…Some thoughts on recent events.
Two of my children thought it was very funny, on a trip to the US about ten years ago, to hide inside a clothing rack at the Gap in a large East Coast mall. As Israeli children, who are used to trusting random strangers at the store, it did not even occur to them that this hilarious maneuver meant that for five minutes, I died.
My mind followed them to some remote corner of Shenandoah National Park, where a nondescript white man (someone’s quiet neighbor) – a man who did not care that they were Jewish… or human for that matter – was having them for lunch. Of course, they were right there under a pile of denim, mischievous in the jeans.
Every parent knows the moment of the missing child: The seconds or hours when your heart plummets into your knees, and your jaw and stomach collide in acrid adrenaline wreckage. The nervous system gets ready to face agony immediately, before its boss has any real information.
This week in Israel there are six parents without adequate information, and they have been in that state for not hours, but days…almost two weeks. I keep playing the following ridiculous contest in my mind:
Which is “better”:
Kidnapped by random sicko in the mall (because you are vulnerable), held in his basement; page 8
Kidnapped by terror organization while hitchhiking (because you are Jewish), held in a tunnel; page 1
In society A, I cannot let my children wander and discover; strangers are dangerous. Random violence is everywhere, but national violence is nonexistent. It is a deeply fractured society… at complete peace. Fear is diffuse and confusing, and it is renamed privacy. Middle class kids will never hold a gun, they will never see a war, and they will most likely never be near a bombing.
In society B, my children have vast day-to-day independence; strangers are family. In a disturbing and inspiring way, almost nothing is ever random. It is an often profound society in a nearly constant state of agitation. Fear is quite focused, and it is channeled into empowerment, for better and worse. By age 17, kids of every societal class receive draft notices, and the sometimes-war, like an abusive ex, comes back to call when you had just managed to maybe forget him.
Society A is private. Society B is in your pants from Day 8. Society A has children and parents with a low-grade, abiding sense of fear that they don’t even realize. Society B has a community of children and parents who are afraid less often than they should be.
Both societies are free, but this freedom costs you. In society A, the West, the cost is learning not to trust anyone you don’t know. Learning that you are on your own. It can be lonely. You can get lost, for better or worse.
In society B, Israel, the cost is that you are part of a family. Family problems are your problems; family friends and enemies are yours, too. Family problems are your children’s problems, even if all they were doing was standing on the corner to come home for Shabbat.
Would you like your privacy with a side of randomness and a healthy dose of peace? Or your family with a side of intensity, and a dollop of war? Would you like your fear meaningless with an aftertaste of jaded? Or meaningful with the clear and present risk of xenophobia? We’re sorry, but we do not have “normal” on the menu. We are all out of normal.
Because make no mistake: Neither society is “normal.” First graders getting shot in classrooms – in the middle of a peace zone – on the altar of freedom and independence for the private citizen… is not normal. Fathers getting shot in their cars in front of their children – in the middle of a sometimes war zone – on the altar of national freedom and independence…also, not normal.
In both societies, we pretend on a daily basis that these things do not happen. Statistics are on our side, so that we can go to work and school and shop and make parties and in general pretend normality. Our fears give way to forgetting; one society forgets through immersion in the physical world, the other by overachieving and obsessive self-introspection. These give us the illusion of control.
The world is not normal; stop using that word. It’s not even a reasonable goal anymore, in my opinion. We have surpassed normal good; we will have to endure sub-normal evil.
It’s about choosing the kind of not-normal you wish to help move in the direction of the good. The choice is often ideological, sometimes logistical, sometimes a matter of definitions, and sometimes a matter of temperament.
Clearly, writing from Jerusalem, my personality and ethos had to side with family and collective meaning (and collective future) and their potential prices, physical and otherwise. Organized potential violence has trumped the random kind in my insane mental contest, because it feels better to be not-normal for what I feel is a good reason, a historic reason, even if I risk that some of my kids will grow up a bit more jingoistic than I am comfortable with. They will most likely not grow up shallow, and to me the shallow abyss is the scariest kind of basement or tunnel there is.
This year, we began what will be roughly 15 nearly consecutive years of a son in the IDF. For the record, this is less scary to me than my wild spawn driving a car or hiking in the wilderness. I love that they have the freedom to “safely” hike the wilderness. We all have our own nightmares and stories we tell ourselves so we can sleep, I suppose.
What is the story the mother in Gaza or Nablus tells herself? This is society C. And I cannot begin to pretend to understand it. I’d like to think about her in rational terms, but her children too often make that impossible for me. Is it because the mother has no voice in a violent patriarchy? I’d like to tell myself that story about her. But I cannot include her in my crazy contest, because I fear she would not entertain the possibility of multiple tracks, as I have.
In any event, the world is not normal. The world gets sicker and more violent with every day that it gets more innovative, interconnected, and wondrous.
Who is really in control in each of the societies mentioned? Whoever is the most motivated to look past the defense mechanisms, into the eyes of abnormal truth. We ought to make sure that is us, wherever we are.