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The Thickness of Life

The Passage of Time

  Part of the oldest house in Old Fairfax

 Part of the oldest house in Old Fairfax, Virginia

On Friday night I went (bearing leeks in lemon sauce) to a Shabbat dinner. There were at least 30 people around the hostess’ very wide and long table. I barely knew anyone when I got there, but I can’t say the same about when I left. (You have to love Meetup for these opportunities.) After the traditional prayers over the candles, the wine, and the challah, prayers were offered for the safekeeping of Israel’s soldiers and the people of Israel.

We were sorrowful and sincere, filled beyond the brim with decades and centuries of the pain of being Jewish. It is oppressive to always feel that history is tracking you down, calling you out for existing. But there was strength, too, in the commitment to finally defeat history.

My mother told me that she went to services at her synagogue on Friday night and the cantor, who was leading the services, offered up prayers for the safety of the people of Israel.

No prayers were said for the Palestinians who have died or those who are suffering and my sorrow/guilt for that rests heavily on me.

After dinner I talked for a little while with an Israeli man who had the distinct misfortune of reminding me of my ex-husband. Not in the way he looked (I wonder if my ex is balding?), but in the attitude: the arrogant explanations that transformed a discussion into a mini-lecture. The thing is, I first heard all of those it’s their fault and they just want our destruction analyses back in 1983 when my ex-husband was explaining Israeli history and policy to me. At a certain point, though, history becomes irrelevant because its repetition nullifies it, and all that matters is this moment and what you do with it—what you want to do with it and what you try to do with it. There are the philosophies that guide societies, but aren’t there, too, the comforts that people seek to create and live within?

Days ago conjoined twins were born and died in Gaza because they couldn’t get proper medical care. Their one heart was not strong enough to beat for two bodies. Are we the same: unable to share our hearts with the people who beat beside us?

This summer I decided that next summer I would go to Israel for a month to volunteer for a project that does intercommunal work. As I looked for groups, I found that there are many organizations and schools working toward understanding and coexistence between Jews and Arabs. I also found that when I told this to people, they were surprised that there was anything beyond the endless cycle of hatred and violence and retaliation and suffering and blaming that we see endlessly in the news.

There is the constant struggle between those unseen voices who just want to be left in peace and to make peace, and those who take up the air in any space and decide how the rest of us will breathe (and if we will breathe).

When I did my conflict studies I learned about outliers and how they ruin the steady pace of life for all of us. Outliers are extremists, those who won’t be placated and who push until their conditions are met, and if that doesn’t happen, they come out swinging. They are the big bullies who should be dealt with by being stripped of their bad boy bully stripes and left with only the nakedness of their desire to be at the center of the show. We need therapists, not diplomats.

Yes, yes, I understand that there is more than that to what is going on, but that pushes me past thoughts I can control. Perhaps facts are fireflies, while people are the solid earth. Can we stop swatting and begin tilling?

The interesting thing about living life past the halfway mark is to realize that things that seem to take forever, end up arriving at some point. At 40, I wondered if I should study for my master’s degree; it would, after all, take forever. But here I am, ten years after I completed it on the slow track. Funny how that happens. Funny, too, isn’t it, to resign to hopelessness when there is nothing as hopeless as being a defeatist.


On Saturday morning I went on a walk with another Meetup group. Part of the walk was through Old Town Fairfax. In front of the old courthouse (built in 1799 and used by both sides during the Civil War) is the spot where, during the Civil War, the first Confederate officer was killed (Capt. John Marr) on June 1, 1861. A stone monument in the middle of a well-tended lawn marks the spot. I have driven by that spot for years never knowing that it had ever been anything but a tranquil place.


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