“Where’s your son?” a friend called and asked my wife early Tuesday morning,
before we had yet turned on the computer or the radio.
“New Zealand,” she
said. “Probably on some mountain top. Why?”
“Because of the
earthquake.Haven’t you heard?”
Well, no, at that point, we actually
Five minutes later, my cellphone rang, and another friend – with
concern audible in his voice – asked about the lad, and whether he was in
He wasn’t supposed to be, I replied, explaining that we had
talked to the boy the previous Friday, and he’d been in some city in the south
of New Zealand’s Southern Island, planning to go off on a trek on
Sunday. He was not supposed to be in Christchurch.
“Are you sure?”
my friend asked, stoking my own selfdoubts.
And thus began an anxiety-
ridden 48-hour ordeal during which my son, on his post-army trek, was among
those young Israeli backpackers Israel Radio has consistently referred to as
“unaccounted for” in New Zealand.
We tried to call him, but there was no
answer. And with each passing hour, with each call that went to his cellphone’s
answering machine, my certainty that he wasn’t near Christchurch was being
chipped away. This certainty also decreased with each wellmeaning call from
friends, asking if he was all right, but oddly adding to my fears.
confidence plummeted when a relative who doesn’t frequently call from the States
gave us a call. If they were all worried, how could I not be? He’s probably on a
mountain without cellphone reception far from the earthquake, I told my wife.
He’s probably unaware that it even happened, like one of those Japanese soldiers
hiding out in a cave during World War II, emerging years later, not knowing the
war had ended.
But not knowing for sure, not being able to reach him, was
unnerving. Uncertainty does terrible things to the mind – it breeds intense
anxiety, not entirely rational, that only begets the worst of thoughts: the
“what if” thoughts.
What if, for some reason, he went back to
Christchurch, where he landed about a month and a half ago, to pick up a friend?
What if he was indeed hiking far from Christchurch, but the ground shifted,
sending a glacier hurtling down in his direction? “Let’s just hope he was doing
another bungee jump,” I joked to my wife. “This is nuts. You figure he gets out
of the army, and the worrying stops.”
But, of course, it never
The irony is that my wife and I thought we’d hit the jackpot when
the lad informed us of his travel plans months ago, and told us he was going to
Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.
“Thank goodness it’s not South
America,” we thought.
“Anywhere but South America.”
Not that I
have anything against the continent, but the papers are always full of stories
of Israeli backpackers drowning there in some river, or being involved in a road
accident, or even being kidnapped.
But Australia and New Zealand – that’s
Or so we thought. A few weeks after our son landed in Australia, he
decided to go with a friend to Queensland – just as floods of biblical
proportions hit there. He left Brisbane two days before the roads became
The day after he landed in Christchurch, he called and said
he’d felt three earthquakes, which were indeed minor tremors – aftershocks –
from the big quake that hit there in September. He was a bit spooked by the
experience, and said he was looking forward to leaving the city and going into
Which is what he did. And it was because he was in the
mountains that he didn’t call when Tuesday’s temblor hit.
Our son’s call
finally came Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m.
Then, just as when he exited
the Gaza Strip after 15 days in which we had no contact with him during
Operation Cast Lead, life returned to wonderful normality with the utterance of
three simple words: “Abba, it’s Yona.”
Indeed it was, and he was fine.
When the quake hit in Christchurch, my son was on the Southern Island’s opposite
coast, the west coast, heading toward Fox Glacier. He didn’t even feel the earth
Two hours into the trek, he heard about it from other hikers, but
they didn’t know about its magnitude, or the damage it caused; and my son didn’t
deem it serious enough to hike back to the base and phone home. He thought it
was a small tremor like the three he’d felt when he was in Christchurch in
January. He thought this was more of the same – no big deal.
wrong, but – thank God – he was safe.