Loitering Is For Runners–Up
From the time I knew my husband had accepted the fellowship, I felt restless. I sensed the winds of change following me wherever I went. Almost every day, I would wake up and my first thought was a question: what should I do? The nature of a question is to be answered, and when I failed to answer, more questions started to surface.
One question was why we were delaying the closing on a property we had looked at a while ago, when we visited our close friends in their new home in Binyamina, a town of 5,000 people in the Haifa District of Israel. Binyamina was founded in 1922 and named after Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild, who was a leading figure of the Zionist movement.
The Binyamina area is home to two of the largest wineries in Israel, and it is surrounded by vineyards and agricultural land. During the visit, we drove around and on the northeast side of Binyamina, we stumbled on a little paradise. It is called Moshav Aviel and is located in a pastoral valley, encircled by vineyards, groves, orchards, natural springs, and hiking and biking trails. The land was mostly dedicated to agriculture, but recently selected parcels were permitted a change of use from agricultural to residential and were offered for sale.
My husband and I fell in love with the small village that only had a population of 500 people. In the following months, we had gathered information about the area, the village, and the parcel’s purchasing provisions. We considered it a great investment opportunity. The only drawback was the village’s location in northern Israel, which made it far from both of our work places. However, my husband was due to complete his surgical residency within a year, and we couldn’t anticipate whether he would stay at the hospital in Jerusalem or would search for a position elsewhere at the end of his training. My position at the telecommunication company was secure, yet I wasn’t sure for how long I would want to hold it. Occasionally, specialized project managers like me choose to move on to a company that presents new challenges. We didn’t know if we would build our home on that lot and live there in the future, but at the time, we had felt we wanted to.
Although we had all the information that we needed, we continued to delay the closing. As the months went by, I felt more eager to make up my mind about something, anything. I just needed to come up with a solution. Four months after we received the news about the fellowship, I became increasingly uncomfortable with our indeterminacy.
On a bright sunny morning in May, on my way to work, I felt it. We had to move forward. I recalled my university mantra, the one that I repeatedly chanted to my study group during our examination and marking periods, “Things have a tendency to fall into place.” I had to believe that regardless of my decision about the fellowship, my husband and I would have a future together in a pastoral valley surrounded by fields and vineyards. I needed to feel confident that even if I chose to stay behind, our future together was guaranteed.
I called my husband. “Hey hon, we love the location of the village. We think it is a good investment, we hope that one day we will live there, so why are we holding back?” I asked bluntly.
“Let’s go for it,” he said.
I hung up the phone and turned on the radio. U2’s Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of was playing. I grinned, raised an imaginary glass, and toasted “Cheers for getting out of a moment.” It was 8 am and the news’ theme tune was playing. Lately, every time I heard the tune, I would tense, waiting to hear the stream of information.
2001 was one of the darkest times in the history of Israel. It was the midst of the second Palestinian uprising (Intifada) that commenced in September 2000. Terror attacks, kidnappings, and suicide bombings became routine. In Israel, you could not escape the news. It was everywhere. Radio stations broadcast news at the beginning of every hour, and leading television networks followed when an unusual event took place.
Israel is a tiny place with about seven million people who are living in an area smaller than Lake Michigan, and the possibility of becoming a member of the “grief family” was quite high. Since the beginning of 2001, sixteen major suicide attacks and bombing incidents struck the country, leaving behind sorrow, mourning, and destruction.
Every breaking-news broadcast gave me an anxiety attack, followed by the same ritual. The questions: What happened? Where? Who was it? Where is my son, husband, family? Where are my friends? Who else do I know that could have been there? Who do I call first? The communication system—the cellular network—collapsed, and no calls could go through, I could only page my husband and call landlines. The information –I was glued to whatever media was available. The TV, radio, web, or any other data that could shed light on what was happening.
On many days, I had a heavy feeling in my heart and feared something bad was about to happen. We limited our lives to the boundaries of home and work. It felt unsafe outside. Most of our weekends were homeward bound.
On a sunny weekend in May, my parents and my three siblings came over for lunch. In my early twenties, I had enjoyed cooking very much. I frequently invited friends and family over for festive feasts. These were full-course meals that included different kinds of foods, with different textures, tastes, and colors. After I started my career and had my son, I didn’t have much cooking time available, but now the situation in Israel forced me to stay at home more. I was happy to spend time in the kitchen. It felt like much-needed therapy, because it distracted me and alleviated the feeling of restlessness over the decision I needed to make.
I started cooking on Friday afternoon and continued on Saturday morning. The result was a delightful three-course meal that included Israeli cuisines that represented a melting pot of Middle Eastern dishes. We gathered at the small dining table, and my husband opened a bottle of Chardonnay from one of the many vineyards of northern Israel. We started our meal with deep fried red mullets that I served in a lightly spiced pickled lemon and sundried tomato sauce.
“So, how’s work?” my father asked, dipping a piece of Challah in the brown sauce.
“Good,” my husband and I answered simultaneously.
“I’ve been busy working with my development company on a new system module that can be set up to work with the document management system,” I added, speaking very fast.
“I didn’t understand a word you said,” my brother interjected. “Actually, maybe only ‘document,’ which I know, because I need to fill out dozens of them after every shift, especially these days.” My brother was an officer at the Israeli Police Special Patrol Unit that was dedicated to continuous security, riot and crowd control, and other special operations.
“I called you on Thursday, but you didn’t answer,” his twin brother, who was an officer at the Israeli Mounted Police Force, said. “I thought you were dead. We heard on the radio there was a huge operation in an Arab village east of Kfar Saba.”
“I almost died. You can’t believe what went on–”
“Boys, it’s a nice Saturday afternoon. You don’t really need to talk about that now,” my mother said firmly, getting up from the table and collecting the empty appetizer dishes, while my father played with my son, who was sitting with us in his high chair, and my younger brother placed platters of fried eggplant with fresh herb vinaigrette dressing and a roasted cauliflower with Tahini sauce at the center of the table.
For the main course, I served lemony artichoke hearts filled with ground beef and Portobello mushrooms, and sides of basmati rice with toasted pine nuts and caramelized onions, and baked string green beans with Campari tomatoes, garlic, and oregano.
“You are the best cook ever,” said my younger brother, and everyone nodded.
“What about New York? Have you made a decision?” my dad asked me.
“I’ve been so busy. I didn’t have much time to think about it.” At least part of that sentence was true.
“If I could, I would have left yesterday,” my special operations brother said. “Don’t you want to live in a normal place that is safe and you can go anywhere without being worried? A place where you can take your son to the playground without worrying. Somewhere with news about the weather and the opening of a new restaurant?”
“It’s not like she doesn’t have responsibilities here,” my younger brother answered for me. “She worked very hard to build her career, and now she needs to leave everything just because her husband was offered a fellowship. No offense, bro, but my sister is talented, and she shouldn’t give up everything she’s accomplished.”
“We’re cool, I understand.” My husband smiled. “She still has time to consider. My fellowship starts in July.”
“Besides, who would help you buy a car, or pick up Ohad from daycare at the last minute when you’re late from work?” my knight brother asked.
Israel is characterized by a close-knit culture which means you can always count on someone to come to the rescue. The week before, I was stuck in traffic, and I called my neighbor whom I hadn’t seen for two months and asked her to pick up my son from daycare. She was more than happy to help. In such a culture, the people around you, family or not, didn’t have to be your friends to care about you or help you.
“I’ll be fine,” I finally said. “I will not need a car in Manhattan, they have the subway, and I will find solutions, I guess. Maybe I’ll take a break from work.”
“You’ll never take a break from work. You’ve worked since you were twelve,” my brother insisted.
“What’s for dessert?” my mom said, trying to divert us from the subject.
“I thought you’d never ask.” I winked at her. “I made your favorite, Mom. A mascarpone cheese cake.”
Everyone got up and cleared the table while my mother and I stood at the kitchen sink and washed the dishes. “Mom, what do you think I should do?” I asked.
“Anything you want.”
“Yes, I know. But I’m asking you. Should I leave everything I’ve accomplished?”
“You are not leaving your accomplishments, those stay with you forever. You leave your career, your friends, your family, and your country. If you stay behind, you will leave your husband for a while. You need to decide what you can live with.”
We finished washing the dishes, brewed mint tea, sliced the cheesecake, and joined the rest of the family, who were having a loud political discussion about the different ways to fight terrorism.
A couple of weeks went by, and my husband was getting ready to leave for his fellowship, and I was still considering my options. Indecisiveness isn’t one of my intrinsic traits. Most of the time, I have an opinion or a clue about what to do in a given situation. Most of the times, fine—always, I have a backup Plan B or C ready to use in case Plan A doesn’t work out. The fact that I was unable to reach a decision, and was putting it off to the last minute made me believe this decision was different from any other decision I had ever made. I had a feeling the consequences of my actions would influence my future in a way that I couldn’t even imagine.
At the end of May, I had lunch during a work break with my manager. Dana was the Information Technology department director and had a phenomenal combination of non-confrontational yet non-compromising way of doing business. She almost always had a smile on her face, but she wasn’t laid back by any means, and she usually got what she wanted. She knew I was considering my options relating to my husband’s fellowship. I had told her that I had to choose whether to stay in Israel with my son and follow my career path, or leave for New York with my husband without knowing if I could find a job in my field. We waited for our courses to arrive, and I explained to her that I felt I was expected to freeze my life for two years.
“But you know what?” I asked, rubbing my napkin between my fingers, “Life wasn’t meant to be frozen—well, that is until Cryonics proves otherwise, but it is safe to say that picking up from exactly where I left off is impossible. The reality is that two years from now everything will be different. You will replace me, and my team and colleagues will evolve and move on. Maybe some of my friends will move on too.”
“Do you want to pick up where you left off?” she asked with curiosity.
“Yes, because I would leave behind so many things that I love. I am afraid these things will change during my absence, and I will be lost upon my return,” I confessed.
“I understand, but no one can pause time. Things will change whether you leave or not.” Dana observed reasonably while the waiter placed the plates on the table.
After lunch, we returned to work, and I wondered about the model of time. From the dawn of humanity, the concept of time has been a subject of study in science, philosophy, and religion, but it has always retained an element of mystery. However, my impression was that in this century, time had lost its mojo. We truly believe we have triumphed over time. We learned how to manage time, be ahead of time, kill time, have freed-up time, race against time, borrow time, and press time. The awakening from the illusion time is under our control could be agonizing, and frankly unnecessary, if we would only humbly respect time.
I had a choice. I could break up my family by having my husband travel for a two-year fellowship alone, or my son and I could join him, but this would come with an expensive price tag. I thought that the highest price I was about to pay was in terms of my career, which in many ways defined my identity. I was a wife and a mother, and most people would consider this sufficient, but I’d already tasted the forbidden fruit. I had a career, and I was good at it.
A few days later, on June 1, 2001, a Friday night, we were watching television when a breaking news banner appeared on the screen. A suicide bomber had exploded himself in Tel Aviv’s coastline Dolphinarium dancing club. The next day, we learned the extent of the horror. Twenty-one Israeli teenagers, most of them high school students, and four adults were killed and 122 were injured. The following week was heartrending. I watched funeral after funeral of young lives pointlessly taken. Thousands of high school students escorted their friends to eternal rest, and families were left broken forever.
My husband and I were in the final steps of closing the purchase of the lot in the village. I was responsible for the paperwork needed for submission. During the sad week that followed the latest suicide bombing, I had juggled work, endless closing documents, bank and attorney meetings, and a doctor’s appointment for my son who wasn’t feeling well.
Finally, the week had come to an end. My husband returned home after a thirty-six-hour shift at the hospital; I hugged him for a long time, looked into his tired eyes, and whispered, “I’m in.”