Food for thought: Words to live by

When I started writing, I used words like 'infallible,' 'absolutely' and 'flawless.' Today I know that nothing in this world can be described in such terms.

As a writer and a "foodie," I spend a lot of time thinking about words and, well, food. What words like "exaggerate" do to a sentence and what chocolate does to my hips, what a word like "lie" does to a conversation and what peanut butter does to my self-esteem. How "love" and strawberries can lift a mood, and "debt" and smelly fish will bring you down. The old adage about sticks and stones is a lie, an exaggeration because words - speaking from the perspective of someone who rarely gets stones or sticks thrown at them - when properly aimed, will definitely hurt me. On the other hand, if handled with care, sticks and stones may build a home, and the written word and a good meal will build a person. My mother is an artist. In the early 1980s, she used a lot of what I like to call "road-sign green." It was the color in which her art manifested itself. It was young and a bit brash. It saw the reality of the situation, with the interpretation coming from the viewer, not the artist. With time, she experimented with plums and mauves. These were the colors where shadows lived. As her art became more introspective, so did her colors. Recently, she has been working with teal. It's the color I associate with peace. It's fun and light, and leaves a lot of room for the viewer to get to know the artist. In my art, I use words. When I started, I used words like "infallible," "absolutely" and "flawless." Today I know that nothing in this world can be described in such terms and that road-sign green is an absolute, so I have add a few new words to my list of favorites to work with and, lastly, the one word I hope never to use again. "Grace." It is just beautiful. It refers to so many things. Movement, blessings, a Christian theological connection to God and how some women age. In my mind, it's the way I should walk in heels and what my parents hoped ballet class would give me. "Phenomenon" is for things we see yet remain hard to believe. It is God's miracle of creations, where belief meets faith. They take a leap together and open up our hearts to accept the otherwise unbelievable. "Opportunity." It's what Mrs. Forman, my sixth-grade teacher, told my parents I would have if I met my full potential. It's the hope for the future combined with independent action; not only mine, but my country's, my people's. "Whatever." Even describing the word makes me cringe. It is, I believe, one of the few absolutes in left in my life. "Whatever" is an unacceptable response to anything. It is filled with disrespect, not only for others but for oneself. Last week I had coffee with a friend I had not seen or spoken to in nearly 15 years. It was eye-opening. I'm not one of those people who miss their youth or are plagued by huge regrets, though I do overanalyze my actions to prevent future regret. While we sat there, two old friends having coffee (well, actually, an avocado sandwich and muesli - happy food), we discussed our lives, our work, our spouses, our children. We spoke of them all with pride and a sense of accomplishment. As the conversation progressed, we spoke of Israel. Of my taking the opportunity and coming, and his waiting for the opportunity. He said something at that point that I will remember forever, even if we don't see each other for another 15 years: "Ilana, you are living the dream." Now them there's powerful words. Use them with caution because you never know what the response will be. Thankfully, it came as a wonderful surprise to me. I had never though of it that way. Israel is just where I live, the place where I argue with the woman in front of me at the cashier's. Israel is no dream. It is where I struggle to make myself understood, no matter what words I choose to use, where life seems messy and complicated. Israel is where enough tears are shed over spilt milk to fill the Kinneret. And yet, my old friend reminded me, this is what I wanted; that the response to "You are living the dream" isn't "Whatever." It is "Hallelujah!" To me, in recent years, Israel has been devoid of grace, and yet we have just fought a war with dignity. I had not found anything phenomenal in our lives, and yet every day is a confirmation of the phenomenon that is the Jewish State of Israel. History alone says that we should have ceased to exist a millennium ago. How phenomenal is that? As I and my family celebrate our 11 years in Israel this month, I have found a new favorite word: "hope." Hope for a stable future, hope for my children's safety, and hope for all my friends to join me in living the dream, no matter in what color or word it comes packaged.