The Holy Land, April 1986
The high hills of upper Galilee look down over the Jordan valley, where John baptised Christ some 2000 years ago. To the south shimmers the tiny inland sea the Romans called Lake Tiberius and modern Israelis call the Kinneret.
The good book says this small lake, the Sea of Galilee, is where the disciples fished and Jesus walked. On its north bank above Capernaum is the Mount of Beatitudes where, according to the book again, Jesus fed the multitude.
Here for a while I lived, and here I found God.
I knew they were the same person because on a wall in London it was written: “Clapton is God”. I’d seen the picture.
And God, I came to understand, is love.
At Kibbutz Yiftah there were about 25 volunteers from across the Western world, young men and young women. Five or six Germans cleansing themselves spiritually after a year with the military, half a dozen Londoners escaping unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain, a slew of blonde, unfairly attractive Scandinavians, and a miscellaneous category that included a South African, two work-shy French men, a morbidly obese American trying to write a novel, a couple of Canadian geologists, and me.
After three years at university and a few more in the pain-free, white-collar Melbourne workforce, I was looking for adventure.
Religion wasn’t part of my plan; I was more inclined to hedonism.
Trouble was, I’d met someone special just before leaving home. We’d dallied and I’d wavered but she was heading in a different direction — literally and metaphorically — and determined to go it alone.
I was alone in the wilderness.
Yiftah was home to about 500 people. We volunteers were green, impressionable and a long way from home. We laboured for six days and on the seventh we rested. We needed to; the parties on the night of the sixth day were epic.
These were held in a bomb shelter, safely far away from the homes of the permanent residents. Every week there was something to celebrate: someone’s birthday, someone leaving, someone arriving. We drank, we danced, we flirted, we drank, we fell in love, we made promises, we told fibs. We drank. Not quite Sodom and Gomorrah, but close.
Music came from whatever cassettes someone had brought with them, and the pickings were thin.
Very late one Friday night, as I lay on the grass looking up at the spinning stars, a new tune played, courtesy of a girl who’d arrived that week from Dublin: Slowhand. Wonderful Tonight. Clapton.
I’d read about religious ecstasy, but Geez, this was something else …
Eric’s music spilled out over the ridge, south into the valley, across the Jordan, embracing Biblical fields and crusade-era ruins, north along the road to Damascus. Christ, I thought as the guitar gently wept, he must have loved that woman.
Alone in the dark, it dawned on me the best chance of me finding that kind of love was with the special one — the proud, independent woman now somewhere on the other side of the world.
Eric had shown me the way, the truth and the life.
I wrote her a letter to say I would be in Scotland in three months time and would she join me there? I mailed it hopefully to her parents’ address.
Many weeks later I received a letter, postmarked Vancouver. “Scotland? August? Sounds great. I’d love to.” Eric can perform miracles.
Edinburgh. August 1986.
Together. Saved. And it was wonderful, tonight.
Stereo Story #482