No… not the opening line of a joke; the start of an inspiring visit.
I went to our school on the border today. I went to teach but I also learned so much. We had a very special visitor: a former Buddhist monk named Lobsang Phuntsok who came to learn what life is like here on the border, in the shadows of the rockets and the tunnels.
Among the representatives from our school who met him were our principal, social workers and psychologists, teachers and teens from our school. When he heard our stories he laughed (I whipped out my red nose as part of my response to his query how we deal with the situation) and cried when he heard the stories of our lives (especially the kids’ stories).
He told us: “I was afraid of coming here to visit. People were worried for me. But I’ve learned that the more I fear great risk, the more I gain from what I learn.” Then he asked us: “How do you deal with the stress of living here? “
Meshy, from Kerem Shalom, told him of the Instagram group they run, @otef.gaza, spreading the word of what life is like living on the seam between Israel and the Gaza Strip, where the black smoke of the burning tires from the weekly Hamas-instigated riots invade their homes and their lungs. She depicted life with explosions and gunfire, as what has become the “whitenoise” of their lives.
Other kids recounted the love and support that they feel in their communities and their school culture (the only places in the world where people really understand what they are growing up with).
Varda and Einat, the school guidance counselors described the difficulties of helping the kids in school, while they, themselves need to deal with the challenges of raising their own kids in a world with incoming rocket attacks. They explained their constant search for finding their own inner strength. Zmira, our principal, taught him what it is like running a school fighting to preserve an equilibrium between routine and emergency; the normalcy of teenagerhood and the insanity of war. She told of the struggles we experienced in 2014, when as a community-in-mourning, following the deaths of students’ fathers in Operation Protective Edge, we had to re-enter the new school year, with an atmosphere of learning. Of how – despite the dangers and fears and challenges- these kids do not give up on achieving the very best they can in their studies.
Judih (who developed the mindfulness app ClassRelax) spoke of the work she does with her partner, Inbal, teaching mindfulness techniques in the school systems of all ages, as well as with parents, teaching residents of this region how to make relaxation a reflex or at least an option in times of stress.
And me? I told our visitors about how I use my tools learnt in medical clowning, and my voice for advocacy of our region as my way of coping. About the friendships I have with people on the other side of the border. About how I believe that the majority of people over there, want the same things that we do: safety, security for themselves and their families, and food on their tables. About how many of us describe our lives here as being 95% Heaven, 5% Hell.
Here are some of the things he said, in response:
“There are more good people than bad people. We see so many people here that are good, optimistic. They conquer the bad. You cannot lose your hope. We learned about your lives here, building community. You need to continue building family, developing and cherishing friends. You give the world hope and inspiration by just getting up every day and smiling. It gives us hope.”
He continued: “People who don’t live here can’t conceive of the stories you tell. Always keep the hope. You are here for a purpose, to say that ‘we’re not scared of bombs’. Your existence has a purpose, it’s an inspiration to the world. That’s what I learned from you.Your goal must be reaching 100% Heaven! This is something to look forward to”
When asked if he would have liked to also visit Gaza, he responded: “I would love to visit Gaza. I live on a border, too. With China. We’ve had wars with the Chinese government, but the Chinese people are not my enemy. They are like me. Also Gazans, are not the enemy.”
To the young people he said: “You mustn’t look back, you must only look forward. You are the hope: to fix this world that the people of the past have broken. When you grow up and lead the country, make a ‘Ministry of Peace’, instead of the ‘Ministry of Defense’. Make ministries of Love and Kindness. We are counting on you to fix the world.”
After that, I turned to the kids and said “You thought _I_ give you homework!!??”
Here’s hoping they grow up to fulfill his h.w. assignment!