A writer’s lot is not a happy one

After a listless nap, and with no text from Achraf, I decided to resume writing my memoir, Sneeze. I was working on the chapter of the semester in Israel in 1974 and wanted to work in the essay I wrote about my encounter with Uri, the IDF AWOL I met in Luxembourg on the trip back to the States. As I was copying down the account I had noted earlier, about Uri’s encounter with his IDF comrade shooting a defenseless wounded Syrian soldier, Achraf begins texting. I tersely responded that I was writing, and good night. He immediately rejoins, wondering if I’m “ok” he’s worried, and if I don’t want to  talk to him anymore or see him anymore, to tell him.

I don’t have time for this shit. I simply say “I’m busy writing. Good night.”

I was struck by how immersed I’d become in again recounting Uri’s story. The shock of hearing the details of the shooting at the end of the Yom Kippur war in 1974, his own resolve to flee Israel all came back to me in a big rush.  I was tense, on edge knowing that something terrible was going to be revealed and that I was a passive person hearing the news, being horrified again at the knee jerk tit for tat violence that rattles the cages of  our earthly zoo. Even though we’re talking about an event forty four years ago, I’m still stunned at the cavalier huff of the Israeli who said “They do it to us, we do it to them.”

Achraf would not have been comfortable if I’d told him he’d interrupted me while I was writing about the war crimes of an Israeli soldier. As an Algerian, he has adopted the country’s official attitude that all Jews should be pushed into the sea. I have no doubt that were I ever permitted to go into Algeria, any Israeli visa on my passport would negate my entry into Algeria as it would in most other Arab countries.

Words freeze reality, so says Timothy Leary. But that reality, like a photograph which captures the youth, the smile, the light, the style the second the shutter is snapped still can evoke a mood, a memory, a question. Looking again at those words that I first wrote via MacWrite on a Mac computer, saved (thank God on a hard copy) from over two decades ago, I still am floored, sobered, silenced and stilled by my memory of meeting Uri for just a few hours one May day in Luxembourg on a homeward leg. He may have been in the Golan just a few miles from where we stopped as Biblical students exploring historical sites in Banias. And, here we meet in a tiny duchy, from where my grandfather sailed when he was twelve in 1883.

As Suzuki would say, “No matter where you go, there you are.”


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