Look what’s blooming in winter!

Tuesday, 1/30, 12:23 pm

911 open line. When phone picked up, child said, “I love you.” Now quiet. Mother came onto phone stating accidental dial from her son. Confirmed misdial.

The above appeared in the Police Log of last week’s edition of my local paper, The Montague Reporter. If you think this is typical to our small New England town, you’re mistaken. The other posts are about hoodie-wearing males looking suspicious, neighbors banging on the walls and threatening violence, drug drops, shoplifting, deer-car interactions (the deer always lose), etc. You’d be surprised how much violence occurs in small towns.

So I was struck by what took place at 12:23 pm on January 30. I was glad for the police’s sake. They often get angry and abusive calls. They have to make snap judgments about what to do. They also get lots of crank calls occupying the emergency lines, to the detriment of all of us. But not this time.

“I love you.” Whoever took the call probably smiled, even laughed, noted it down. And the conclusion (conclusions follow all police logs)? Confirmed misdial.

Sometimes things seem to fly apart so badly you can’t imagine they’d ever cohered, or that they’ll ever cohere again. Such is the situation in the Middle East right now, where so many shake their heads as if to say, it’s all over. Nevermore peace, nevermore friendship. Gone, gone, gone beyond, so to speak.

Anyone who says differently, who even says that nothing lasts forever and that this, too, will change, is often seen as hopelessly idiotic. The result is that the very people we need to hear from now, the ones that urge us not to give up on our hopes and ideals, are mute. They’re looked down on and reviled. Anything that smacks of peace or love is a confirmed misdial—to say the least.

This is the time when behemoths rise out of the waves, expelling smoke and fire, gleefully announcing the end of co-existence, the end of peace, the end of mutual abiding, and that our survival doesn’t depend on everyone’s survival, but rather on how to pre-empt war, devastation, mass killings, rape, and torture by doing this, or at least some of this, to others.

For me, it’s not a matter of having hope, it’s trusting the reality of the One Body and supporting that faith and trust in others. I don’t minimize horror and suffering, only simultaneously pay attention to how infinite beings interact with and support my life.

And if that life is endangered? If panic and fear arise? That will be the question. That will be the practice.

I remembered something I may have reported on a long time ago. In 1979 my brother invited my sister and me to stay with him in the West Bank over the Sabbath. I went there Friday afternoon and returned by bus on Saturday evening. At that time there were no roads circumventing Palestinian villages or towns as there are now, and the bus went through Bethlehem on its way to Jerusalem (access to Bethlehem is now only through checkpoints). In Bethlehem, the bus came to a stop.

“What’s going on?” We were told that an electric wire had fallen across the narrow road, one lane in each direction, and no one wished to be the first vehicle to cross it.

Both Palestinian and Israeli cars and buses came to a stop, and all around you could hear the same words in both Hebrew and Arabic: “It’s dangerous, we’re not driving across it.” “Too risky.” “You want to drive across? You do it, not me.” The lines of stopped vehicles in both directions got longer and longer.

Finally, someone said: “This can’t go on forever, I’m driving over it.”

Now the arguments went the other way. The Israelis said: “We’re going first.” The Palestinians said, “No, we’re going first.” The Israelis said: “Come on, we’re not afraid.” The Palestinians said, “You think we’re afraid? This is Bethlehem, our town, we’re going first.” If before the argument was over who will not drive over the electric wire, now the argument became who would be the first to drive over it.

Finally, an Israeli army jeep arrived, drove over the electric wire, and everyone followed.

That night, almost 45 years ago, the two groups squabbled like siblings daring each other to be cautious (“You first!” “No, you first!”), then brave (“I’m going first!” “No, I’m going first!)” There were jokes and lots of laughter, and enterprising Bethlehem residents who started selling juice and ice cream to the stalled passengers.

Thinking of the pain in the Middle East, I feel sure that it hurts so much not just because of the hate and horrific violence, but because, on some deep level, Palestinians and Israelis are brothers and sisters. They share Middle Eastern genes, they arose from the land. Israel is not in Western Europe, not even part of southern Europe with its Mediterranean beaches. It’s part of the Middle East, which is a whole other kettle of fish; it’s what I love about it.

That Saturday night in Bethlehem, it all seemed possible. Someone would finally drive over the wire, we’d laugh about it, buy pita and fresh pomegranate juice, trade barbs in Hebrew and Arabic, and go on our way.

Since then, they built roads and tunnels that circumvent Arab towns and villages, taking you to Israeli settlements directly from Jerusalem. You can’t hang out anymore, can’t buy fruits at a fraction of what you pay in Jerusalem. Confirmed misdial.

But not always. And certainly, not forever.

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