It has been both a challenging and interesting time in Israel this past week. I am traveling here with my 86 year old mother, fulfilling a lifelong dream of hers. As most dreams go it had a bit of magical thinking involved. I think she was imagining a "beam me up Scottie" experience with effortless travel spiriting her away to Israel in the body which supported her travels twenty years ago. Reality bites. There have been many moments when she longed to click her heels together and arrive back at her home instantaneously.
We began our trip with a battle over using a wheelchair, probably not uncommon with elders who are not ready to acknowledge their limitations. Suddenly what I knew would be a challenging trip became quite overwhelming as I contemplated moving her safely and quickly through O'Hare on her own steam. My sister gave me the advice to go with the flow. She lives closer by and sees my mom weekly so has had more practice dealing with such moments. So I let her do her thing. Dragging her small carry-on behind her as I managed the larger bags, she'd walk for a bit, then pause to catch her breath while looking to me woefully, managing to project both exhaustion and defiance. When I found a cart to load the bags on, I had her help push. I know she is particularly fond of shopping carts that she can grasp for balance, a walker by a less threatening name. By the end of that stretch she agreed that the airport was much bigger than she imagined and perhaps a wheelchair might be helpful.
I have been greatly impressed with the ease with which airlines initiate the wheelchair conversation. They seem to have a practiced eye for identifying who needs assistance. After that first day my mom began to welcome their offers of help.
As I expected, getting my mom out of her familiar setting was a bit confusing for her although that seems to have stabilized now that we are no longer changing hotels. I am doing my best to be her source of familiarity and to quell that first impatient impulse. Life is so much more difficult for her than it used to be and by and large she proceeds with good humor.
I realize that I've had the luxury of focus for much of my life. The ability to focus comes with quiet and the lack of distractions. I had not fully anticipated the fatigue that accompanies attending to someone else's needs and repeated questions while keeping them on schedule. My fellow travelers have been very kind to my mom and I appreciate that they reach out and literally lend a helping hand.
I end most evening too tired to write despite the fact that we have an excellent guide who tells us many interesting stories. But a few stories stay with me which I will share in these pages in abbreviated form.
For now a few general impressions... I have been struck with the closeness of borders. Now I know Israel is a small country surrounded by a number of unfriendly countries. It is one thing to know that, yet another to realize viscerally exactly how close those countries are and with that, the threat that always exists in the lives of Israelis. One day we drove ATVs along a barbed wire fence festooned with signs that indicated, Danger-Mines. I take my mom to some interesting places! On the other side of the minefield was Syria.Every decision Israel makes has security consequences, a fact that countries with physical security often fail to appreciate. One does not return territory without assessing the potential range of shelling. The return of Gaza has reinforced that awareness.
When we first entered Jerusalem we went to the Hebrew University at Mt Scopus for a Shehecheyanu blessing. There we learned that this world renowned university that began in 1925 with such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Martin Buber on its board (I am sure there is the potential for a great improv skit on their board meetings), had to close the Mt Scopus campus from 1948 until the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. The Hadassah Hospital at Mt Scopus was also closed during that time as Jordan forbid access. Ironically Haddassah Hospital serves all populations in Israel and Arabs make up 30% of its population. Now imagine a US university or hospital faced with such a circumstance.
One more story on a somewhat related theme. Our guide told us a personal story from during the 1967 war when she was a high school student. She and fellow students were required to dig temporary graves in Tel Aviv as they expected 20,000 deaths. Juxtapose that thought with the fact that her father was in the army and they hadn't seen him for a month. She and her mother made sandwiches for soldiers when the Army was having difficulty feeding the soldiers. For every sandwich they handed out they got a note in return saying "please call my wife, my mother, my family and tell them I'm all right". I think about how such experiences color one's perspective, what it must be like to live daily with an awareness of threat. And perhaps those of us who judge from the comfort of our well-protected nation are also prone to magical thinking, skipping over unpleasant facts and realities that conflict with our tidy solutions.