an unusual trip

As the years have passed, my life has become more and more systematic, planned out, and stable. Once I was willing to set out on a new adventure at the drop of a hat; to stay up all night because ‘something came up suddenly’; to take risks, or to change my plans because something new appeared that interested me. Friends could and would drop by any time, day or night. And when I was working on something that fascinated me, it would not be unusual at all for me to work all night. Nowadays, I make plans for visits with friends. My calendar is very organized. I try to take a walk every morning. I try to take a nap in the afternoon. I’ve become a creature of habit.

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But even so, the habits aren’t iron clad. There are times when I’m willing to make an exception to my regular schedule, and do something completely unexpected or unplanned. It doesn’t happen that often. But when it does, there is that sense of the immediacy of life, and I am reminded once again that nothing can be taken for granted.

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In the last few weeks, I have been a little busier than usual… and at the same time, a little weaker than I’m used to, for a number of reasons which I won’t go into here. It has been cold in Jerusalem. And I had pushed myself a bit too hard some weeks ago. All of which supported my being as methodical as possible in order to get my strength back. But then I got word that a very dear friend of mine was quite ill. He lives in the Galilee, which is quite a distance from Jerusalem. Visiting him would take a half a day’s drive, and if I visited, I would have to stay there for a few days. And to make things still more complicated, I knew the holiday of Purim was approaching, and it is my custom to celebrate the holiday with friends and family in my home in Jerusalem. I didn’t really feel up to the trip. And I had some work that I wanted to finish before setting off to do anything else. But if a friend is ill, it’s not something you can put off for a better time. I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to stop everything and just do it.

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As it happened, after the cold and the storms, we were blessed with a bit of spring weather. The sun came out, and it warmed up some. I packed up everything I might possibly need, and set out in the middle of this week for the north. Packing up, for me, meant transferring any sort of files and work in process to my little computer, and that too was a bit of a job. And of course, I had to cancel some plans, and make some arrangements to cover the time I’d be away from home.

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Fortunately, luck was with me from the moment I set out on this trip. I managed to pick the right hour to get on the highway, and avoided the more exasperating traffic jams along the way. The music that I picked out was just the right thing to supply a fine sound track as I headed north in my trusty car, and though there was a fog bank around the Tel Aviv area, and what we call the central area of Israel… and it may very well have been smog and not fog… by the time I got into the Galilee, I was overcome by the beauty of the greenery. There were wild flowers everywhere, and it was a pleasure to observe them.

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When getting together with my friend David, I had some long hard thoughts about illness and infirmity, and what it really means to reach the end of the road. I found myself remembering how I had felt when I was very ill myself. I hadn’t wanted visitors, or cheering up, or social contacts. Yet, it is a precept of our religion to visit the ill. I thought about that, and wondered how we can ease the discomfort of a fellow human being when we encounter their suffering. Regardless of what they may think they want, or be in the mood for. And remembering how I had been quite willing to leave this world, and ready for it in every way… I couldn’t help but notice that it was harder to be a witness to another’s incapacity and illness than it was to be aware of my own.

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And then, I became aware that in such a situation, we have a much greater capacity for empathy than we have at the celebration of a joyous event. How often have I been at a wedding, and had a good time, and truly celebrated, without spending too much of that time trying to connect to the souls of those whose celebration I was joining? It made me realize how precious such a meeting really is. And there is the hope that the experience is in someway mutual and strengthening.

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45 responses to “an unusual trip

  1. I love your photos of the flowers here. They are stunning and simple. The Spring is my favorite time here in Israel. I also enjoying reading your words. I’ve noticed as I’ve grown and aged, my habits seem to overtake bits of my life. I’m still pretty young in life, but I hope that I am able to always maintain an innocence and simplicity to my nature. Great post.

    • Ah, the beauties of this blogland… you write for a friend far away… and find that there are all kinds of people who you never knew, who read your words… and then after a walk around the block you discover that your neighbor on the vespa has been reading you too. כל כך שמח להכיר אותך, שכנתי

  2. Your photographs of the poppies are beautiful Shimon, my favourite flower if one can have such a thing. How true that it is harder to witness another’s incapacity and illness than it is to be aware of your own. Since I became ill I have become aware of this and although I initially routinely refused the help that was offered, I would struggle thinking that this was the noble thing to do, I now accept it knowing that it makes things a little easier for those that love me to be able to do something for me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your lovely pictures.

    • Yes, I know they look like poppies, and I love poppies too. But they’re anemones, and they arrive in our country just a little before the poppies. They’re a wild flower here… completely free. Glad you liked the post, and I hope you are doing well these days, Chillbrook.

      • Thank you Shimon, I am doing quite well. Anemones are new to me. They are beautiful. All flowers are lovely but there is something very special about wild flowers in particular.

  3. Ah! Such beautiful photography. It restores the spirit just to look at it, Shimon; thank you. I hope both you and your friend were just so mutually restored by the sharing of your empathic presence. You reminded me of many of the things I love about being a chaplain!

    • So glad you liked the pictures, Catherine. The work was hard… and while there, I was quite discouraged… but on arrival home, I got word that my friend had agreed to move back from the nursing home to his ‘protected apartment’. Maybe there is still room for hope. Thank you very much for your comment.

  4. This is a beautiful post and your photographs are wonderful. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently with a very dear friend whose husband died a couple of weeks ago. Despite the sadness it has been a truly enriching experience and has certainly made me realise the depth of our friendship.

  5. Your empathy is great. You are so nice. I felt everything in your words about your friend. Not easy of course. And also I can see this too, how beautiful friendness in your life… They always ask what is a real friend… This is the answer. I am impressed so much and also touched my heart too. My wishes, my prayers… How amazing to find spring and spring flowers… In here still we are waiting… 🙂 I loved your beautiful flower photographs. Thank you dear Shimon, have a nice day, with my love, nia

    • Thank you so much for your prayers, Nia… And yes, as one season fades away, we find renewal in the next… it is all part of life, as much as we ache, at times. And friendship is that great support that keeps us going.

  6. Shimon, I’m glad you made the trip to see David and that your road-trip there was such an enjoyable one. I enjoyed reading all of your points about empathy, celebration, and your opening words about routine and stability. The photographs of the flowers are beautiful. I know what you mean when you say that when one is ill one does not wish for visitors. But at the same time wouldn’t be sad if no one came to visit? If no one remembered us when we are suffering? The visit is indeed important. Cheering up may not be what’s necessary (as you say), but rather a recognition of reality, a solid looking in the eye. I agree that it is hard to be witness to someone else’s suffering, but personally I find it one of our greatest responsibilities as human beings.

    • I agree with you, Lemony. It is part of our responsibility… and I suppose we can just hope that we’ll understand the true needs of a friend, when he or she is in need. Very glad you liked the flowers, and understood what I was saying. This virtual world has its heights and depths too… Thank you for your comment.

  7. orlando gustilo

    Shimon, these are gorgeous photos of roadside poppies and passion flowers! I empathize with the lifestyle we settle into as we age and still struggle against rigid routines and inflexibility in so many other aspects of our life as stiffness too settle in our bodies and bones! But it’s all good. These last years are wonderful for a more philosophic journey into the deeper meanings of life and death and mortality are powerful incentives to take a long look at what we are about living as we do, whether we have the structure of our religious beliefs or the more secular notions we acquire in the course of just living one moment after another. And I hope your energy is improving again, and that you’re feeling better.

    • I agree with you Orlando… these last years have been more precious to me than the years when I was at my height. We learn to appreciate life more as time goes on. It was a bit wearing for me, but I am now at home again, and finding new strengths. Thank you very much for your comment.

  8. So true, thank you for sharing this.

  9. Very beautiful photos. It is very hard to watch a great friend suffer. I too have a very great friend that suffers a lot lately and it hurts to see him so strained under his load. I too hope your energy returns soon. Great post.

    • Thank you BoJo. Glad you liked the photos, as you know that I like yours very much too. And it is hard to see a friend suffer. I’m getting better now, being back at home. And it does look like spring is about to begin.

  10. Shimon – there is much I want to say, but my words are fleeing from me today, so I’ll do my best to get it said. First, I was sorry to hear that you have recently experienced some time when you have been feeling weakened, and even sorrier that it had escaped my notice. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to simply share a kind word with you, and send extra prayers in your direction. I’m sending them now, in abundance.

    Secondly, my eyes were almost hurting as I was absorbing the gift of the flower photos … such bright and cheery defiance in the face of sorrow. Thank you for your generosity in sharing these photos. Glorious.

    Third, as to the empathy, and how we are much more capable of experiencing empathy in a stronger capacity than connecting with others in their celebrations, it is interesting to realize the truth in that statement. The depths of what we feel when reaching out to offer comfort and solace to another is the clearest definition of love, and truth, although their infirmity is painful for us to witness. When we cross over the boundary of our own comfort and meet them in their despair, we have finally become human.

    Fourth, when we are “quite willing to leave this world, and ready for it in every way,” isn’t it almost surprising when we reach this other place, where we are capable of regaining a different perspective, and we suddenly find that we still have more to give to this world? We take up that responsibility and continue moving forward, and if we are serious about our devotion to god, we remember to take photos along the way.

    התפילות שלי איתך היום

    אתה מלמד אותי הרבה, ידידי (I hope this translates correctly, via google)

    • Thank you for your prayers and good wishes, N. Things are okay. I accept life the way it comes to me, and try to make the most of it. I’m very glad that you enjoyed the photos. For me it was a great consolation to see these first signs of spring in the Galilee. I think this feeling, of having more to give to the world is very subjective, and quite different from one person to the next. But I do appreciate the humor in which you presented that thesis… and am touched by your writing me in my own language.

      יהי רצון שלא תדאבי עוד, ידידתי; עם ברכה מכל הלב.

      • It wasn’t until I saw someone writing to you in Hebrew that it dawned on me that, of course, you speak Hebrew, and then I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before, especially knowing you live in Jerusalem. Funny how our minds forget to notice the differences sometimes, even when they are so obvious. I thought it appropriate to make an attempt to speak to you in a language I have no knowledge of, out of respect for your culture and heritage. You continue to cause me to wonder at how large is this world, and yet, how easily we can reach across the miles to share a smile.

    • Dear N, I was touched by the gesture of your writing to me in my own language. Thank you very much. But I have to tell you that it is highly inadvisable to communicate in a language you don’t know (beyond a very limited greeting), even with the help of a translator, because this almost always leads to mistakes and misunderstandings.

      • I appreciate what you are saying, (about mistakes and misunderstandings), especially since using a translator does not allow us to have any idea of the message that is being received. Point taken, and agreed. As you already acknowledged, it was more about the gesture of goodwill and respect, and I’m glad you understood the intent.

        This conversation reminds of an incident I experienced many years ago. While taking some college classes, I volunteered to be a study partner with a deaf girl, even though I didn’t speak sign language. In the course of our studies, I eventually learned a small amount of sign language, and would occasionally exchange some phrase or another with her in sign language. Months later, I was signing the phrase “your answer is correct” and she began giggling. Turns out what I really was saying was “your answer is stupid”. I was mortified, and was glad she found it funny, rather than offensive. Thanks for the gentle reminder that conversing in a language other than one we are fluent in can have unexpected results.

    • Yes I have been witness to many misunderstandings that resulted from language problems. Thank you for the story… very interesting, and amusing too.

  11. The photos are lovely and so feel of hope and promise. I’m glad you had a good journey to visit your friend. It is hard to see someone that we love suffer. I trust that your presence made a difference to your friend and that it was a time of mutual encouragement.

    • Thank you so much, yearstricken… and I’m glad you enjoyed the flowers. At the time, I didn’t feel that the visit meant much to him, but since then, I’ve already gotten some more positive news.

  12. Beautiful photos of the wild flowers especially the purple anemone.
    Jewish people do put family and friends very high on their priority list. I don’t get too close to people and am a little distanced from my family except for my mom who I am in very close contact with. I understand the feeling when you have to stop and focus and ignore you routine because something important must be dealt with first.

    • Glad you enjoyed the photos, GB. You’re right about Jewish people and family, but among every peoples, there are those who’ve had hard times or been scarred by difficulties growing up, and they have to find their own way to deal with that. With best wishes to you always…

  13. Lovely blooms–lovely photos–the sentiments linger.

  14. A beautifully illustrated and composed post, the bright yellow-greens of spring, alongside your visit to an ill friend. And you are right we do dwell on the empathy and not the clebrations – maybe that’s are own fears coming through?

    • Thank you very much, Claire. I don’t know whether it’s a question of fear. It seems to me that in joy, we often give expression to our own selves, whereas in sorrow we are more empathetic. It could be, though.

  15. Beautiful pictures and prose to match! You are quite gifted, Shimon.

  16. Your words are really resonating with me Shimon! Life is such a blessing that we can’t take a single moment for granted. I share your deep sense of empathy for others. I feel happiest when I reach out to others (including animals).

    I love the photos of the beautiful wildflowers! I find it very soothing to my soul to connect with nature. It’s essential for me that I do so each day. It’s a spiritual experience for me. And it’s a beautiful reminder of how precious each day is. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, but connecting with nature is a wonderful way to reconnect with what I believe is important.

    Thanks Shimon for sharing your lovely words and photos. It invigorated my soul. And thanks for helping your friend! My thoughts and prayers are with you and your friend.

    • Thank you, Donna for your comment, and for introducing yourself. I look forward to getting to know you better. I agree with all the things you have said here. I too, see the connection to nature as a spiritual experience, and like yourself, believe that having empathy for animals is an important part of being aware in general. Thank you especially for your good thoughts and prayers.

  17. As usual, you instructed me. I had never thought much about our very different reactions to celebration and to sorrow. Perhaps it is easier to share joy without much consideration for the joyful. I know the emotion of wanting to strengthen the weak. We do give more of ourselves then. Was it always so? When did we evolve into empathetic creatures?

    • It is always a special pleasure to share my thoughts with you, George, as it is to read your own thoughts. This question of yours, about when we evolved into empathetic creatures, is very interesting. I have a friend who is doing a lot of research into genetic traits and DNA. He believes that he has evidence, that generosity is a genetic trait, which is essential for the survival of the tribal group or the species as a whole. I find the idea fascinating. And since I heard it from him, I’ve read more about it, and it does seem to make sense. Thank you so much for your comment.

  18. I believe we survived because we developed a sort of herd mentality reinforced by fear and hunger. Those were instinctive survivalist reactions to the environment very much like all animals develop. I do not think these basic instincts evolved into more sophisticated ones such as empathy until much later in the evolutionary development of the higher regions of our brains.

    The notion of a genetic-based explanation is fascinating. That takes us far beyond basic instinctive behaviors. Was the gene always there or was it an anomaly that developed later?

    If your friend could isolate the gene, wouldn’t that be an extraordinary discovery!

    • All of this is theory, but the basic instincts that you mention, are very basic. We already see sacrifice, and help to the weak in lower level animals, for the preservation of the group. Now whether or not we call this empathy depends on how much we want to identify behavior patterns with our own emotions. The loyalty of dogs, and the concern of dolphins even for members of other species are well known phenomena. As to the survival of the humans, it is pretty much agreed upon by all researchers, that the characteristic which was developed to enable humans to survive and prosper was intelligence. In the study of genes, it is usually not one gene, but a pattern of a number of genes that transfer characteristics. I believe they are very close to definition in the area of ‘generosity’. There have been a few research projects on the subject.

  19. I very much like the sunny freshness of these photos – and I’m all for naps in the afternoons too! But one of the problems with becoming a creature of habit – as I am myself – is that time simply shoots by. I have to make conscious and not always successful attempts to slow it down, by stopping “doing” all the time and trying to be “being”, that is, experiencing where I am and enjoying it, rather than always rushing on to the next thing that has to be done. I am greatly looking forward to retirement! FATman

    • I agree with you completely, Fatman. Unfortunately, time keeps on speeding up, the older we get. But I have found a great advantage in keeping some time free in my schedule… if just for thinking. I like to think when I walk, and without earphones in my ears or other distractions. I have been semi-retired for some years now, and I find that habits of a lifetime continue, despite retirement. If something is really important, I think we should do it now… whatever our age. Thank you for coming by. I’m glad you find the blog interesting.

  20. Interesting thoughts and some wonderful floral photography.

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