Catapulting off a COVID-19 cliff in Israel - opinion

Running Uphill: Somehow, I became this older woman standing on the edge of that cliff, her brain fighting my brain, recognizing her limitations.

SHLOMO JAFFE prepares to rappel down Shilat Cliff. (photo credit: MAAYAN HOFFMAN)
SHLOMO JAFFE prepares to rappel down Shilat Cliff.
(photo credit: MAAYAN HOFFMAN)
 Coronavirus changed me even though I was never diagnosed with the virus.
After covering the pandemic for more than 13 months, spending time in coronavirus intensive care units, in meetings and on the phone with doctors and scientists, and watching with awe as our country’s leaders zigzagged through the last year – I am a different person.
Sometimes I start crying for no reason.
I am not depressed; I am just a little more vulnerable.
There are more nights that I sneak into my children’s rooms just to give them a quick hug and remind myself that they are safe and healthy, and we made it through this pandemic so far and now I am vaccinated and so are the majority of people at risk and at least we have each other.
I am not a hypochondriac; I just sometimes need their warm reassurance.
Every year – except for last year, the year of the coronavirus – my son and I would tackle some kind of extreme adventure on chol hamoed, the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. We have been rappelling and rock climbing and spelunking (another word for caving).
One year, we climbed (I mean raced) to the top of Masada before sunrise and then spent the day together at the waterfalls of Ein Gedi.
Shlomo is almost 18 and he is in awesome physical condition – he achieved the top scores so far from the IDF, and when it is open and allowed by the Health Ministry, he spends at least three days a week working out for hours after school at his jiu jitsu gym. He does not like running like his mother, but he understands the value of it and has “forced” me to commit to running both the Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv marathons with him in 2022 before he enlists.
(I am not sure how long said commitment will last, but I am good for at least one of the two races just for the joy of training with him.)
We’ve both been really busy this year, him trying to complete five-point math and pull 100% in physics and computer science, and me with my roles, including my promotion to head of strategy for the Jerusalem Post Group, which is new, and I really want to succeed.
But we decided to just steal a few hours this week and head to nearby Shilat Cliff for a mini-adventure.
I packed cucumbers and grapes and apples – and some homemade Passover cookies for my son, his favorite kind – and we headed out at 7 a.m. to be rappelling while it was still a little crisp in the morning air.
Shlomo went first and he was down the mountain side in no time. Then it was my turn.
As our guide hooked me to the ropes and reminded me how to do it, I noticed that my heart started beating just a little faster than usual. My palms were sweaty, and my feet and legs started to shake.
“Remind me again,” I said, refusing to lean back and straighten my knees – prerequisites for rappelling down the mountain.
AS I STOOD there at the edge of the cliff, the impact of coronavirus hit me for the first time. One side of my brain was saying, “What the heck? Life could change at any moment – just let go.” The other was warning me, “Life is precious. Why risk it? Use caution.”
I considered my son, calling, “Mom, you can do it!” down at the bottom of the cliff. He was young and unafraid, like I used to be. He was me just a year before, when I had fewer worry wrinkles, when I slept soundly for a few hours a night and woke up excited for the next day.
But somehow, I became this older woman standing on the edge of that cliff, her brain fighting my brain, recognizing her limitations.
Ultimately, I allowed myself to slowly start down that mountain and I made it to the bottom with only a few elbow scrapes. Once, I bent my knees and lost balance and was swinging their mid-air. I screamed (but just a little) until I felt the ground.
Shlomo went a second time. I could not bring myself to do it again.
And when we rock-climbed an hour later, I scaled skillfully to the top – but once again refused to give up my grip and swing back down to the bottom. I was forced to swing my legs over the edge and walk down the path because, unlike in years prior, I could no longer give up control and put my faith in the hands of a rope or a guide I had just met that morning.
I am not a scaredy cat; coronavirus has made me just a little more inhibited.
Truly, I do not think we will know the full impact of the year of the virus – and by the way, it is not really over yet – for a while.
There will be gaps in our children’s education and their social and emotional growth. There will be more heart disease and cancers that go undetected until their later stages. And there will be a distance between us all because we do not really know if we should shake hands or hug or even travel down a floor in the same elevator – just in case.
People like me will sometimes picture the 70-year-old man with the bulging ribs being resuscitated for 20 minutes by a team of 10 doctors and nurses as he teetered between life and death, and blood was filling his breathing tube, or maybe that was another tube, but I could not ask as the machines were beeping and the staff was of course preoccupied.
I will spend a few minutes here and there scrolling through my author page on thinking back to “With only around 300 cases, why is Israel in near-lockdown?” and “Is Israel draining the bathtub with a running tap when it comes to COVID-19?” and “Who by earthquake and who by (coronavirus) plague?” Then I will click the X in the top right corner, reprimand myself – “stay focused” – and move on with my day.
There will be other cliffs and I will be standing at their peaks. I will see the gorgeous view beneath me but be unable to jump and embrace the thrill because it feels just a little safer holding onto the rocks for dear life.
Coronavirus taught me to cherish life but also made living it just a little tougher. 
The writer is head of strategy and coronavirus analyst for The Jerusalem Post Group.