We got back to Israel safely, bodies exhausted, luggage intact. I only wish I could say the same for my head, but the J-L word has been rearing it's ugly head. I've now tried the stay-up-really-late-method, the take-a-nap method, the don't-take-a-nap method, the no-caffeine, no-alcohol diet, the caffeine -and-alcohol diet... it all sort of comes down to "Damn! Here I am, awake between 2 and 5 a.m. yet again."* Last night, Shabbat, was the worst, -- all the lights were out (no reading) and using the computer was out of the question (no blogging... all those posts, composed in my head, the permanently lost in memory wasteland / oblivion). Sometimes I envy those locals (read: EU members) whose flight back to The Old Country costs them only six hours of their lives, plus waiting time, and possibly a couple of time zones. I know, I know, it could be worse; Australians must envy everyone.
(A recent conversation companion suggested that the lengthy travel time might serve a higher purpose, giving our minds and bodies time to readjust to the new environment. I'm not sure what that means, since I'm assuming that if not for the jet-lag, my adjustment time would near zero, even accounting for other adaptations).
Straight off the plane, the white light is blinding. The abrupt weather transformation -- from California balmy to Middle East heat bake -- shocks my system with an immediate, unforgiving reminder that the sun is stronger here. Like the emotional charge of everyday interactions, this heat is a force to be reckoned with, a consistent reminder to budget your energy and appreciate the basics: Clean water, the roof over your head, a cool evening breeze.
For the first few days following our return our house always seems so small and dusty, but that's only because, in comparison, my parents' house is enormous and several thousand miles from the Sahara. After a few days our house goes back to looking its normal self (reasonably large and dusty).
We visit the Old Country every two or three years, and each time it feels more like a foreign country. Yes, my English is still fluent (though some would claim otherwise), and I remembered to say Have a nice day and Nice to meet you like I really mean it. But the differences inevitably reared their heads. I could still think in inches, but no longer in pounds. In the supermarket, the endless selection of every category of product was truly overwhelming. Parking lots became their own sprawling world, filled with superfluous SUV's, and the twelve-lane freeway where I'd learned to drive as a teenager had somehow transformed itself into a massive, threatening behemoth.
I came to Israel as a college student, unattached and uncommitted to any particular person, child, job or goal beyond trying to find a place to live, finish my degree, learn Hebrew. Within a year or two those goals expanded to include finding a beit knesset, acquiring job skills, searching for a spouse... and then, building a home, having children, developing a career and joining a community. Every one of these steps furthered my integration into this life and this society, even as it increased the barrier -- without my noticing -- between this life and my old life. On this trip, I began to understand that while I grew up in California, I actually became an adult in Israel. Marriage, motherhood, career, community -- all of these seminal moments happened in Israel, which means that my integration of these experiences also happened in Israel.
By living so far away, I am also keenly aware of what I am missing, and causing others to miss. My grandmother finally has three great-grandchildren -- who might as well be a million miles away. Was this trip our last chance to see her? I really, really hope not. My Mom savors every long-distance telephone call, but nothing compares to helping her grandchildren practice their swimming in the neighborhood pool. I can't remember a visit when my Dad hasn't "threatened" to kidnap one of the kids, so he won't have to wait another two years to see her.
My good friend Q asked, as she always does when I return, Do you ever feel the urge to stay there? No, I don't, even though coming home means coming back to the regular routine. Gearing the kids up for a new school year. A less-than enthusiastic return to the stresses of work. Grocery shopping and carpool schedules. Trips to the doctor, the dentist, the veterinarian. Household repairs and reorganizations. A fish tank in need of scrubbing and disinfecting. A pile of laundry that dares to reach the ceiling after three days. Dust. Everywhere. I know all too well that for me, "California" now means "vacation." Were to we live there, I would still have all of the above and more, that is, all the ingredients of a regular life.
But just in case I'd ever forget where home is, my kids wouldn't hesitate to remind me. From the moment we left Israel, they struggled with the separation from their friends. For four weeks they begged me to find them someone to play with; even our three-year-old exchanged email photos to his nursery school girlfriend. Driving home from the airport, the kids were barely out of the car and they were already asking, pleading to call their friends, invite them over, visit their houses. Seeing my neighbors on Friday evening felt like a real home-coming, my neighbors sitting in the Beit Knesset, welcoming Shabbat, while the little kids ran around in the park. They all looked so beautiful.
I love coming home.
Keep the balance,
* Note the time-stamp. And yes, that's Israel time.