I sat on my porch in the dark this morning, bundled up against the cold, listening to the wind in the trees. I didn’t want to be inside. I didn’t want to read the mundane emails and social media streams. I didn’t want to listen to the news, anymore. I didn’t want the comfort of a hot drink and a soft couch. I needed to feel the world as it is. I’ve been sick the last few days, which gave me an excuse to feel bad, as if I needed one. I feel better this morning, not only from the medicine, but also from sitting outside in the snow listening to the wind, looking at the stars, smelling the desert, shivering a bit, and decidedly – blissfully – uncomfortable. Still, it’s out there, beyond comprehension, beyond coming to terms, beyond moving on – twenty dead children. It hurts. Without knowing them or their families, without discounting the pain of countless other people around the world, without considering the circumstances, without any other context, the fact alone … hurts.
Half a lifetime away, I was a soldier. Not by choice; I didn’t have one. When I think of those years, they are reduced to moments and mental images: the Negev desert in the dry heat of summer; hot and humid nights in the Jordan Valley, in an empty base, guarding an ammunition bunker outside Jericho under the biggest yellow moon I had ever seen. There were drills and training sessions and border patrols and the occasional raid, but these seem to fade into a blur now. Instead, I remember the sun rising in perfect silence over distant silhouettes of mountains across the Jordanian border; large vultures gliding slowly into deep canyons; tantalizing vaporous apparitions shimmering above stark expanses on quiet summer afternoons. I remember being in Lebanon, watching smoke rising from burning houses in small villages, and butterflies fluttering among the barbed wire fences and over the minefields lining the border. I remember the breathtaking beauty of the Golan Heights in spring, adorned in fields of huge crimson irises and bright red anemones among the black basalt rocks; remnants of abandoned Syrian villages; old stone fences and small yellow signs warning of landmines and unexploded munitions. I try, and sometimes fail, not to recall patrolling refugee camps, sewage running down unpaved streets, prisoners shouting and spitting, women wailing at funeral processions, the thick dark silence of night curfews, the scents of gunpowder and diesel and mess halls, evacuating dead and wounded after a mortar attack, and children asking to borrow our rifles to pose for a hero shot. I also remember long hours hiking away from base into the desert, the fields and the canyons; and finding solace in solitude and the peaceful pace of the natural world. Without it, hopelessness would surely have gotten the better of me.
I loved listening to the now-gone Voice of Peace radio station. I can still recall their slogan: “from somewhere in the Mediterranean, we are the voice of peace,” often followed by a reading of Max Ehrman’s Desiderata and a few notes from the Eagles’ “I wish you peace.” The words – both the song and the poem – etched themselves into my young mind and stayed with me since, as my life took on turns and twists I could not begin to imagine then. I know today that my hopelessness then was misplaced, as it is today and at ay other time. There is still a lot of living to do.
We each deal with such matters in our own way, but, if I may offer any kind of advice, I suggest turning it all off – the media, the hype, the politics, the incessant pundits and marketers. Disconnect. Unplug. Find a place of peace to break down and to pull yourself back together in. Heal first, deal later.
I wish you peace.
About the Author (Author Profile)Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.
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