When my 12-year-old son called me from school today to say that he was starving hungry and had forgotten to take his lunch, my first reaction was to breathe a sigh of relief. Whew, I thought, he arrived safely at his destination. Take a glimpse into the internal dialogue from a few hours previously:
Rational: He can go on the bus today. You do not have to take him in the car. You have a lot of work to do and cannot waste a precious hour by fighting with the crazy Jerusalem traffic.
Emotional: Yes, but how can I send him on a bus when buses are being attacked?
Rational: You know as well as I that there is a greater chance statistically of him getting hurt in a traffic accident.
Emotional: I hear you but how will I forgive myself if something G-d forbid happens?
Rational: If you believe in fate, then you will send him with peace of mind. Anyway, only one bus has been attacked in the past two weeks and it was on a different line.
Rational (interrupts): Most of the violence is only via stabbings these days and that can happen as you walk to the car. In fact he is safer on a bus than walking with you to your car.
Emotional (sighs): What a responsibility!
Rational (annoyed): You take way too much credit for your actions. In addition, do I need to remind, again, you that you cannot be everything to everyone all of the time. You are doing a fantastic job of being a “good enough” mother. Now stop obsessing and get on with your day. Yalla! Lots to do!
A couple of hours later, as I tripped into the school courtyard, sandwich in tow, promising the guard that I was indeed only one of the mothers and not a suspect (how is it that they don’t know me yet after six years?), late for his performance at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony (that he had repeatedly reminded me to be present for – and on time too mom!), I stopped dead in my tracks. There he was – dressed as a soldier in an olive green uniform, shouldering an aubergine colored beret. My heart skipped a beat. So handsome, I thought proudly, and then the dread began to fill my stomach. Suddenly I was reminded with harshness that we are only a few years away from this imaginary theater turning into reality. As his peers laid down wreaths and lit candles to commemorate fallen siblings, I sobbed like a baby (what has happened to me in my old age?). I cried at the broken innocence of these children, and could not recall having had such a vivid confrontation with unnatural death at such a young age myself. And yet for Israeli children, as young as first graders, who stood in front of me to respect the day and stand their minute of contemplation during the siren, this forms part of a web of commonplace experience.
How bittersweet are our tears as we live so close to death which can seize any of us at any given moment yet if we surrender to these crazy thoughts, we risk losing our minds and distancing ourselves from the fullness of life. Ironically of course, such proximity to mortality, intensifies our capacity for joy and reminds us to clutch our loved ones just a little closer every day and appreciate any simple moment.
Just yesterday, two elderly ladies, out enjoying a morning’s walk on our nearby promenade (with one of my favorite views in the world – of Jerusalem’s old city) were pounced upon and brutally stabbed from behind. Who knows where it is going to come from and when and who will be selected next? We are all randomly and equally vulnerable in this matrix.
I reflect on my friendship with a talented carpenter who lives in a nearby Arab village. Yousef and I share a love for mathematics and good coffee, we have bonding discussions about our cute kids, the beauty of geometry and good design. Of course, we never discuss anything that brings us too close to “the situation” and when he asks me for a sharp object so that he can open a box of supplies, I smile and hand it to him bravely, both of us consciously pretending that this scene does not border on the absurd. And of course, he may well live a couple of doors down from these perpetrators.
And so the craziness ensues. The respect amid the barbarism, the politeness amid the horror. And tonight, the respectful silence that hangs ominously over the city, will suddenly lift and fill up with sounds of celebration and obstinate life as we sublimely dance through our tears, praying for times of peace and a generation of children who only know the pleasure of ice cream and funfairs and whose frustration extends as far as a forgotten school lunch.