When Almost Nothing Happened

For five days I’ve been out of contact. Yes, the cell phone rang a few times. And I talked to my daughter who shared a room with me. But I read no newspaper, saw no TV news, checked no email. Instead I gazed at “purple mountains majesty.” Looked up at enormous white pine, so tall I had to bend backwards to see their feathery tops. Morning mist clung to the mountains. A family of Canada geese climbed out of the lake and waddled across the grass.

In this yoga retreat center called Kripalu in western Massachusetts, I saw plenty of people at meals. But once I closed the door of my little cell, the quiet was profound. Almost nothing happened. Except in the novel I was writing. The books I was reading. In my dreams. 

Then we left. The drive to Logan Airport in Boston took four hours, the last in heavy rain. As my daughter drove, I chanted jump-rope rhymes–“Miss Mary Mack, Mark, Mary, all dressed in black, black, black,” or “Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went downstairs to see her fellow.” Almost no boys jump rope. Almost all jump-rope rhymes are about girly girls.

We tried singing show tunes, but the drive out had exhausted the charm of “the surrey with the fringe on top” and “I’m just a girl who cyan’t say no.” By the time we returned the rental car and found the empty check-in counter for Sun Country airlines, my intense inwardness of the past five days was eroding. I smiled at the young man who was making salads for the first time at Le Bon Pan. I studied an older daughter from India who pushed her baby sister sternly away from her mother. As the wait extended from an hour to 90 minutes to two hours, my alertness sagged. It was 6:30, 7, 7:30.

We began the long walk to the gate. I took the moving walkway, feeling more and more zombielike.  Slumping into a seat not far from the boarding gate, I noticed several TV screens suspended from the ceiling nearby. The screens were split into three — the anchor in the middle flanked by one or two commentators. All were talking about the bombing of civilians in Gaza in retaliation for the abduction and probable death of one Israeli soldier. This had evidently broken a brief cease fire and renewed hostilities. I hadn’t known there was a cease fire,

In my exhaustion, the reiteration of certain facts drilled into me: several thousand Gaza civilians killed in Israeli rocket fire over the past couple of days. Killed in homes and schools, in supposed safe areas. One Israeli soldier abducted and possibly dead against hundreds, thousands of civilians dead in Gaza. The numbers did not compute.

This extreme imbalance of suffering shocked me. I clenched my teeth. Every time the screen showed destruction in Gaza, I grew angrier. For the death of one combatant, Israel felt justified in what could only be called mass murder of innocent people.

Isn’t that exactly what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust of World War II? I asked myself with a flare for dramatizing the obvious. Not so easy to state even to myself was what this implied:
about Israel. Now, looking back after 24 hours, I recognize the enormity of Israel’s response. The death of one Israeli soldier prompted the bombing of thousands in retaliation. One Israeli, so precious, one Israeli death, such an enormity that it was almost impossible that enemy suffering could balance this death.

Was I witnessing arrogance? Or was it fear that without extreme retaliation, fury would rain down on Israel?  If an atrocity as my gut told me, would it go unnamed (our president’s response so bland as to be despicable) because many wealthy, powerful U.S. Jews hold key positions in commerce, government, and politics? It is possible that for the first time, CNN commentators were speaking out in disgust and outrage appropriate to an enormity, while U.S. officials said almost nothing? Did that silence make us, as individuals and a country, complicit? What was behind this pretense that almost nothing had happened?

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