Saga brings out both good and bad

Ours is a country, as Sharon himself has said on numerous occasions, of stark extremes.

sharon empty seat 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
sharon empty seat 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulls out of his massive stroke, a stroke medical experts over the last few days said would have felled a lesser man, much will be written about his strength and determination. And, indeed, a recovery would speak volumes about Sharon's character. But on a more global level, the manner in which the country has dealt with this latest crisis also testifies to the strengths and weaknesses of our national character. Ours is a country, as Sharon himself has said on numerous occasions, of stark extremes: of hot or cold, meat or milk, war or peace, extra-large or extra-small. There is seldom a middle ground. So, in the course of less than a week, we have gone from expecting Wednesday night that Sharon would succumb to his stroke at any minute, to harboring the hope Monday morning that he could actually make a miraculous recovery. It's been a roller-coaster ride between extremes, well befitting a nation addicted to national dramas. Ours is also a land in which everybody is an expert. No sooner had Hadassah Medical Organization director-general Shlomo Mor-Yosef - the Nahman Shai of this crisis - told the press that the prime minister had suffered a major stroke, than various medical authorities were on the airwaves giving their prognosis of a patient they had not seen. No sooner had Mor-Yosef said explicitly that it was impossible to say to what degree Sharon's cognitive or motor skills had been damaged than everyone was venturing a guess, including doctors who had not seen the patient but knew better than those who had. We also have an insatiable tendency to blame someone. A nearly 78-year-old, badly overweight man in an incredibly stressful job suffers a massive stroke three weeks after a minor one, and it can't just be nature's course. Someone has to be at fault: his personal doctor who decided on that fateful Wednesday night to drive him from his Negev ranch to Jerusalem rather than to the closer Soroka Hospital in Beersheba; the Hadassah-University Medical Center team who gave him blood thinners; the police for leaking just two days before his planned heart catheterization that they had collected evidence that he allegedly received a $3 million bribe. Even as Sharon still lay unconscious in the hospital, there were already serious calls for committees of inquiry into his treatment. And if he recovers, would these committees still be necessary? But everything is not only dark - the manner in which the country dealt with the crisis also revealed its strengths. First and foremost, Israel can take immeasurable blows to the midsection and still come out standing. Israel's resilience is not only evident in the manner in which it is able to quickly carry on with life after terrorist outrages; this resilience is also evident during times like these - times that can be characterized as times of national crisis - when the country copes well and moves on. Much has already been written about how Israel's democracy rose to the occasion, but this is not a given, nor something that should be taken for granted. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took firm hold of the reins of power, the military remained on guard, the government continued to function. All this is crucial, indeed critical, given the difficult neighborhood in which we live. Israel copes well in times of crisis because it must, because if it lets its guard down - because if it wallows in debilitating self-pity - it may be inviting an even greater crisis. And, finally, the last few days have shown again that Israel is a marvelously problem-solving oriented society. When a crisis hits, don't raise the arms in despair, don't say that nothing can be done, find a solution. This characteristic has been amply evident over the course of the five-year terror war, when instead of despairing when faced with wave after wave of terrorism, the country found ways to very effectively battle the terror and significantly bring down the number of fatalities. Ours is a land poor at planning to keep problems from arising, but wonderful at improvising once they hit. One need not have been a medical genius to have realized that Sharon's health was a real issue, yet he never clearly anointed a successor. But when the time came, a successor - at least a temporary one - emerged. The law spelling out succession in the event of an incapacitated prime minister is woefully inadequate on specifying who exactly determines whether the prime minister is incapacitated, but when that day came, things worked. And things worked because this country, so used to improvising during a time of crisis, was able to do so this time as well. Those who needed to make critical decisions made them; those who needed to rise to the occasion have done so. In Hebrew it's called being a "rosh gadol," an expression roughly translated as "taking charge and using one's head." It is a vital national trait, and this time it served the nation very well.