Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Knock on the Door

This postcard from Israel was originally written on 9 May 2005.

I have known for years about Yom Ha'Zikaron (Memorial Day). I've observed this occasion ten times since moving to Israel, and participated in ceremonies in America for years before that. I've even written about it before (see the archives). But I didn't really know anything about Yom Ha'Zikaron until I met Reut.

I say "met" though I've only known Reut through e-mails, even though she lives here in Israel. I first got to know her last year, when she began writing to me after discoving my website. As we got acquainted with one another, she shared some of her life with me, and some of her poetry. Here is one example, written in 2004:

it's memorial day soon.
go tell them, that after 5.5 years
the tears stay inside most of the time
and i don't cry from every sad song on the radio.
after 5.5 years, life went on without you
and other things bother me too, not only your death.
after 5.5 years, your image in my mind is so unclear
and i can't remember your voice at all
but the memory of you is so real.
after 5.5 years, you are not the last thing i think of before i fall asleep
and you are not the first thing i think of when i wake up.
after 5.5 years, the pain is a little different
and so is the sadness...
after 5.5 years without u.
go tell them - that time does its thing
the time makes your picture unclear, it keeps you further and further from me.
the time goes on without mercy
time makes it possible for me to go on with my life
the time makes the yearning get stronger and stronger.
but time doesn't do one thing - time doesn't heal.

Reut's older brother was killed in Lebanon in October of 1998. When she first introduced herself to me, she was a vibrant 17 year old; preoccupied with doing well on her matriculation exams, graduating from high school, and going into the army. But every e-mail from her, even the ones where she talked about her upcoming graduation party or her hopes for the future, bore at least a hint of sadness, and beneath that a pain so deep it had sunk into her bones. Here is another of her poems (note: achot shakula means bereaved sister):

I am achot shakula.
But first, I am a million other things
I'm the one with the long hair and dimples
I'm the one who laughs from every joke even if it's not funny
I'm the one who hates to study,
But wants to get good grades.

I am achot shakula.
But first, I am a million other things
I'm the one who loves to sing and dance
I'm the one who puts the music on full volume in the car
I'm the one who's graduating now.

I am achot shakula.
But first, I am a million other things
Why then, on memorial day,
Suddenly I am different
Suddenly they don't know what to say and how to look at me
Suddenly it's hard to be around me
and they don't see all the other things
Only one thing -
Achot Shakula.

Reut entered the army last fall, and for awhile we lost contact. That's the way it goes sometimes in cyberspace, but I was especially sorry to have lost touch with her. I learned a great deal from her, and I knew I could have learned alot more. We have recently started corresponding again, which means a great deal to me.

I have often thought about the phenomenon Reut describes in the poem Achot Shakula. I think one reason people don't know how to treat the members of bereaved families such as Reut's is that they may feel guilty that they have not suffered such a loss. On top of that, they are frightened that such a fate may yet befall their family. I can certainly understand that: I already fear for my nephews in Jerusalem, and the youngsters I know close to home, even though none of them are even in high school yet.

I'll confess, I'm glad I'm not the mother of sons. With all the things I have to worry about (a goodly number of which are the same kinds of things everyone in the world worries about), that at least is one thing I don't have to face. And yet... Every time an Israeli soldier is killed, to one extent or another it touches us all. As Reut once put it, "Each one has a story / Each one had a life. / Yesterday they were still anonymous / Today they're in every house. / Each one was a whole world, / A world that is now gone. After their families get the knock on the door, / We will know too, / We will get to know them / Through the pictures on the news."

This year, Yom Ha'Zikaron will be different for me. This year, I will be thinking of Reut, and her fallen brother Yoav, who is forever nineteen. This year, I will be thinking of all the other young soldiers who have fallen. And I will know what I did not realize before: each one of them was a whole world that is now gone.

(c)Amy Samin

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