Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

The first thing I thought when I saw him was,  "he's just a boy".  Being interviewed on Egyptian t.v., he seemed thin and pale, disoriented, but lucid. He seemed like anyone would seem being set free after 5 and a half years of captivity. He seemed real.

I didn't fight for Gilad Schalit. I didn't go to one protest, or step inside the tent set up in front of the Prime Minister's house even once. I didn't even take a yellow ribbon for him. This is partly because I don't do politics. I don't do slogans. I don't go to rallies, even when I truly and deeply believe in the cause. I hate crowds, and I hate dogma. But mostly, and shamefully, I didn't fight for Gilad Schalit because it was too painful. I couldn't stand to see his parents, his friends, his eyes. I couldn't fathom that this day would come and I couldn't bear the grind of days and normalization of the weight of absence. I couldn't stand the way the tent faded into the background, just another part of the Jerusalem landscape. 

The deal to free Gilad doesn't sit well with me. It doesn't sit well with anyone, I imagine. Its implications for the region are unsettling to say the least, not to mention the issues of ethics and justice. But then I think that human justice is so inadequate in any case; and that that the dead are dead, and nothing we do, or don't do will change that; and that I would like to think that the people I cared about who are lost to me now would rather Gilad alive even though they are dead. And isn't ironic that those who helped kill are now pawns in a deal to help save a life? May that stick in their throats and twist their stomachs and haunt them forever. And then I think, maybe there are some who are just going back to their families. Maybe they have mothers, and fathers and sisters and children. Maybe they have faces. Maybe they have room for peace in their hearts, no matter how unfathomable that may seem. Mostly, I think that life- a heart that is still beating- is always preferable. The world is so full of unimaginable things- both terrible and wonderful. We cannot know the future. We only have the world as it is. We only have a heart that is still beating. 

And I think, perhaps, that I prefer to live in this society- the one that took up Gilad's image as a symbol; the one the forced the government to keep its end of the deal- we give you our sons, our daughters, our fathers, our friends and pieces of our lives, and you give us the promise that you will do everything in your power to return them to us. I think I feel safer in a society that is willing to sacrifice potential safety for the real, concrete safety of an individual who paid way more than his dues. That's part of our social contract as well. Sometimes, we are not given the choice but to die for our country, but death itself is not a value. Sacrifice itself is not a value. Life is. But maybe that too, is dogma, and I contradict myself.

And then he stepped off that helicopter and I thought, "he's just a boy." He's just a too skinny, too pale boy.  But even that is patronizing. He's not a boy, he's a young man- a young man who spent too many years in the dark. He's not ours, and he's not a symbol. He's not justice, or injustice, safety, or danger. He's just him, whoever he may be, with his own hopes and dreams, his own terrors and demons; his own dark eyes. His suffering and his freedom belong only to him. I spent all day watching, thinking, isn't this a miracle, to see someone awake from the dead?  Isn't this a blessing, to watch a symbol become a person? This fragile thing. This life on shaky legs. We can stop watching now. The cage door is open. Let's let him fly free.

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