Photos and story on page by Jaime Conlan
The Jets fly by in pairs. Every noise puts us on edge. A door slams on accident. A motorcycle skids across the road. And even in the silence, I feel like I can still hear the sirens.
I wonder about the odds. The first time in five years that a missile makes it to Tel Aviv and the first time I'm ever in Israel I'm here for it. Our paths cross. I told everyone today I love these things: casual moments you never could have expected that become life changing. You meet people. You see things. Things change.
They change for everyone, not just me, and I find myself repulsed by making this about me. I want to stop crying. I want to start acting. I cried when Trump got elected and it had no effect on my life. I cry now when this also has barely any effect on my life. It's not about me, it's about the people that live every day against the odds.
I think about strong words. Retaliation, mostly, that's a strong word. It's all I see on the tweets from uninformed sources. Retaliation just makes me think of hurting innocent people.
Another jet flies by. I rewind. Everything replays as my brain processes something that is so novel for me yet so ordinary for everyone else. Fear tastes like normalcy to those accustomed to this world. This world of music and film and beauty, but still, missiles.
I sit here on the balcony and wait for the hours to force me to sleep, waiting for something to force me out of this, too tired to change anything on my own. I wonder who else has sat here wondering about missiles and late nights and girls singing, replaying my roommate’s voice as she sang on the balcony after it happened, an attempt at self-soothing in strange lullabies.
There are some people down below on the sidewalk, and their drunkenness coats their laughter like a soft drizzle. Their laughter sings to me. It reminds me of her singing. She sings to the empty balcony as the rest of us disperse into our own silos of bad coping mechanisms.
There’s cigarette smoke from the balcony a few doors down. It feels like sensory overload in a vacuum. The smell of the smoke. The sound of her singing. The sweat on my palms. The missile that keeps replaying on the TV, but only for 60-seconds on CNN. Not enough to merit a longer segment.
A few days later will be different, but I don’t know that then. A few days later I’ll be sitting at a bar divulging my deepest fears to people I met six days ago. We’ll be sitting with an Israeli filmmaker, and he’ll say, “How were the missiles?” We’ll shrug and I’ll awkwardly look down at my feet, embarrassed by my bout of tears from the time the sirens went off and she prayed over me and I debated escaping into the ocean. A missile-threat mermaid, I could be.
He’ll smile at our shrugs. “This is war: When your ex-girlfriend texts you the day after the missiles and asks, ‘Are you okay?’ followed by, “Would you have reached out to me to ask me if I was okay if I hadn’t asked you first?’”
He’ll laugh then. “War is seeing all of your neighbors in your pajamas. Every serious war movie ever made was made by someone who has never seen war. War is funny.”
He turns away and conversation resumes in the absence, but my mind lingers on what he says.
The me from a few nights ago crying on the balcony all night long could never see this possibility. The me looking back on this now and the other tragedies that followed since – in Israel, in Syria, across the world – still wrestles with this concept.
How do you seek the humor and light in a world that seems so torn up from the outside? I still can’t figure it out, such a far off idea I couldn’t reach it in a million light years, and yet Israel teaches me. The reality. The reality is pain and fear, but it is also daily light.
It is the music. It is the beaches. It is all of the films and the books.
The beauty of it really is simple. It’s waking up the next day. Humans tend to overcomplicate things. Sometimes you don’t need a solution, you just need to go to bed and try again.
The next day was beauty all over again. Beauty with perhaps more depth, lined with this new realization that I’m alive, so is everyone else, and life can be okay. Life can be the beauty of the Sea of Galilee.
Life is crying in a church by the Sea of Galilee, an unreligious girl still finding myself in a pew with my eyes closed and crying. I cried because it was beautiful, the kind of overwhelming beauty that fills you up so much it inevitably comes spilling out in tears. I was surrounded by a sea so cerulean blue the brightness of it still lights up the back of my eyelids. The flowers bloomed around us, and it’s one of the most peaceful moments of my life.
What are the odds I have the most peaceful moment of my life the day after sleeplessness and missiles? Perhaps more common than I initially thought. I’m learning life is also about patience in that way.
I look around at the faces of everyone on this trip, grateful for each one, surprised at how a group of us from across the U.S. could find ourselves here in this happenstance, together.
Each of them means something different to me, occupying a very particular space in my life. Each of them with their music or their craft or their charisma, creative gifts augmented by this incredible place.
Magic and laughter abound. These are the people who pray over me during crises, who talk about notating my life to compose it, who wander around with me on small photography adventures where we run and snap pictures and smile with the fun of it all.
I find their presence helps me learn more, learn to come into myself and the present. Our uncontrollable laughter at the dinner table starts to bind us more, and I feel myself giving in, letting loose.
So much of this trip was about giving in to a moment I could have never conceived of before, even with all of my imagination and desire to manifest wild dreams.
This trip was about skipping a line at a church, not knowing where we were going, and suddenly finding ourselves in one of the smallest and most beautiful rooms, and then there’s a tomb. Jesus’s tomb. They give you 15 seconds, and no matter how hard you try to take it all in - you can’t.
That was the trip. Trying your hardest to take it all in, but everything is so overwhelmingly light and beautiful that you can’t grasp on to it, you just have to let it pass through you and be grateful for every second of it as it comes and as it goes.
It was also about rediscovering an emotional rawness and connection previously lost. It was approaching the Western Wall, palms sweaty and heart beating fast, surrounded by the echoes of prayers in too many languages to count, a symphony none of us could have dreamed of composing. The moment my hand met the wall, I felt a shift, and tears bubbled out of me. It was the feeling of dipping your hand into clear water on a summer day, a shift, the beginning of something, a submersion into feeling.
Of course it wasn’t all emotional impact and missiles and exploring new sights. It was humor and Pika-Jew shirts in the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s waiting outside of JFC (the knock-off KFC) to make content even out of fast food restaurants. It’s the special kind of mood everyone engages with when we’re all jetlagged in a dark room at an incredible international TV conference.
The trip to israel was all about a connection. A string that binds us all together, to each other, to the beautiful nature around us, to the works we all try to create - a song played out into the darkness.
The connections with Israeli film students, who are creating some of the most beautiful, innovative works, still shock me as I replay their films in my head. We connected with so much creativity, I had forgotten what it felt like to feel like you’re finding something new, to feel like you’re actually living.