These last few weeks have given me a much greater appreciation of the mind.
It’s not as if I never appreciated the mind in the past. I did.
First of all, I took Psych 101.
Secondly, The Wife is a psychotherapist, and constantly keeps me informed about how the mind works, what it can accomplish, and what it can come up with and create.
I tell her about voting patterns at the UN; she explains to me the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (no wonder the kids aren’t falling over themselves to bring friends home for dinner).
But my recent mind-appreciation has nothing to do with any sudden enhanced understanding of neuropsychology, or gaining a greater appreciation of one of the mind’s more sublime creations: a soaring piece of music, a skilled work of art, a masterpiece of literature, a brilliant scientific theory.
No, my recent mind-appreciation has to do with a firsthand recognition of the brain’s uncanny ability to serve as a vast – nay, a seemingly endless – receptacle for worry. When it comes to storing anxiety, the mind is a bottomless pit.
Since the mid-June kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer, the worries and concerns of millions of people in this land have come – as Shakespeare put it – “not single spies, but in battalions.”
These worries can be divided into two groups. There are the collective worries: for the fate of the Jewish people, the nation, ordinary citizens and soldiers unknown.
And then there are everyone’s personal worries: for the safety of their spouses, their kids, their relatives and friends.
“BE CAREFUL,” I reflexively tell my kids – and have done so forever – whenever they go anywhere, anytime.
I say it before they go off to school, go buy eggs at the store, go to a movie with friends. I say it to my oldest son before he goes into miluim (reserve duty), to my two younger sons before they travel the roads in Judea and Samaria, to my daughter before she goes anywhere at night.
I say that innocuous little phrase to them, as my parents did to me, over and over and over again, hoping that if they hear it long enough, often enough, they might actually internalize it and be careful, alert, cautious, and perhaps think twice before doing anything dumb.
And kids – even those in their late teens and early 20s, perhaps especially those in their late teens and early 20s – have this inexplicable capacity to want to do dumb things. Even now.
Be careful, I said to my daughter recently when there was fear of massive, violent demonstrations in Jerusalem, just as she was going to Jerusalem.
“Of what?” she replied.
Believe it or not, one of my kids still – despite the last few weeks – wants to hitchhike.
He still views it as part of his birthright, as much a part of being Israeli as wearing sandals or singing along to Arik Einstein songs. In our house, hitchhiking has been the single greatest source of friction with my children since they reached adolescence.
Not sex, not drugs, not rock ’n’ roll – but hitchhiking. Not fights over getting up for shul, doing homework, their course of study, who they are dating, whether they are eating their greens or adequately respecting their elders – but hitchhiking, tremping. Even now.
A few weeks ago I thought I convinced one of my hitchhiking-loving sons to swear off the habit, at least temporarily.
He said he would take buses; I was thrilled.
Until the buses in and around Jerusalem started to get hit again by rocks and concrete slabs, forcing me to make disturbing risk assessments: Is it safer for him to be in a car on the road, or on a bus? Statistically, where is one less likely to get hurt? AND THAT was all before Operation Protective Edge began. That campaign unleashed a whole new tidal wave of concern for everyone in the land.
Where are the loved ones? How are they getting home? Are they close to bomb shelters? Will sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, friends go into Gaza? Will they get emergency call-up notices? And that is all on the micro scale. On the macro scale, there are the concerns about the terror tunnels and terror rockets; terrorists emerging out of the bowels of the earth, or out of the water and onto the beach; violence breaking out in the West Bank, or coming at us from Lebanon.
But go try to convey all that to friends and relatives abroad.
“I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know we’re thinking about you and praying for you guys,” an old friend I haven’t heard from in about 20 years messaged me via Facebook at the height of the Gaza crisis.
“How are you guys?” she asked.
“Swell,” I replied. “Just another day in paradise.” I thanked her for the concern, but really didn’t know what else to say, or whether and how to convey any of it.
To my dad, I had a different response.
After giving him a recap one night of that particular day’s activities – the rockets, the fighting, the diplomatic developments – I couldn’t resist a little jab, a little needle to leave him feeling just a bit guilty living so safe and secure and carefree over there in the US, far away from all the sacrifice and worry here at the epicenter of Jewish history.
“But don’t worry, you go on ahead and enjoy your Starbucks,” I said.
He was unfazed, having heard me say something similar many times in the past, whenever things here got rough. He continued as usual, asking – as he always does before ending the conversation – how the kids are doing.
“Swell,” I replied, reminding him that our youngest was flying off to Kiev in a few days on the first leg of a three-country trip to Eastern Europe to learn about the Holocaust.
‘Kiev?” he replied. “The Ukraine! Now, with everything going on there? Are you sure you want him flying there? Is that safe? Aren’t you worried?” “Sure I’m worried,” I replied. “I’ll just add it to the list. Everything is relative. Besides, I’ll tell him to be careful.” A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, will be published at the end of the month.