I spoke with a friend, a Palestinian peace activist living in the West Bank. His daughter attends an international school in Israel, comprising Israeli, Palestinian, and international students. When the Middle East war began, the internationals and Israelis returned home; the Palestinians had more trouble due to locked checkpoints.
Finally, the school re-opened and students came back. That’s when a post appeared on Instagram accusing the school of harboring children of terrorists.
To call my friend, who’s done extensive peace work for 30 years, a terrorist is ludicrous. To call his work partner, who also sends a child to that school, a terrorist is comical. But the post garnered some 5,000 comments, each more violent than the other: Close up the school. Cancel its certification. Burn the terrorist children. Torch them and the school.
He called the school and was reassured by them that his daughter is not in danger and that they will take care of things. The person who wrote the post wasn’t a student or staff member. He was ignorant, my friend said, but what about all the rage that came up in the thousands of comments?
People walk around with so much fear, he told me, both here, where he lives, and in Israel.
And when we’re afraid, anger is where many of us go.
A week ago, I received a terrific body treatment from Kendra Renzoni, whose classes in Foundation Training I greatly benefit from. I walked out of her studio in the most relaxed, calmest of bodies and spirits, when four footsteps later my cellphone rang.
“I don’t know if you had a chance to see the announcement we got,” my sister tells me.
“I had the phone off,” I tell her.
She relates that our nephew, serving in Gaza, and his unit were staying inside a house when a missile hit the house and some of the soldiers were wounded. He wasn’t. They took the others to the hospital while his own military service in Gaza is being extended at the very time that he was scheduled to go home.
She lost me after the first sentence. The body treatment, with the relaxed joints and muscles, was gone. Instantly, things got super tight. Neck and shoulders stiffened as I walked to the car against an icy wind.
That beautiful boy almost got hurt! It wasn’t even a conscious thought; in fact, there were no conscious thoughts, just a darkness that dropped over me like my bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night, when I can’t see anything. I sensed it, felt it—and got angry.
Why angry? Because in my case, a whole assortment of feelings—grief, sadness, fear, misery, distress—often turn into anger. It’s an old conditioning of mine and I’ve had plenty of experience with it.
I was grateful for my practice. It hadn’t stopped the anxiety and anger, but it gave me just enough space to see what was happening, just enough distance to marvel at how easily I could still lose my bearings and evenness. How easily my mind can still get swallowed up by blind fury—not at anyone or anything in particular, not even at the Hamas fighters that fired the missile, no, not at anything or anyone, just the world. Rage at life.
And for however much time that lasted—two hours, maybe—I felt I had a glimpse of how others feel, not just in the Middle East but also here. What might cause someone to kill others and then himself, as so often happens in this country. Grief, disappointment, and pain can change into anger in an instant—at an ex-wife, at parents, at parents-in-law, neighbors, old friends, even strangers—and you start shooting, and finally end up shooting yourself. Because finally, who are you most angry at?
It’s my nephew, I thought. It’s not the army. It’s not the people in Gaza. It’s my nephew.
Snow has begun again here. I will work and sit this evening. And then, before finally going upstairs to bed, will open the front door and peer out at the cold and dark, as I usually do.
Only this darkness isn’t like what I felt last week, it doesn’t promise destruction. It’s the darkness of the universe that contains both the Big Bang, giving birth to every single thing, from grains of sand to entire galaxies, and the cataclysmic black holes and conflagrations that devour entire star systems.
There won’t be stars out tonight lighting my way, but that won’t disturb this earth that will continue on its lonely orbit both around the sun and the center of the Milky Way, carrying its magical kingdom of oaks, traffic lights, Aussies, black sand beaches, white foam on top of waves, and flocks of birds. Even illegal chihuahuas.
What are the odds of my being here, alive?
Why can’t I just be grateful?