The past month has been stressful. Fortunately and unfortunately, I’m not alone in coping with this stress. The whole world is suffering. Quarantines, layoffs, sickness, death- it’s nauseating and depressing. I’ve given up on reading the news, except for my favorite site. I mostly count on my mom to filter in the information I actually need to know to protect myself. We’re living in, if not unprecedented, then supremely strange and difficult times.
So how do we respond to such confusion and chaos? Pain and suffering?
The answer lies in some happier times I experienced.
One day I found myself on a bus from Tel Aviv headed northward. I had long wanted to visit the Christian Arab town of Eilaboun. It is absolutely stunning in beauty.
The town is surrounded by orchards and olive trees. The scenery didn’t disappoint. But just as importantly, neither did the people. When I knocked on someone’s door to see if I could visit the church, the elderly gentleman was quick to not only open the building, but also to be my tour guide. The tiny building was beautifully decorated. And I got to go on the roof and see where the old man had, as a child, been the one responsible for ringing the church bells. He regaled me with stories of his naughty childhood antics- he was such a sweet man.
After having visited the church, I decided to roam the fields a bit- I like doing that kind of thing. Just communing with nature and being in touch with my surroundings in a way that was hard to do in Tel Aviv except when I’d go to the shore.
Suddenly, as has happened to me a few times on my travels, I found myself a bit too long in the bright Middle Eastern sun and my water was running dangerously low. With no store in sight, I wasn’t sure what to do. It’s not exactly like there’s a cab waiting alongside an olive grove that you can hail.
Starting to get a bit worried, I came upon another elderly man. This man was working by his shed in the fields. He must’ve been at least 75. I greeted him in Arabic and told him I was trying to find water. I noticed he had a large two-liter bottle next to him. He reached for it. I figured he’s pour me a cup – he had some. And that, to quote the spirit of our recent Passover holiday, would have been enough.
Instead, he handed me the whole bottle. Without hesitation, without asking where I was from, who I was, what I was doing wandering an olive grove. No questions. Just handed me the bottle.
I was shocked. I had seen tremendous generosity in Israel but this was a new record. I asked him if he was absolutely sure he could part with the water. And he insisted I take it.
In the Middle East, water isn’t a fun thing to sprinkle on your plants or to fill a bathtub with or to fill pools with in every neighborhood. It is a precious commodity. It is quite simply life.
So as we’re faced with our own societal drought- a drought of reason, a drought of compassion, a drought of knowledge to combat a disease we know precious little about. Focus on what we do know. And what we can do. And what we can do is share our bottles. Since we can’t hand someone a drink, find another way to contribute. Call a friend. Teach someone a new skill. Help your neighbor navigate the unemployment system. And even as we all ask for help ourselves – and rightly so – be sure to find your water bottle and give it away. Like the man in Eilaboun did for me.
Because that’s the reason I’m sitting here typing this blog.