The Eversource electric people who worked all Friday night to restore power to our stricken street by Saturday morning, putting up new wires on new utility poles, left some old wires down on the ground, mostly on the side of the road, though in two places they crossed the road. I figured they’d be back removing the old wires soon, but not everybody knew that.
Later that morning I walked Aussie in the woods. Coming out, I saw a Federal Express truck shoot up the road and come to an abrupt stop.
“It’s okay to drive over them,” I shouted to him, “they’re dead.”
He tipped his hat and continued to drive, and soon I remembered a scene from the past.
It’s 1979 and my brother just got married in Israel. He lives temporarily on the West Bank and asks me to come spend a weekend with him and his bride, which I do. That weekend, unexpectedly, it snows. Snow in Israel isn’t what we call snow here—1-2 inches are usually all that fall—but it’s sufficient to paralyze the country.
On Sunday morning I take a bus from my brother’s home back to Jerusalem. The driver drives carefully across the snowy roads, reaches the outskirts of Bethlehem with no problem, and comes to a full stop. Cars have stopped ahead of us, and it doesn’t take long to find out why. An electric wire has fallen across the road (2 lanes, one lane in each direction) and no one wants to drive across it.
We wait and wait, and more and more cars and trucks come to a stop in both directions of the road. Soon you hear shouts in Arabic and Hebrew.
“What happened? Why aren’t we driving on?”
“There’s an electric wire on the road.”
“Ya Allah,” they say , or some variation thereof.
These drivers, Jews and Arabs, ordinarily don’t talk to each other and at times have fought one another. But all are now stuck on the road together, and soon the banter starts.
“You want to drive—drive! What’s keeping you?”
“What’s keeping you? You’re afraid?”
“Naah, but I have some people in the back seat, otherwise I wouldn’t hesitate.”
On and on it goes while kilometers of vehicles line up on the road. Finally, an Israeli military jeep arrives.
“What’s the problem?” demands the soldier.
“Electric wire on the ground,” an Arab taxi driver tells him.
The soldiers talk among themselves, then say, “Okay, we’ll drive across and you can all follow.”
The Arab taxi driver grows indignant. “What do you mean, you’ll drive across? I’m in front of you, I’m driving across first!”
“What’s the problem?” another Arab driver asks.
“They want to go across the wire first,” the taxi driver tells him in Arabic. He turns to the soldiers and says in Hebrew, “You think we’re afraid?”
The soldier shrugs.
“I’ll show you who goes first!” says the taxi driver. He gets into his car and begins to inch forward towards the electric wire.
“Hold on a minute!” yells the soldier. “We said we’re going across first.”
“I got here before you. You follow me!” yells the taxi driver.
“Majnoon! This is crazy, we’re the army, we’re going across first.”
Eventually the jeep rolls across the wire, nobody dies, everybody breathes a sigh of relief and follows, and long caravans of vehicles continue on their way.
People who ostensibly are enemies, who fight and even kill each other, are suddenly faced with a common challenge—an electric wire on the ground that could be deadly. They forget their enmity, share cigarettes and thermoses of coffee, strategize about what to do. And when the military jeep arrives, each volunteers to be the first to go across. They practically competed with each other as to who should sacrifice himself for the others. At the end they drive away, to resume their usual enmity: Occupiers! Terrorists!
I thought about our country. Most polls show that there’s a broad consensus among Americans about the need to address certain things: the destruction of species (including or own) due to climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and financial implications for people and businesses, the increasing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, the need for affordable medical care and insurance, and safeguarding women’s rights for abortion (yes, even that). Poll after poll has shown that there is a healthy majority backing these issues. There’s disagreement about the details, but there is agreement on the need to do something about them.
You’d never know that from reading or watching our media, which emphasizes rivalry, bitterness, contempt, hate, and tells us we’re a nation torn at the seams.
What will it take for folks to start talking to each other, strategize, negotiate, share food and blankets, recognize that we’re all in this together and that we have to get on with it? There will always be fringe groups threatening that cohesion and making a lot of noise, but seriously, there are not that many of them. What utility pole has to fall, what dangerous wire has to stretch across the road, stopping us in our tracks?
Why do we let the media convince us that we’re a broken nation? Why follow leaders who sternly tell us never, but never, to compromise about anything? And what are we each doing to support calumny, hate, and contempt for “the other side?” How many of us dedicate time in the day to making snide remarks on social media?
I appreciate and respect Trump’s and Kushner‘s work o negotiate diplomatic relations between Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. I get that the President wanted a big rating push out of this, and worse, that Palestinians’ needs were not addressed, but overall this is an important step towards peace in a region that’s been ravaged by war for many, many years. How many have been ready to give Trump credit for this?
I follow The Washington Post and make a point of reading the columns of Gary Abernathy, Marc Thiessen and Hugh Hewitt, who represent “the other side.” Sometimes I make a face while reading them, sometimes I stop halfway down the column, but I need to know what folks are thinking outside of New England. I need to know what I’m missing.
We can do this now, or we can wait for a snowstorm—or planetary fires that will dwarf anything we’ve seen to date, or another, more terrible pandemic—to finally get us to work things out together. I say: Why wait?