Saturday, April 16, 2005

A Good Week

March 31, 2000
This has been a truly good week from Timmi's point of view. She no longer suffers from the stomach problems that the GVH had caused her, and is back to eating enthusiastically. She also seems able to drink enough now. Also, she has lowered yet again the dose of the painkilling patches that she wears, a sign that she may still have enough GVH left for it to be fighting the cancer. (Also her skin is dry and sensitive, which is not so comfortable but a sign perhaps that the GVH is still active.)

But the best part is her mood - she has been feeling very good, especially since her doctors told her that she could start going out again to public places such as movies and restaurants. So far she's been out three times this week, and is planning another trip to the mall today. She is also making all kinds of plans – finishing matriculation exams, appearing in the last production of her Theater class's play in April, etc. She is also very interested in going abroad again (impatient is the word, actually). She really feels like she wants and is able to resume a more normal life. Yesterday evening she even did, on her own initiative, some housework while we were out - a real sign of her good mood and the strength she's feeling.

She also expressed the desire to go away as a family during Chol Ha-Moed,* and when I pointed out that she would not be able to do a lot of vacation-type things, answered that she would rather travel in a limited way than not travel at all, and that she wants the rest of the family to have as good a time as possible, so not to worry if she can't participate in every activity. Of course, we will try to do things that she can do with us. By the way, she wants us to go to the Zichron - Caesaria area; does anyone have any suggestions as to a hotel where we could get reservations for Chol Ha-Moed at this relatively late date? I've started looking, and it's a problem.

We just hope, of course, that this trend will continue and that there will be no more surprises of the kind we've all been hit with so many times in the past.

Shabbat Shalom to all.


*Chol Ha-Moed – the five intermediate days between the holidays of the first and last days of Pesach (Passover).

April 14, 2005
This week was lovely; Don and I just got back from a two-night vacation that we took in and around Beit She’an, a 5,000-year-old city in Israel’s north. Like many other cities in Israel, Beit She’an has been home to Canaanites, Jews (King David conquered it somewhere around 1,000 B.C.E.), Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and now, again, Jews.

Besides the fascinating Roman-Byzantine ruins – which have been beautifully reconstructed to give a real feel for the ancient city – there are several natural and historical attractions in the area. Taking our bird and flower guides, we visited a few sites on the Gilboa, where King Saul and his sons were defeated and slain by the Philistines (the Book of Samuel relates that their bodies were then displayed on the Beit She’an city walls). We were a bit late for this area’s most impressive flowers, which generally bloom in March. But we were more successful with the birds; amateurs as we are, we still found and identified several types that we hadn’t seen (or, more likely, noticed) before. We also visited the Sahne, a very large natural spring and pool surrounded by a grassy and shaded area for picnics, games and just plain lazing around. We’ve been to the Sahne several times, though up to now always with the children. There’s always a lovely, relaxed ambiance there, with Jewish and Arab families from the area picnicking and swimming side by side.

Traveling around Israel is something of a national obsession, and has been since the founding of the state. Natural sites are full to bursting on holidays, which is why Don and I always try to use some of our vacation days for trips during the work week. We thought we’d miss the Passover rush this time, but almost everywhere we went there were buses full of boisterous children on their annual class trips. Even so, we managed to find a few places where we could be the only two people on the trail - for me, a foretaste of heaven.

I grew up in New York City, with almost no experience of nature. Although we lived in Coney Island, on the beach (literally; we didn’t have to cross any streets to get there), there was very little green in the landscape of my childhood. And we couldn’t afford to go away for family vacations. The first time I ever saw expanses of grass, rolling hills, and fields of wildflowers was at the age of 16, when I spent the summer at the Cornell University program for high school juniors. I was blown away. I'd always longed to spend quiet time in nature; in sixth grade, I wrote a poem in which I fantasized waking every morning at dawn and walking outside into a world of sparkling grass and an invitingly blue lake. A far cry from the housing project I lived in. So when I found myself that summer actually eating blackberries straight off a tree - well, you can imagine how I felt.

And so when I got to Israel, I very enthusiastically assimilated into the culture of nature travel. As soon we got our first car, Don and I began taking the children for family trips around Israel. This tiny country contains amazingly diverse natural scenery, from the lush Galilee to the Negev desert to the coral reefs of Eilat. And, of course, a long and rich history - the Dead Sea caves, Crusader fortresses, Roman ruins, ancient synagogues… the list is virtually endless. But going on vacation has meant far more than the opportunity to see the country’s magnificent landscapes and learn about its turbulent past. It’s given our family – and, sometimes, Don and me alone – the chance to be with each other away from the pressures of day-to-day life. The trips have sometimes been incredibly exhausting; with so many children so close in age, how could they be otherwise? But what’s remained for all of us is the warm feeling of having been together through something special – even the children’s fights in the back seat have become just one more family memory to laugh about.

I know all this probably sounds obvious and banal to many people. But the fact is that I will never take any of it for granted – living so near to beautiful natural surroundings, adding my own roots to a living historical continuum, and (most of all) having a close and loving family with whom to share it all.

Some of my strongest memories of Timmi are connected to away-from-home vacations. Timmi, racing her sisters to the snack bar when we would stop for ice cream in the Jordan valley after driving through the Judean Desert with five kids packed into a hatchback Renault – without air conditioning. (This was in the Israel of the 80s, when just about no one could afford air conditioning. We got all five kids into the car by belting baby seats in the car’s hatchback space for Timmi, who was a toddler then, and for Elaine. We hooked up a fan that blew straight onto their faces, making them more comfortable than anyone else in the car.) Timmi taking off her clothes and jumping joyfully into the Sahne or some other natural pool. Timmi counting how many species of flowers we could find in just one small field (in Israel, the number can reach fifty). Timmi setting up her tent and taking Elaine by the hand to explore our favorite campground in the northern Galilee.

Then, that August camping trip when Timmi cried from pain for almost the full three days. She had already seen doctors and undergone many inconclusive medical tests, but we were still three months away from diagnosis of her cancer. Timmi's illness and the treatments she underwent prevented us from going away for a long time after that August trip. But when we were finally able to travel again, her enthusiasm redoubled. In an echo of my own deep appreciation for nature and for travel after missing out on these experiences when I was a child, Timmi – who had grown up taking nature trips with family, school, and Scouts – stopped taking them for granted. And Don and I came to appreciate all the more keenly every precious minute with our children, and with each other.

The Pesach trip of five years ago was our last with Timmi. Today, when I travel with Don or our children, I never fail to think how she would have loved the trip's scenery, its animals and birds, its flowers and all its experiences. I’m also reminded that we will never again take a full family trip; there will always be at least one child missing. But my sadness at those thoughts is tempered by the comfort of finding a memory of Timmi in every place we visit. Here’s where she did… There’s where she said… Here’s where we all… That’s just like the place where she…

As the years have passed since Timmi left us, the comfort of finding Timmi's spirit in the most unexpected places has increasingly enabled me to bear the sadness of her physical absence. And my intense appreciation of every chance I receive to get away with Don or any of my children further lightens the burden. And so now, five years after that last trip with Timmi, I can say upon coming home from just about any vacation, “This has been a truly good week.”

No comments: