I sit on the sofa a foot away from my mother’s hospital bed. We put the bed in the living room so that she could look out the window at the trees she loved, the clouds hurrying across the sky, wine glasses behind a cabinet in the corner, perhaps sense the activity around her. She’s on a starting, low dose of fentanyl, an opioid. Her face and eyes are not as strained and opaque as before, in fact they’re clearer than I’ve seen them this visit. At the same time, I don’t know how much she sees and hears. Her right side continues to be paralyzed and her swallowing ability minimal.
My brother is happy about her increasing awareness; I’m not sure. The greater the awareness, the more she’s conscious of her infirmity, her paralysis, her inability to speak or to even turn her body.
Life outside goes on. Today is Israel’s Independence Day. Yesterday was its Memorial Day, when fallen soldiers were mourned, and some five days earlier was its Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the last two, sirens sound across the country and people, cars, and buses come to a halt. I was in the hospital with her when the siren sounded for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I stood and looked out the window at the cars stopping on roads and highways. Yesterday Ruth and I were in a café when everyone came up on their feet, orders and talk suspended. Then the siren ended.
Politics here are very partisan; at the same time, there’s a consensus around grief and mourning that breaks through competing visions and ideology. I miss these manifestations of what joins us. In the US, we use Memorial Day to take advantage of shopping sales rather than coming together around memories and stories of soldiers, from all states, ethnicities and cultures, who gave up their lives.
A joint memorial service also took place for both Israelis and Palestinians who died in the wars fought here. Today, Israel’s Independence Day, is also the Naqba Day for Palestinians, the day of catastrophe when so many lost their homes. Relatively few people attend that service; I wish I’d been there. How do you hold grief for both sides of a war? How do you hold grief for all sides, including nonhuman species destroyed through bombs and artillery?
Is there any gain not countered by loss? In the long run, what do those words even mean?
This morning I walked with my brother on the Jerusalem Promenade, which overlooks from afar the Old City and Arab neighborhoods. Helicopters flew above us in formation, part of the military celebration. In the grassy slope below us families were setting up their enclaves, younger people wrapping themselves up in Israeli flags, pointing towards the helicopters and raising their fists in the air. Tiny flags were attached to the ears of a dog walking with its humans, a religious couple (above).
I told my brother that I like flags, just not when they’re wrapped all around a person, enveloping neck, arms, legs, heart, and most of the head, leaving almost nothing outside.
Soon the barbecues started. Naf-naf they’re called, referring to the waving motion people make over the barbecue. Lots of meat and chicken, onions, peppers and tomatoes on skewers; later, fireworks.
During the Greyston years, Bernie often said that you have to include as many sides as possible in your work. He was proud that the Greyston board included both prominent Republicans and Democrats, grassroots activists and bankers. The ones you leave behind, he warned, will sabotage what you do.
In our Reflection on the Zen Peacemaker Order Rule, we “invite all hungry spirits into the mandala of my practice.” It’s a very practical approach because whoever you exclude will, sooner or later, work against you because they are not being cared for.
The more jubilation I see around me, the triumphant military jets and the nationalistic songs, the more I feel a deep shudder that a reckoning’s coming. You can’t just take care of one side to the conflict, you have to take care of the other, too, and of all sides, otherwise the ignored parts of the whole will come back at you with a vengeance.
I follow the Roe vs. Wade outcry back home. Of course, we’ve known that women’s right to abortions has long been in danger, especially since Donald Trump’s appointment of three new Supreme Court judges.
This morning I recalled visiting with a close friend of mine some 40 years ago. I was on my way to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and she, living close by, invited me for an early dinner. The topic of abortion came up. While we both celebrated Roe vs. Wade, I had more ambivalence. There was, after all, the question of the life of the fetus.
The volume of talk inched up. She, a mother and grandmother, felt that motherhood was overrated, a tool cynically used by men and religion to control women. I felt it wasn’t right for government funds to be used to finance poor women’s abortions, those should be paid for in other ways rather than demanding that all Americans, regardless of their deep feelings and beliefs about those conceived but not yet born, should support abortion through taxes. She was virulently against any bending of Roe v. Wade, any compromise of any sort, and it all ended with her telling me to leave her home.
I also missed Act 1 of the opera.
How many of us took a breath of relief after Roe v. Wade, including all the attendant financial legislation covering people who couldn’t pay for abortion, and decided it was a finished deal? That if there were many others who felt deeply against it, too bad on them, they’ll come around? Only they didn’t come around, they fought and fought, and now may be on the verge of a win. And if history is an example, they, too, will then shake their hands in triumph, look to make even more gains, and not bother with the rest of us.
How do I invite all hungry spirits into my practice, including—and especially—those I disagree with? How do I stop my soul from becoming an echo chamber of similar opinions and viewpoints, singing loudly together in one, big, self-congratulatory chorus?
The weeds of war in the Middle East continue to sprout, receiving nutrients from words like victory and defeat, from blessing God for defeating enemies. And back in the US, the question for me isn’t just what will be the Court’s final decision. Will we rage and cry, or will we finally open our homes and start talking to each other?
I spend the afternoon sitting with my mother. When Menachem Begin agreed to give up the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace with Egypt, she was so busy posting up placards against the deal, demanding Israel keep every inch of land it had conquered, that she was jailed overnight by the police. And proud of it! she exulted.
I get up to turn her body to the other side.
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