Today was rough.
Two days ago, my going-on-90, going-on-13 year-old mother texted me that the homestead was no longer for sale. “Tell you why next time we talk,” she wrote, fishing for a phone call that she didn’t get. I am sick of her manipulations. I have run out of patience. I really and truly do not give a fuck if she loses the house and ends up in a nursing home. She and my late father a”h fought off my efforts to help them prepare for their old age. Now it’s too late: old age took him away nearly two years ago. Having no resources, my mother will have to get along as best she can. A fine pickle, but I can’t do a thing about it.
Yesterday, my Chinese Martial Arts master (Sifu) called me. I had dropped in to visit her and her sweet husband for a few days last week. For some reason she decided that it was her responsibility, as my Chinese mother, to recount to me all of my failings and weaknesses of character:
“Lawla, why you always go one thing another? Never stick anything. That your really problem. That cause all your health problem. I tell you what, you perfectly healthy, excepting that. You don’t love anything, only dog…” etc. “I tell you these things only because, love you. I. Am. Your. Mother.”
Well, fuck a duck, what I need is more “mother” bullshit. I reminded my Sifu that I was her “inside student” for eight years. For eight years I spent a part of every day studying with, and helping, her and her ancient father, a Martial Arts Grand Master. I lived under their roof, and under their orders, seven days a week, leaving only to go to work and to take care of my child, who was raised largely in their home.
Breaking the laws of protocol, I objected: “Sifu, I disagree with you.” I reminded her of a few things, like those eight years, my long education and years of medical practice, etc. She had to concede that this was true. Still, her rebuke stung. I felt betrayed. I still feel betrayed. This woman, with whom I have shared so much, who has been the single greatest influence on my life, trashed me with one slice of her tongue. And I slid right into her game by going into defensive stance.
Speaking of slices, this morning I was getting out of my RV and my hand slipped, causing my arm to slide across a piece of plastic on the door. For most people this would be nothing. But my skin has become very thin (my mother always said I should grow a thicker skin), and it ripped a big flap all the way to the fascia. It was shocking to look down and see the white covering of my arm muscles. Then the blood came, but not very much because my blood vessels have also atrophied.
Now the wound is covered with a burn dressing. That’s what works best on these flap lacerations. My arms are covered with the scars of tens of wounds that occur just in the course of daily life, doing things that never hurt or wounded me before.
Even my dog has learned to be very gentle with me, ever since she slashed my throat with her claws while attempting to engage me in play. I screamed so piteously, partly from pain and shock, and partly just from being over-the-top, that poor Atina got the idea that I am very fragile, and likely to break. Now she treats me like her puppy. That’s fine with me.
Then I got the news about Blah’s passing. She did what she needed to do, and I support her decision completely. It still tears me up that I will never see her little dragons next to her wise and kind and thoughtful comments again.
I stopped in at a gas station for diesel and iced tea, and heard the guttural sounds of Arabic with a Judean accent, like I heard in Israel. My blood froze. Then I saw the crosses on the necks of the owner and her son. I breathed out.
“Salam aleikum,” I said (that being about 1/3 of my Arabic lexicon).
“Salam aleikum!” She shouted delightedly, and followed with a string of greetings that I didn’t entirely catch. I understand quite a bit of Arabic, but unfortunately most of it is angry epithets and genocidal threats. It was good to hear some kind and welcoming words.
This lady hails from Jordan, like so many Arab residents of Israel, and made her home in Bethlehem until the Muslims drove her family out (Bethlehem’s Christian population has shrunk from many thousands to only a handful of families who practice their religion in secret). Now most of them live in Jerusalem. She and her family chose to emigrate to the States. She bought this gas station and convenience store, and now drives two hours each way to work. She beams with pride.
In true Arab style, she asks me about myself, questioning me closely…very closely. It’s uncomfortable to me, but having many Arab friends in Israel, I know it’s a sign of hospitality, so I go along with her and soon we’re intimate friends, holding each other’s hands, letting go only to give her the chance to serve other customers, most of whom she knows by name.
Although it’s not an Arab thing to question someone about their mode of dress unless they are blood family, I know she’s curious about my long skirt and long sleeved blouse on a hot summer day, so I dip my toes in the water and say it’s because of my religion.
“Oh, you’re Jewish? I love Jewish! Jesus was Jewish, you know,” she whispers confidentially. Then follows an angry tirade about the Muslims and persecution of Christians and Jews, and a whole primer on the Arab Christian perspective.
I was very glad to have met her. It really made my day to hear her voicing thoughts that have been drifting into my head lately, about Israel, and about the wonderful fruits that are coming into the Shuk now: fresh dates, green olives in brine, pomegranates the size of three of the measly California kind, fresh figs falling off the trees going splat on the sidewalks (dangerous), melafafonim (cucumbers), dense and crunchy and sweet, apples that actually have flavor, grapes sweet as candy…I miss the sound of Middle Eastern music, the bustle of Jerusalem, the peaceful holiness of the many shrines I like to visit…the Old City, thronging with people in every kind of religious garb imaginable…
I don’t miss being spat on, or pissed on, called evil names, rocked, my clothes grabbed with the intention of pulling them off me (thank you, Sifu, they didn’t expect me to fight back). Or shoved out of line at the bank or the Iriyah (municipal offices where you pay taxes and other municipal stuff) by women in burkas. Thus my trepidation at hearing Arabic spoken in the store.
The Jordanian Christian lady was mystified when, after we finally let go of each other’s hands, I kissed my hand that had been holding hers.
It’s a custom in my particular tiny niche of Israeli Orthodox Judaism. It shows what a precious blessing it is to hold hands in a sacred way with someone you treasure.
Salam aleikum. Shalom aleichem. Peace on earth, good will to women and men.