I was visiting my family in Israel. No. We weren’t ‘close’. Yes, they are ‘safe’. The simplest of words defined and not, doomed to repeat themselves. The impact of the violence and the anxiety of what happens next are what fill the air. They take up the space until I feel my chest release. I didn’t know I was holding my breath.
While I was visiting, we did the things we always do. We watched our shared Netflix account together. Last visit we watched a lot of Wednesday. This time my niece’s favorite was The Dragon Prince: The Mystery of Aaravos. I wanted to know what she was listening to in hopes I could find ways for her to listen to me. My visit was the only part of this story that has ended. Returning home all I can do is continue with all the things I do. I find creative ways to make sure my family is doing the same. At night before bed, I watch an episode or two so I can text my niece about them. The Dragon Prince Season 4 Episode 3. . . In the dark, I listen closely. My breathing slows.
I had a speech planned for today. It was about peace and love and hope.
But I think I left something out. I ignored something that is true. I denied something that is undeniable. We are angry! I am angry. I have been hurt. My dad was killed when I was nine years old. My mom was taken from me before I could even remember her.
It hurts! I feel pain about this and I am angry! We all want peace and we all want love but violence tests us. In a twisted way it converts us to its cause. Because pain and loss feel so terrible inside, you want to hate. You want to hurt someone else.
It’s as if this was always in the air and the atoms of current events knocked the sounds free to hit my eardrums. Did my niece hear it? Can she? Who is breathing it?
On the first day. On Saturday. I mourned the answers. Intergenerational impact. Of the loss. The places where air will be because someone else isn’t. But that is not my sadness. My nephews react with fear and humor. One will not remember at all. The other might recall his mother’s face when he makes the siren’s whine. I watched my niece more closely. She was angry. Vengeance. Punishment. Pain. When those who fed this storm today are gone, they are leaving others to fuel its heat. I click the screen again. The name of the episode is, Breathtaking.
So what do we do? How can we stop this cycle? Violence, loss, pain. Violence, loss, pain. More violence. Stop! Stop. I just want to yell stop. But that’s not enough. It won’t work.
I think about a positive vision. A faith we can all share. That we might build a future together and hope. A future where we can be safe with each other. But, it’s not that easy, or simple. Because people are still hurting and they are still angry. We can’t ignore that or pretend it will go away.
On the second day after, my brother and I went to the grocery store. As we drove out of the underground parking lot, a soldier crossed in front of us. His girlfriend’s face was tearstained. My brother slowed and rolled down his window. He said one phrase I couldn’t hear.
“What did you say to the soldier?” I asked later.
“Take care of yourself. Tishmor l’atsmecha.”
“Tishmor l’atsmecha,” I repeated. “I didn’t realize you could use the verb that way.” A grammatical clarification that says so much more.
Those final days when I wasn’t watching The Dragon Prince, I was watching the news. At the end of my visit, I wanted to feel like I could understand more words. Watching the news made me feel like I had lost ground.
“Why?” I asked my brother.
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Took me like three years to understand the news. Maybe because there’s no context.”
No context. Or not enough. He was right. They reporters used specific vocabulary. There weren’t the actions of characters who could guide my interpretation. The thing I understood most were the banners at the bottom. Murdered. Wounded. Strength. Task. Breathtaking or taking a breath.
Somehow, we have to hold it all in our hearts at the same time. We have to acknowledge the weight of the pain and loss, but open our eyes and hope and maybe forgive and love again. We have to give today’s children a chance to inherit a future filled with peace. To give them that we have to hold pain and love in our hearts at the same time.
I recalled all the Hebrew conversation classes when the topic was war. I had tuned it out. I didn’t want to learn the words. I didn’t think they were useful, at least not useful enough. I focused on those that centered my family only. Love was the reason I was learning Hebrew. I needed words about our life like ‘go to bed’ and ‘do you want to swing?’ Now, the other category of words were the smoke winding into my chest. A stench clinging to my skin.
Returning home all I can do is continue doing the things I do, except, I didn't. Not all of them. I avoided Hebrew conversation class for two weeks. I was afraid those would still be the only words hanging. The air thick, could only close in. Today I went back. Our teacher told us the thing to do was to continue. To learn. To work. There was a list of words in a classmate’s poem. Worry. Fear. Anger. And, a new word for fear. Not the fear of the present, but of what’s to come. We are all holding our breath.