What Do You See?

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?'” – Jeremiah 1:11

The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “Tourists,” opens with a description of visitors at the Holocaust Museum and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Later, he describes their lighter moments back at the hotel, washing out their linens in the sink and talking over their crushes on the people they have seen.

Having completed their mundane chores, they are back to the serious business of sight-seeing, having their pictures taken and looking for the ruins of Roman arches.

I recognized myself in Amichai’s poem about the tourists. When I travel, I want to see all the big sites, the beautiful buildings and the somber markers. I don’t want to miss a thing.

The last section of the poem is written from the point of view of a local bystander, watching the tourists rush by, craning their necks to see a site.

Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”

The tourists do not see the poet as anything other than an anonymous man to point to in order to see something more famous. But then, in the final line, the poet nails it.

I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”


Dear God, I could use a better tour guide at the big sites in my life. Will you show me what’s really important? Because I don’t want to miss a thing. Amen. 

dd-lilliandaniel.jpg About the Author
Lillian Daniel is a United Church of Christ minister and the author of several books, most recently When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough.