A Muslim got a pat-down because of me this morning. Actually, it all began when he chased me. My tale is a tale of confusion. My confusion is not detached from the confusing reality I live in. As a therapist I will try to employ narrative. Hopefully, it will help bring sense, meaning, and control.
It all began when I woke up in the morning. I decided that after I walked my children to kindergarten I would go on a speed-walk after many days that I felt it wasn’t quite safe to. I left my mace at home. I brought along my earphones and told myself I would allow myself to tune out and not listen vigilantly to every little thing that was going on around me. I would relax with the music. I put on the Eagle’s song, “Take It to the Limit.” I went around the neighborhood one time. Then I went around again. It felt good. It was a semblance of life as usual.
I meet with victims of terror. Victims who seem never allowed to fully heal in this environment. I remember days in this last wave of attacks of meeting with terror victims and working through their wounds then walking down the long corridor leading to the psyche ward. The long- corridor window overlooks the parking lot of the ER. People in the hall were leaning out the window looking down at paramedics rushing the freshly wounded into the building.
One principle of treatment is revisiting the day-to-day things that scare you and realizing that they are no longer dangerous and that you can cope with the anxiety they elicit. Patients are taught that avoiding does not really protect them, it preserves trauma and it preserves anxiety. They are gradually exposed and instructed to stop avoiding. I have seen terror victims feeling better and better, returning to life, returning to relative health when guided through this principle. But these days, the world is different and therapy itself is different. Trauma therapy is much easier when the traumatic event is something that happened in the past, it is also much easier if the fear that your patient is dealing with is of something that is very unlikely to re-occur. You can assure them that they are now safe. If normally I would tell my patient — you are going to learn again that walking in the streets isn’t dangerous, now I tell them — well maybe you should consider which streets. This may not be a bad thing, but it is definitely very tricky.
People who have experienced PTSD or have a pre-disposition to trauma often feel that “the world is not safe,” and often feel that everything is equally not safe. Nothing is 100 percent safe — that is true. But risks vary. We often, without awareness make a rough evaluation in our heads of what we have to risk by doing something and what we have to gain by doing it. Walking down the street may be dangerous, but rarely leaving the house may be equally dangerous (something that many terror victims often do). In trauma therapy, patients are taught once again how to assess risks, but now the odds are stacked a little differently. They have to ask themselves what they have to risk by engaging versus what they stand to risk by avoiding. What is at stake is not just physical safety, but also mental health and quality of life.
To my ears, what I am hearing in sessions with terror victims and what I am hearing on the streets of Jerusalem is becoming eerily similar. People are assessing risks continuously. People are asking themselves and each other — how much should I “stop” my life? What should I refrain from? Is my avoidance resulting from a proper judgement call, or is it fear-driven? Am I being rational or irrational?
On my second time around the block, I see a Muslim in a white car driving very, very slowly. He has a big white beard, a big white kippah, and a silk blue robe on, and he is making eye contact with me. I tell myself, “no reason to be alarmed, just be cautious.” I see a little alley way of stairs, and I decide I am going to continue walking up the stairs rather than down the street. As I take that turn up the stairs, I see this man stop his car short and start climbing up the stairs speedily after me. My heart starts pounding and I start to jolt up the stairs quickly, trying to remember the verse — to my right is the angel Michael, but my brain is not working. I run up the stairs. They seem to go on forever and ever. There is nothing up that alley way, no person, no door.
At some point, I look back and he is gone. I knock on someone’s door and ask her to let me in. I call the police. They say to me in Hebrew — How do you know that he is a minority? At first I did not understand what they were saying. In Hebrew, the expression for minorities is “the son of few.” Very sweet, actually, when you think of it. I describe his devoutly Muslim physical appearance. They ask me — why did you suspect him, because he is the son of few? Now I am kind of confused. What exactly am I being questioned about? My heart is still racing, and I the image of leaving my children orphaned in this world is slowly fading away. I start to question myself — did I suspect him because he was the son of few? And then I remember the image of him climbing, determined up behind me.
I quickly return to the present and say to them I suspected him because he ran up an empty alley way after me. They tell me to stay put, that a police car is on its way. I speak to my husband next. He says to me that he and a few local soldiers have actually spotted the man and are talking to him. I go out to meet them and the police in front of our local supermarket. They ask him, why did you follow her? He says, rather calmly — I walked up after her to give her a newspaper, I hand out newspapers — and he showed them newspapers in his car. The police search him and search his car. They call it in to intelligence and tell me he doesn’t have a record. They let him go. And as they let him go, the police man smiles at me and says — look, he is waving Shalom to you. And as he drove away, a local man turned to me and said — “he does hand out newspapers. He is here every morning.”