She lies there, an NG tube still connected to her nose, IV for hydration and medicines, plus oxygen. I keep an eye on her to make sure that with her left functioning hand she doesn’t remove the tube, but right now she’s deeply—what?
“Is she asleep?” I ask Dr. Anat, a young doctor who’s 7 months pregnant with her fourth child.
She makes a face. “Ye-es,” she says, “but when you fuss with her, touch her, fix things around her, she responds and then falls asleep again.”
“There’s consciousness and there’s awareness,” Dr. Bat-Sheva, the palliative physician told us yesterday when she pulled us into a conference room to discuss our mother, whom she called a complex case.
You’d think that a woman who’s almost 94, in dementia, after a severe stroke, would be considered more straightforward. To tell you the truth, I sometimes feel funny that, at age 72, I still have a living mother. My peers talk about losing spouses and siblings, while I talk about my mother.
She had me when she was 21-1/2. By then she’d gone through the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia and a crucial battle in Israel’s War of Independence in the very south, a kilometer from Gaza City. Historians credit that battle with how Israel managed to hold on to the Negev even as Egyptian forces, led by Gen. Abdul Nasser, Egypt’s future prime minister, attacked it with overwhelming force. The battle was won but the kibbutz was destroyed, and the people? Victory and defeat were the language of the day; I’m not sure that trauma had even been invented then.
My brother, sister, and I sit here waiting for the transfer from hospital to home hospice. She’s taken for a final CT scan before release, accompanied by my sister. The three of us finally—after decades of hard work—have our act together. My brother is the one who moves things along, two steps forward and one back, negotiating the bureaucracy of the Hospital Kingdom among doctors, palliative team, physiotherapists, insurance, and hospice. My sister stands back and listens more deeply, the better to reminds us of all the things we’ve forgotten and what’s falling between the cracks. And me? I finally ended the night vigils in favor of sleeping and now, in daytime, explicate to the family the differences between hospital and hospice to the best of my ability.
It’s midafternoon and I’m feeling something unusual and unfamiliar: Boredom. I’m bored while waiting for the lengthy transfer process to reach an end.
I haven’t been bored since the age of 8. Too busy to be bored, going from one thing to another, from meditating to writing to answering emails to dog walking to Zoom meetings to teaching, etc., etc. Who has time to be bored?
I look sideways at my brother peering into his computer, then to the window looking over southeast Jerusalem, then down to the floor. I’m not sleepy, neither am I meditating. I’m just bored. It’s wonderful.
On the Austrian Air flight from Vienna to Tel-Aviv (since I booked the flight at the last minute there was no room on direct US-Israel flights other than First Class, so I did three flights thru Europe), the plane was full of ultra-orthodox Jewish families. Across the aisle sat a family with 7 young children. The father wore a black suit with sideburns and beard, the mother, dressed heavily from head to toe, including both a wig and a hat on top of her head, held an infant on her lap. In the beginning there was a flap over who would sit near the window, but after that the other six children sat in their seats quietly.
At some point I looked up and saw a young girl, 8 or 9 years old, wearing a pink-and-white muslin dress with long sleeves and ribbons, watching me curiously. Was it my jeans and sweater, the computer on my lap? She looked away and proceeded to scrutinize the other passengers. I watched her. There was something familiar about the scene, but it took me a while to identify what it was. She and her siblings were something very rare: bored American children.
Other American children I see on planes and trains are never bored. Their parents bring iPads and iPhones to keep them entertained, the children’s heads always bowed over movies, games, and apps. The last time I flew, a mother flew with her one little boy (not seven) and kept the movie she was showing him loud on speaker for all our benefit. When someone complained, she looked up with a condescending smile and motioned towards her transfixed son, happily certain she was doing a great job and inviting us all into that circle of entertainment. Didn’t we want to be like her lucky little boy?
I’ve heard other parents say that on car trips they need to show children’s programs for hours at a time, otherwise their kids will be bored, and bored is not good. For this purpose, they also need a big SUV with all the accessories, including a nice-size screen.
The orthodox children I saw on the plane didn’t complain or badger their parents. They didn’t seem to expect constant stimulation and entertainment. They sat in their seats quietly and patiently, so bored that they took turns hailing their new infant sister. Boredom wasn’t good or bad, it was just boring. Not one of them seemed to think that they had to be the center of attention all the time, with everybody focusing on their wants and needs.
This afternoon I’m enjoying being bored for the first time in decades. I look out at the smoggy gray sky and try counting the small white solar installations on each building before giving up. A dove sits on the window bar outside enjoying her boredom, too.
I’m not tired, not dozing off, not meditating, just bored. Heaven.
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