There was a loud crash off in the distance, not unlike an unexpected bolt of angry thunder. The ground shook underneath my feet, and I tried not to look around, both afraid of what I might see and wanting to present a calm demeanor. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, but I don’t know if the heart can ever get used to the rattling. But I could control my face, and I molded it as best I could back into the smile from just seconds earlier. A few moments passed, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I looked far off in the direction of the crash, and saw nothing: nothing but the usual dry scenery beyond the field and the farm.
In my line of vision, I noticed a camper – a young girl with a mountain of Ultimate and leadership potential – slowly making her way to her feet. She wasn’t on my team, but I had gotten to know her reasonably well through my team’s close interactions with hers. I knew that she had great throws. I knew that she cut hard. And I had seen the competitiveness in her eyes from the moment our first scrimmage began. What I saw in her eyes now, though, was terror. What I saw now in her eyes was the weight of thousands of deaths and years of fighting. What I saw now was the resignation to the sound of bombs hitting the ground. What I saw at that moment was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. I’ll remember it for as long as I live.
A second passed, and I watched her get to her knees, and with the help of a friend make it to her feet. She had gotten up from the ground, but her eyes never changed. As that second passed, I had asked myself what to do. Should I go and comfort her? Tell her that if we were in any foreseeable danger, we wouldn’t even be here? I took half a step before catching myself. What was I, a visiting American, to tell her, who had lived in the region her entire life? Who lived this life not just over the summers, but every day in between? Would she want my comfort? Or would it be, to her, just an expression of my privilege?
We had all been trained on what to do in case of the worst. If you’re in an open area, as we were on the field, you are to lay down with your hands over your head. Just like the lounging position you might take up in bed, watching TV, except here you’re on your stomach instead of your back. We had also been expressly told that our exact location would be safe. If there were to be any indication otherwise, we would leave. I trusted what I had been told. But then there are those moments. Those moments when you hear an explosion and all you can imagine is the worst. Those moments when you feel the very ground beneath you shaking, and you wonder where it hit, and who was hitting the ground, face down, with their hands over their heads.
We hadn’t heard any immediate sirens, which was why nobody else was on the ground. But that reaction, even if it was just the reaction of one girl, must have come from somewhere. And that somewhere is years of conflict, years of war, years of living in fear, for there is no such thing as invincibility.
After returning to the States the previous summer, while the 2014 conflict raged on, I read an article that has long stuck with me. I’ve searched for it, hoping for a chance to reread and share, but haven’t been able to find it. The premise of the article was that the Middle East, collectively, is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Of everything I’ve read, that’s one of a select few that has remained in the forefront of my mind. The way things are going, it’s an endless battle. Every side has simply suffered too much to move forward. Every side has lost, every side has killed; every side is guilty and every side is innocent. So what are we to do?
Look, I believe with everything I have that Ultimate Peace and other organizations like it make incredible differences. I believe it down to the very bottom of my heart and with everything that I am. The problem is, no matter how much we do, it’s not enough. And I don’t know if it will ever be enough. It’s a fear that pervades my every thought, renders many nights sleepless, and invades my dreams, turning them to nightmares.
If anything were to ever happen to those courageous, gentle, passionate souls whom I have come to know and love not just as friends but as family, I truly don’t know how I would go on. And if I take that selfish thought of mine and extend it to all those who know and love friends and family in the Middle East, and to those who live within the conflict themselves, the amount of collective fear would permeate everything we do, and everything we are. There is nobody who has a hand in this conflict who lives without fear. We must take this fear, and we must turn it to action: action against that fear. We must turn it to a relentless, exhausting battle for peace. What other option do we have? We all have too much to lose to remain silent. I don’t know what we’re capable of accomplishing. But if we take all the pain and suffering – everything that leads to the collective PTSD of an entire region, imagine how the wheel would turn: There would be an endless supply. I don’t know if it would be enough. But it would be worth something.
I think about the look in that camper’s eyes, and I feel chills running down my spine and I hear the air escape my chest. It makes me sick. That a thirteen year old girl, and every single person living in the region around her, must face such intense terror, is the single most heart wrenching thing I can imagine.
After my moment of paralysis, I walked over to her. I made eye contact, and tried to reassure her. I told myself that it was better to address the situation than ignore it, even if I was far more inexperienced in the matter than she. A calming presence couldn’t hurt, and as a bonus, needing to stay calm for her helped me to relax. She took my words without any apparent bitterness, but her gaze seemed to look through me, searching me. A teammate of hers – several had gathered – said, “We’re used to this!” far more enthusiastically than I could have ever been. “This is normal for us!” As friends gathered and comfort grew, I eased myself away from the situation, recognizing that this Arab girl was being comforted by Arab and Jewish friends and teammates alike. And I guess that speaks to what we can accomplish if we collect our common fear and shift it into determination for comfort and peace. Arabs and Jews comforting each other during a moment of panic, over the sound of bombs hitting the ground is, I imagine, not a common sight. If we can support each other at the worst moments, like this one, then we must possess within ourselves the potential for great change. What these girls did was something incredible; they turned their fear into collective support. Arabs and Jews alike explained to me that they were used to living like this. Arabs and Jews alike literally and figuratively lifted one another up from the ground. We may not fix everything, but Arabs and Jews comforting and being comforted by each other in such a potentially dividing situation seems to me to be a pretty good place to start.