Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Ostrich Calls to Me

I wrote this article in 2004, when my oldest daughter was taking a course that allowed her to volunteer in assisting victims of a terror attack or, in more general terms, a multiple casualty incident. At the end of the course, they had a ceremony for the parents to come and see what our teenagers had been doing for the better part of a week. I watched, experienced, and then wrote (as I so often do)

I'm posting it here for a reason (wait for the next post). I called the article...The Ostrich Calls to Me. A few years later, Elie took the same course and I found myself in the same place, near the sea, watching Elie take his part in the exercise for the parents. This time, they picked up on a report of a terrible traffic accident in which a bus crashed into a truck (or vice versa). The actions of the children were the same; my reaction was completely different. I watched, I smiled, I enjoyed. And once again, I marveled at how the human mind can rationalize.

A few years after that - I watched as Shmulik took his turn and again, I was calm throughout. I already know that Davidi wants to do the same course.

The Ostrich Calls to Me (written in 2004)

As a typical news-hungry Israeli, I wake with the news and go to sleep with the news. I've got my phone programmed to beep when something happens and I can't walk past a newsstand without taking a long glance at the headlines. But more and more, the ostrich that lives deep inside all of us is calling to me. Can't I just ignore this latest warning of impending terrorist attacks? Just this once, do I need to know what America plans for Iraq? Which road was attacked with stones? How many mortars were launched against Israeli towns and villages?

I find that the ostrich manages to sleep for long periods, even days at a time, though that is rare. We've developed a very good relationship, that ostrich and I. In bad times, it leaves me alone to listen obsessively to the news, check the Internet and know within minutes of every major newsworthy event in a 1000 mile radius.

Then the ostrich will demand its due, and I'll get an evening in a restaurant in which I will not think about the next person to enter, nor worry if the guard really checked that man's bag carefully.

The ostrich and I have developed a relationship over the last two years and that is why I suddenly find myself quite perturbed to find that the ostrich has not been happy. The ostrich is demanding more time away from the news, just as things seem to be getting more serious. More threats from the Palestinians, Iraq getting more defiant and Bush getting more insistent.

This morning, before I thought the ostrich was even awake, I read that the Education Ministry in Israel is planning to teach a civil defense program in the schools. Psychologists and police will visit the schools to teach my children what to do during a terrorist attack.

I don't want my children to know this, I want to scream. And suddenly realize that it isn't my voice, it is the ostrich in me. As I think about the ostrich, I realize that this is not the first time it has decided to completely take over. Only a month or so ago, the first real mutiny occurred.

My 17 year-old daughter took an advanced course with the Magen David Adom to learn how to set up and work a medical staging area for multiple victims of a terrorist attack.

Following an intensive four days, parents were invited to a "Conclusion Ceremony" in which we watched approximately 100 teenagers simulate the moments after a terrorist attack. The ostrich didn't want to go at all, but how could I not go? We packed up some clean clothes, some soda and cake, some apples and more, and drove to Netanya, where the course was being held.

Overlooking the beauty of the Mediterranean, sitting on plastic chairs after being served light refreshments, the ambulance siren wailed and a single ambulance rushed to the center of the grassy patch before us.

"Many wounded, bring everyone," said the first ambulance driver who arrived on the "scene."

I was only glad that I didn't have to see and hear and smell the actual attack that was supposed to have preceded this exercise, but the ostrich was not satisfied. "Better to look out over to the blue sea and the green trees," the ostrich urged me. "Don't look, don't listen, don't imagine."

More sirens and now the field resembled an ambulance parking lot. The doors flung open, and groups of teenagers began unloading boxes and meticulously setting them up in rows as they had been taught over the last four days. Each ambulance crew was ready to treat ten patients before they even started carrying in the wounded. We could hear how many were wounded being broadcast over the ambulance radio and then their conditions reported back to some imaginary command station.

More stretchers and the ostrich was in tears, frantic to get away from the images that only it could see. "Isn't it enough when it's real?" it cried with silent, invisible tears. "Do we have to imagine it when it hasn't even happened?"

The wounded were more teenagers who put their hearts and souls into the act. Arms waving, bodies shaking, stretchers moving quickly. One boy almost fell off, and the others laughed.

For my daughter and the others, this was a chance to prove that they could act quickly and knew what to do. This would assure that they function first and react later if and when the real attack comes. They wrapped wounds that did not exist, taped infusion lines with gusto. They calmed the victims and tried not to have too much fun and I stood there staring at them as the ostrich asked why we have to train 16 and 17-year-olds to deal with this.

For me, this was as real and as close to the aftermath of a terrorist attack as I ever want to get. I don't want to be here, I thought at the time, and the ostrich understood and agreed. I want to be high in the sky, like the hang glider that circled above, obviously curious about the strange scene below. I don't want to see this, I kept whispering to myself.

"Now do you see why the sand is so appealing?" sympathized the ostrich.

"Then go put your head back in the sand," I almost whispered back. Stop imaging that this is real, I told myself repeatedly.

Then the exercise was over and my daughter concentrated on what dirty laundry she wanted me to take home and what fruit and cakes I had brought her to help her survive the last 24 hours of the course. The ostrich went back to sleep; my daughter passed her test with flying colors.

I fear that this relationship seems to be getting worse, with the ostrich demanding more attention, more time, more oblivion. It lives in Israel as I do, knowing that this is the reality we must face.

It would never leave this country, this ostrich - just as I will never leave it. It is a product of all that is good and all that is bad here, and I know that when it takes its head out of the sand long enough, it loves this country so very much. 

But I also wonder who will find peace first? Israel and the Palestinians, or the ostrich and me?

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