I and Thou” by Martin Buber. It was required reading in college that Abed resisted at first because she knew Buber was Jewish and mentioned Zionism in his philosophy.

The idea that Buber presents in that most of the relationships one makes in the world are centered around the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship. Abed’s interpretation of the book was that people connect at a deeper level to specific people.

“I may never see you again, we may never have a relationship, again,” Abed said. “But at that moment, something was so connected, that it affected our lives.” It makes her more aware of the choices she makes when meeting new people. If she decides to prejudge a peer, or put them on a pedestal for being charming. When she thinks about the relationships she has, or want to create, she thinks about “I and Thou”.

Abed came to America on Oct. 5, 1968. They landed in the Port of New York when she was 19-years-old with her five sisters, two brothers, mother and father. She moved to Pennsylvania and didn't come to Ann Arbor until April of 1987.

Abed reflected on her past in Palestine as she related it back to “I and Thou”. “If I had stayed in Palestine I probably would have been married with many kids,” Abed said. “I probably would have not been very happy because I would not have embarked on this journey that made me who I am.”

If Palestine was, free I'd probably be less attached to Palestine.

“Yeah it's my roots, but the world would be more open to me.” She enjoys the Palestinian culture and is committed to the cause, but she also acknowledges that in America she has freedom to be her true self and be the strong outspoken woman she is.

The best decision Abed and her family made in America was to actually integrate. They moved from a homogeneous environment to a heterogeneous one and learned different ways of life through their new experiences and surroundings.

“We all have to feel the same way about Palestine, we all have to feel about America the same way, we all have to feel about Jews the same, but I don't,” Abed said. “I don't like anti-semitism; I don't like the comments about Jews; I don't like the comments about blacks as blacks.” Abed believes that if she decided to live in a community where she was surrounded by other Arabs, she wouldn’t have changed. She feels that there is an obligation to feel the same way about everything as every other Arab in America that has a similar story.