Saturday, January 12, 2008

Helpless

There are days when I feel like I am such a disappointment. Everyone wants to know what it is like to be blown up, and I have nothing to give them but a simple timeline comprised of three seconds. Second number one I was standing. I lost second number two. Second number three found me on the ground, conscious. I woke up stunned, but calm, and stayed that way. That is the whole story. But people persist in wanting more. I am questioned thoroughly. Surely I left something out:

“Did you notice the bomber?”
“No. Apparently she was disguised as a pregnant woman. Pregnant women are not an unusual sight in Jerusalem.”
“Well, didn’t you have a feeling that something was wrong, or a sense….”
“No, only that I had missed the last bus.”
“A premonition? Ominous dreams? Crows screeching and waking you in the dead of night?”
“Hmmm…let me see…dreams, birds…. No, I do not recall anything of the sort. There are lots of cats around, and they are noisy, but I do not think that this is the same as a black bird”
“Okay, okay, I am with you. It was a complete and utter surprise. So then you heard a boom?”
“No. I really did not hear anything.”
“Oh, but you must have felt something: the white-heat of the explosion, the shrapnel ripping into your body?”
“Ummm…no.”
“The searing smoke ravaging your lungs?”
“No, sorry.”
“Life passing in slow motion before your eyes?”
“Oh, there was no time for that!”
“The eerie silence followed by heartrending screams and cries for help?”
“I suppose there must have been but I did not hear it-my eardrums were wiped out.”
“And then you lay there racked in terrible pain….”
“Actually, no, I wasn’t. I must have gone into shock from the blow to the head. Lucky me!”
“You must have been terrified though.”
“Not at all. I was very calm. I even asked the paramedic to put my keys back in my bag and remembered to tell them about my drug allergy.”

Generally, at this point, they give up, though I suspect that they do not fully believe me. I can see them, chatting with friends, and attributing my rather boring version with some post traumatic stress disorder. The real memories, the riveting, dramatic, CNN-ready memories are either buried in my subconscious or consciously suppressed by poor, traumatized me. Even some of my closest friends refuse to believe my account of things, and insist that I told them that I heard a boom and must have buried the memory since.

I used to be confused by this stubborn persistence in searching for drama. Why, in G-d’s name, would you want me to suffer? Recently, I think I have begun to understand. You want me to reassure you, don’t you? You want me to tell you that you will not be erased without warning.

I cannot tell you that. I cannot even tell myself that.

Had I been less lucky, second number three would have found me on the ground, dead. Even the clap as I lost consciousness would have been lost, as I believe that one is only cognizant of it to the extent that there is a beginning and an end-a leaving and a returning. I would have died and never known it. There would have been no goodbyes, no final thoughts of my loved ones, nothing. Everything that was in my mind, all of my loves and hates and hopes and dreams, everything that makes up who is Me, would have been instantly and completely wiped out.

But this is too terrifying and you cannot accept it. You want to believe that, when this happens to you, you will be on notice. You will be able to fight for your life. If you see the terrorist, you can dodge. If you feel the heat of the explosion you can turn away. If you feel the shrapnel entering me, you can declare to yourself: “I will not die” and force the breath in and out of your body. Knowledge is power.

How can you possibly accept a vision of yourself as without power, as powerless? How can you accept a picture of yourself knowing nothing, and having absolutely no option or opportunity to fight? How can you just die, without even realizing that anything hit you. One moment you exist. The next you do not.

This shakes you to the soul. I know, because once I was shaken too. A couple years before I made aliyah, there was a terrible car accident in Virginia. A dump truck was cut off by another car, lost control, hit a concrete barrier and was launched airborne. It fell down on top of a family car, killing the driver and his wife instantly. I did not witness the accident, nor did I see any footage of it on TV. Nonetheless, that accident haunted me for weeks. The whole mental image of death just smashing into you from the sky, while you are rendered completely powerless, shook me to the core. There must have been other tragic accidents while I lived in the DC area, but that is the only one I remember. To this day, I cannot think of it without twisting up inside.

I understand you. I am doing to you what this accident did to me. I am forcing you to confront how powerless you are. Unlike that couple in Virginia, I was lucky, and I lived. But I could have been not lucky too. Even if you attribute my luck to G-d, you have to acknowledge that He could have decided differently. Next time, He might. This is what I think about when I sit on a bus. I have no chance. I cannot protect myself. I cannot fight. If a terrorist blows himself up next to me, there will be no warning, and there will be nothing I can do. I will live or die, but I will have no chance to influence the outcome either way. It will just be, and if I die, I will never know it.

Helpless. I am helpless.

Now accept it, relax, and keep on going.

28 comments:

The Middle said...

Gila, hi, I'm TM from Jewlicious. This is an extremely powerful piece. I wonder if you would permit me to reprint it in full on Jewlicious. Of course, I would also link to your site and give you full attribution. We reach many readers and I think what you're writing is important.

Thanks. TM.

Gila said...

I would be honored. I am a long time reader/fan of your site.

Thanks!

Oh-nice photo you posted for Shabbat. :)

Gila

sdede (steven) said...

OK-I've never shared this with you before, but your whole outlook on what happened to you is so great, upbeat and all, that I hope you can take it.
My (at that time) sister-in-law died in that bombing (her name is Suhela Hoshe, or maybe Suhela Manzor, or something similar).
I imagined that she was between you and Mr. Preggie-blowup, and (she was a BIG woman!), and it may have been because of her, that you're around. They're Persian. But I suppose any flying rice would be absorbed into your body, so I can't ask if any rice came out (and then we'd be sure be sure if she was there between you). I just know that her death nearly broke up their family, but thank
G-d, now they seem to be doing well, under the circumstances.
I really wish you all the best!

Anonymous said...

Gila, I think I understand.

I lost a friend on 9/11. She left for work, started her day, and in an instant she was gone. She was killed by the very first plane to hit the Twin Towers, the plane hit her office head-on. We don't know for sure, but based on the impact point and where her desk was, it's likely she never knew what hit her.

In a way, I find some comfort in that. Better she died instantly, never knowing what happened, than having to endure the horrors some of the others did. At least she did not suffer or know any fear at the end. There are worse fates.

Elimelech Ha-Levi said...

Up here in Alaska I can't really comprehend the feeling of helplessness that would come from being attacked by someone who wanted to kill in such a way. Your story is deep and touching, and reminds us all how deep, fragile, and precious one life can be. Thank you for sharing your heart,
Shalom-
Elimelech

Anonymous said...

wow! YOU are mamasha a courageous woman. ust to write there and share those deep feelings is so beyond ... i bless that hkbh sohould give you strenghth, and joy and love for the rest of your life! and bh you are truly a jewish hero to all of us!
all the best,
zahava
jerusalem

Ahuva said...

Gila, do you mind if I point people to your blog from mine? I think this will be an amazingly powerful and important blog.

Anonymous said...

Very similar reaction when I tell people about being molested as a child. It's either "what did you do to provoke it" or "what were the signs". There were no signs - I was molested by a not-so-nice member of my nice Jewish family. They cannot accept that answer.

Thank you very much for starting this blog. I will be returning regularly!

Mia said...

Gila, I'm so moved by this piece. I have been sitting here stunned for the last few minutes. I knew a few people who did not survive terrorist attacks but when thinking of them I have never let myself think of what actually happens when you get blown up. It's a kind of red line I have never let my thoughts wander over.
At some point of living in Israel you realize that something could happen and everything could change in a minute. I think most Israelies come to terms with that, and then shove the thoughts away because they are so hard to deal with.
You are so courageous to open up the topic.

LSB said...

"Now accept it, relax, and keep on going."

I was so deeply moved by this post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You said "Why, in G-d’s name, would you want me to suffer? " and you didn't spell the word out, just like a religious Jew would do.

But then you said "I would have died and never known it. There would have been no goodbyes, no final thoughts of my loved ones, nothing. Everything that was in my mind, all of my loves and hates and hopes and dreams, everything that makes up who is Me, would have been instantly and completely wiped out."

Now I am an agnostic who as I continue in life am becoming more and more an atheist, and I am tending to believe that is what happens when one dies. That's it, you don't exist. You don't know you don't exist because you don't exist.

But you wrote G-D so I would have thought this wasn't your view. I would have though you would have believed in an afterlife, you know with you floating over your lifeless body, seeing a bright light and all of that.

So, what is your view of an afterlife? And, in general what is the Jewish view of an afterlife. Do Jews believe in one or do they just think you just don't exist as difficult as it may be for the mind to wrap around that.

Gila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gila said...

I think that the afterlife, as you describe it, is more of a Christian concept. Judaism does have the concept of Gan Eden, but it is more of a tacked on concept (or so I see it). Ashes to ashes, dust to dust jives a bit more with the rest of Judaism in general. We do have the concept of everyone coming back to life with the Moshiach (frightening idea--not competely pleasant).

As for me--I do believe in G-d, and I am Jewish, but that does not necessarily translate into "believing in everything that every Jew ever said about G-d".

My attitude towards the afterlife is rather similar to my attitude towards life in general-hope for the best, expect the worst. I don't expect there to be an afterlife. I am living my life on the assumption that this is it. But hey, if I am pleasantly surprised, that's cool. :)

Hope that clarifies things. Thanks for reading!

Gila

Susan said...

Perhaps what people want from you is a confirmation of an afterlife.

They want to hear about how one moment you were waiting for a bus and the next moment you were looking down at your lifeless body and the carnage below.

You wonder is that me? In a fraction of a second, though it seems to you a lifetime your whole life flashes before your minds eye.

Then you see a bright white light. You float towards it. As you go in it you get a feeling of intense love, an intensity you have never felt before. As you look ahead through this tunnel of extreme white light you see a figure. As you float closer to the figure you recognize it as a long dead love one.

The figure speaks to you and tell you that "it isn't your time yet". "You still have stuff to do." You beg to your love one and say that you want to stay with your love one in the light. You don't want to leave the intense feeling of warmth and love you feel in the light. But the figure shakes its head. "We will be together soon, but not yet. You still have work to do."

Suddenly you feel pulled out of the light. You look up and see a paramedic looking down on you.

But of course you can't tell them any of that. For the cold stark truth of it all is that there is no after. You are just dead. You just don't exist. And as simple and obvious that truth is, it is practically impossible for the human mind to wrap itself around. Non-existence. Not being. But that is how it is.

Anonymous said...

"Even if you attribute my luck to G-d, you have to acknowledge that He could have decided differently."

Of course you know that G-d had nothing to do with it. It had to do with physics and random chance.

It had to do with the smallest of decisions that you and others made in the moments before the explosion. Had you moved a few inches one way, had someone not moved a few inches another you would have died.

Had you been a few minutes earlier and not been delayed by talking to a friend, missing a crosswalk light, had someone not been in your way so you could have walked just a little faster, you would have caught the earlier bus and this would have not happened to you at all.

I have often found it freaky how in incidences like this the smallest of actions can have the most significant of outcomes.

It all comes down to the place and position you were in when the explosion occurred and all the little ways that physics effected the way the shrapnel moved. But G-d had nothing to do with it. G-d doesn't care if particular people live or die because most likely G-d doesn't exist.

Gila said...

Call it coincidence, call it G-d, call it luck....

Whatever floats your proverbial boat.... Whatever you call it, it is all still rather wild--that razor thin border between fortune and catastrophe.

I call it G-d. Suffice it to say that this will be addressed in later posts. Ad nauseum. I honestly have no objection if others attibute the turn of events to coincidence, physics or the Good Fairy. :)

Gila

annie said...

Gila, I got to your blog via The Muqata and I have been incredibly moved by your posts.

I too was once an olah (30 years ago) and I too stepped on to a bus (in 1978 - yes, there was terrorism all the way back then! And even beforehand). This time it wasn't a suicide bomber, "just" a "regular" bomb left hidden under a seat. And for me too, G-d (for I am religious and I believe in Him) or perhaps dumb luck, prevented me from sitting on that seat at the last minute. I walked out of that bus with only shock and bruised ribs. And a claustrophobia in crowded places and a slight fear of buses ever since.

I did hear the explosion and see the flash and hear the screams of those less lucky than me, but that was because I wasn't wounded like you. I can assure you it wasn't anything that is worth remembering! The only feeling I remember is "I can't believe this is happening".

Your description of your shrapnel wounds in your previous post leaves me in awe of your strength of character and your writing talent.

I wish you a speedy recovery (if you haven't already recovered) and the greatest hatzlacha in your future endeavours.

Medinat Yisrael is lucky to have yuo.

EricPWJohnson said...

Thanks for bringing a deep personal testiment to the internet so people can realize the horrors and suffering first hand and not be as insensitized in the comfort and safety of their homes

I pray for your recovery

Smooth said...

Gila, someone left a comment on my site yesterday, telling me to visit yours. I would like to add your link to my blogroll, if that is ok with you.

Smooth Stone
http://smoothstone.blogspot.com

Batya said...

Excellent post.
I wasn't seriously injured at all at "my terror attack," but I must admit that I wasn't heroic. It was over ten years ago. The "yartzeit" is approaching.

Jack said...

Gila,

It really is a powerful post. It really makes me think.

Yosef said...

For anyone that is interested, I can give a summary of the traditional Jewish belief of afterlife. I have something of a yeshiva background, so I've seen many sources on this.
Basically, like many things in Judaism, the details are disagreed upon by various authorities, but there are basic principles that are universal.
1. We do believe that the neshama (soul) is eternal.
2.We believe in a future resurrection of the dead. Whether this will include all righteous people who ever lived is complicated by details of gilgulim(reincarnation), the concept of neshamas sometimes being in different pieces(a person can have more than one in a given lifetime), and other factors. It is a very deep and complex subject.

3. Whether upon death or at the time of resurrection of the dead, every person gives an accounting of their life. This can be conceived of as a state of complete awareness of truth and the full implication of all the choices one made during their life, for good and for bad. Seeing one's mitzvos and their full ultimate impact, in the light of divine awareness would be a bliss inconceivable to a this-wordly mind. The is true, G-d forbid, the other way with aveirot (sins). However, any pain experienced from this awareness itself serves to purify the soul and allow it entry into Gan Eden. This awareness itself might be what is called "Gehinom" - a sort of cosmic dry cleaning some souls must go through to cleanse them enough to enter Gan Eden.

4. From various sources it seems there is some intermediate stage between death and "moving on", where a person (the soul) begins to understand what is happening to it and that they have died. One of the reasons the Jewish tradition requires almost immediate burial when possible is to ease this transition.

5. Ultimately, if a person has even a spark of good in them, they will ultimately make it back to Gan Eden, though they may have to go through a lot of suffering to get there. Even this though, can't last more than 1 year. Traditionally kaddish is recited for 11 months, to show that we don't believe the person could ever need the full 12 months. However, a person's relative place in Gan Eden depends on their deeds.

6. We know little about what Gan Eden is about, other than that it will be a state of consciousness of G-d that is far beyond anything imaginable to us. This is understood an being the ultimate pleasure that is experienced by the righteous there, and is allegorized in the Talmud as a "circle dance" around G-d, who is in the center. This symbolized that those souls will constantly grow closer and become more and more aware, but never reach the center, because G-d is infinite.

7. One of the greatest consolations of the world to come is the awareness we will gain of exactly how and why everything that ever happened in the world was for the best, even everything that seemed "bad" in this world. As an article of faith, though it is beyond the grasp of our minds in this life, we believe that everything that happens in the world is ultimately for the good, and that despite the apparent divine concealment we see in the world, Hashem is nonetheless still deeply, intimately with us. "For but a moment I have concealed my face from you, but with an everlasting love I will gather you in".

8. We also believe that even in this world, that with the coming of Moshiach the world will enter a new era of peace, where "they will neither hurt nor destroy on all of My holy mountain, for the entire earth will be filled with intimate knowledge of Hashem, as water covers the bottoms of the oceans".

This may not be comprehensive, and anyone who wants to ask me a question should feel free to email me at jdishinger (don't send me spam) @gmail.com.

Smooth said...

Yosef, thank you for posting about the traditional Jewish belief of afterlife; it was meaningful to me and I copied it for future reference.

Lady-Light said...

I discovered your blog from Baka Diary's blog. I am still shaking (I was going to say 'blown away' and decided against it, even though the pun was unintended).
I have four out of five adult children living in Israel (three having made aliyah, including youngest daughter in an active combat unit by choice), and I always have that tiny, unexpressed pinpoint of fear in back of my mind. . .
You have a gift. Please keep writing. I would be honored if you'd visit my blog; if you like it, please feel free to link it to your blogroll, as I would like to link yours to mine.
I will be leaving for Israel to attend my older son's wedding in a few weeks. May you have only simchas: rak le-semachot!

the sabra said...

ha! i love ur comment intro!

anyhow, i came to say that i found ur blog thru jameel and im glad i did.

(comments with more depth and width may or may not be posted in due time ;))

Ovadia said...

Hi Gila
This is the first time I ever bumped into your blog and I think it is a great thing and a fantastic way of therapy.
I for one should know that since I was injured in a terror attack in yerushalayim on Dec. 1 2001. It was on Motzaei Shabbat (sturday night) in the Ben Yehuda neighborhood. There were 2 suicide bombers that came to the area with a car. They parked a block away and went to blow themselves up in the Shuk. About half an hour later the car they came in blew up and that's where i got hurt.
I was about 30 feet (10 meters) away from the car.
It's very hard for me until today to even focus on work and I didnt even get hurt as bad as you did. I had peices of shrapnel in my shoes and some stuck to my clothes. I ad scrtches and bruises from flying shrapnel but nothing entered my body except for one peice. It came out mor than 2 years later on its own. I was burnt on my head, face, hands and legs all 3rd degree. I dont know how you get by with all that. I cry every day and I can't focus too long on anything.
However, reading your blog gives me a little push for the day. It shows that if someone like you can go forward then why cant I.
I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you soon.
Ovadia
Brooklyn, NY
U.S.A.

Gila said...

Ovadia,

I do not really know what to say. It sounds like we have had very different reactions to the trauma. I know nothing about your situation, but for me and in my eyes, what has happened to you (your reaction) was never really an option. I could collapse, but only so far. If I did not get back up on my feet and look after myself, no one else would do it for me. I went through a number of very difficult situations growing up as well; I think this helped me to put the bombing et.al. in perspective and to take everything in stride (well, more or less).

Obviously, one's reaction will vary based on all of the related circumstances. That being said, if you are crying every day, have you considered trying anti-depressants along with therapy?

There are issues which I do not deal with well,and are crippling in their own way. What I tell myself when I find myself getting stuck--do I really want to spend the rest of my life like this? How much time have I lost already? No--it is not a quick fix, but it does help to foster a more practical "tachlis" attitude towards things.

Again--I really do not know if this will help. These are what worked for me, but everyone is different.

Good luck!

Ovadia said...

Hi Gila,
Thanks for replying to my comment.
First of all I wasn't very clear in my previous comment which is why you didnt exactly understand me. Let me explain.
The reason to my crying has nothing to do with the actual terrorist attack. It is a result in the change of my emotions. No offense but I feel like a woman with a lot of hormones. I dont cry about my story, I cry from any and every little thing that might touch my emotions i.e.
1) I attend a wedding and by the Chupah I cry like a baby weather I know the couple or not.
2) I read a story about someone that was an orphan and immediately the tears start flowing and there is no way I can hold it back.
I can go on and on about any situation that I just simply cry for no reason at all. It's not depression or anything like it.
Another thing you have not exactly understood is the part that i cannot concentrate at all for more than a few minutes. I don't know and niether do the doctors, psycologists and psychiatrists know exactly what there is to do. The only thing that they can think of was (you might laugh) to take a womans pill (forgot what it's called) to control my hormones and there is no guarantee it will work. They tried on me every other medicaton and therapy there is out there.
Another thing I want to make clear is that I am in no way comparing your situation to mine. We are 2 different people and 2 different stories.
I'm trying to read all your posts so that I can understand you and where you are coming from better. It will take some time though.
Anyway, thanks again.
Ovadia
Brooklyn, NY
U.S.A.