I am on my way to Israel to see my family, especially my elderly mother. It took two vaccines, a negative covid test result (another test will be taken at the airport in Tel-Aviv when I land), and special certification from the Israeli Government health department that I can enter.
Outside the air is hot and muggy, almost a New York summer at end of April. The only direct flights leave from Newark, NJ, and coming from New England, I was way overdressed.
There are few passengers at the airport and a lot of staff. Getting to the ticket counter or through security are joyrides. Stores are mostly empty or else closed. Assuming I land on time, I will have been masked for about 16 hours.
I am so, so lucky in my life. A fabulous housemate to look after Aussie, who didn’t bat an eye as I left. A good friend who took me into her house overnight and we talked and talked, not having seen each other for a year-and-a-half. Simple things: a small bottle of water at my side, a working laptop as I wait, masked people keeping distance, careful for my sake.
I will be glad to see my mother. I will also be glad to spend time with her live-in caregiver, Swapna, who left a husband, small daughter, parents, and brother in India to come to Israel to make more money in one month, she says, than she could make in India in a year. And even with holiday pay and medical insurance, she still makes a lower income than Israeli caregivers.
She hasn’t been back in a few years and I try to imagine how she feels reading and seeing pictures of the hundreds of thousands of infections and deaths, seeing footage of massive body burnings and hospitals without beds, ventilators and even oxygen. That doesn’t just affect covid patients, but also people with other illnesses. I think of a good friend who right now needs oxygen just to take some steps. What would he do without oxygen?
What would we all do?
Swapna is a religious Hindu, won’t touch meat or fish, and I’m told starts the mornings with prostrations even after a night when my mother has kept her up. She relies on this to make sense out of the chaos the world is living through. She has been vaccinated, but she can’t get back to India because no one’s flying in. All she can do is seek reassurance on her daily check-ins with her family.
I want to talk to her, look into her eyes. I want to find some way to connect.
The day I drove down to New York I had a short visit with my eye doctor, and as traffic slowed down to cross our narrow bridge I saw a man in his 50s or 60s on the walkway. He wore a decoration indicating he was a veteran. He pushed a shopping cart carrying his belongings, and leaned into it as if it was a walker. On both sides of the cart was an American flag held up on a stick and fluttering in the wind.
I, an American in a white woman’s body, feels so cared for, so treasured. A young woman from the Dominican Republic picked up my luggage and put it into a van as I arrived in the parking lot, took it out at the airport, and bid me a good and safe trip. A Japanese man looked over all my certificates at the ticket counter, making sure I had everything I needed. He kindly registered my passport, and a security agent actually held out his hand for me to hang on to as I put my shoes back on after going through security. I hesitated at that, then smiled and told him I had a very recent negative covid test result.
Who is this movie star who gets such good care even as others get sick and die? Who is this VIP?
If you can take off a mask to eat and drink, can’t you momentarily take it off to show a big smile? Who will see your dimples? Who will read the gratitude in your parted lips?
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