LIVING UNSCRIPTED: The Faces of Neot S’madar

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Wisdom arrives in silence, Shaz.

And silence, Shaz, is always there.

Shhhhhhhh,

– The Universe

Time was up/time to leave “somewhere in the middle of nowhere.” Ruth rushed in to the dining room — the car was waiting to take me to the junction to catch the bus to Tel-Aviv and I was running late. I caught their faces out of the corner of my eye as I scurried past the courtyard towards the office … But I didn’t turn around.  I didn’t want to look back.  I couldn’t look back.

Naome, Yael, Etai, Natalia…

My inner noise identified their faces, contemporary faces with ancient Hebrew names, tagging them in my head.  If I hesitate, I might not leave … Breathe … focus on breathing. I know how to do this.  As many times as I’ve said goodbye over the years, it’s never gotten easier.  And now, this time, there may not be enough time left for a next time … I actually felt “the numb” set in.

Sam, Samuel, Mayann, Myiann …

I was scheduled to take the bus from the Kibbutz to the junction but someone decided I should be driven.  Klaus told me when Ruth asked if he could do a drop-off, he asked “who?” and when she said “Shaz” he said “of course, I have to do this.”

Looking out at the vast panorama of sand and more sand as he drove, I asked if this send-off was as special as it felt… And he replied with his Austrian accent “let me just say that you are getting back what you’ve given us.”

Rafael, Rose, Jessie, Izik…

Sarah, Danny, Andrea-Claude, Nille…

On my last day of assigned work, the Dairy and the Winery joined us (Food Processing) for our break. I know who they are now.  I tried to memorize their faces, still amazed at how handsome, heathy, different each was … different in age, in size, hair color, voice.  Noting my imminent departure, Etai, my group leader, talked about his feeling “safe” with me in the room, “as if something that might go wrong, won’t –or it will be ok if it does.” He said he “liked hearing my (soft) singing” (which got a laugh) “and good humor”(which didn’t). They asked me to speak and I did, earnestly about “learning things about myself I didn’t know” –and things about them “it was my pleasure to learn.”  I searched for lyrics  … “You’ve Got a Friend” (James Taylor) … “Now & Forever” (Carol King) … Let The River Run (Carly Simon)…

Rakefet, Shevi, Toby, Koby, Jake…

I spoke with Rina in the afternoon; a deep conversation about life, purpose, connection.  And I watched the sun set for the first time that last evening, sitting alone on a chair facing the Sinai, near my caravan.  I watched my shadow grow longer behind me as it stretched out under the lowering sun and wondered for the 100th time what it would be like to stay. As it went down behind the distant hills, I took a picture of my shadow in forward motion against the landscape, aware that I was, at that moment, removing my face from the faces of Neot S’madar. I was making the decision to move on, to let whatever “this” feeling was process in the context of everyone, everywhere, until my journey’s end.

Lotem, Klaus, Orit, Gillee…

I up-dressed for the silent evening meal & in a surreal version of Al Pacino in The Godfather, made eye-contact with so many; nodding, smiling, subtly acknowledging our transition from stranger to neighbor to friend.

I sat with a woman I so admire, outside, afterwards, who paid me the highest compliment when she asked my opinion on whether or not she should dye her graying hair… (I didn’t tell her what to do but I advised her to “own it” whatever she decides).  I met two others for a glass of wine & found my gal pal from Queens (packing up to move in with her [Israeli] Kibbutznik boyfriend, making room for her arriving adult daughter) for a final gab session –and then I took the familiar path home, in the dark, turning off my flashlight.

Rachel, Simon, Elena, Moshe…

On my final morning, I slept past the 5:45 group silence to teach a children’s song to Natalia’s English class at 7:30 — and then raced over to the dining room to waitress at breakfast as a final act of service.  I admired each face as they quietly entered the dining room.  When they raised their hand for service, I moved efficiently, familiar with the kitchen, the routine, the people… I captured them, with a nod, a shoulder touch, a brief hand — as I refilled a bread basket or a salad plate…physically connecting in intimate moments of shared feelings of belonging…community.  Contemporary faces with Hebrew names --warm, welcoming me in to the quiet of their inner circle.

Estelle, Gadi, Adelade, Glenn…

I joined them in the courtyard afterwards to give a friend the dress she’d admired weeks ago…and another, the silk blouse she’d complimented last Sabbath dinner.  I’d made a CD of those songs I’d been humming for another … And when one of the founders took me to tea at the Pundak mid-morning (where she humorously made sure I was waited on), I timed our leaving to bring three large frozen yogurt swirls and 6 spoons to my buddies in Food Processing for their break.

As I walked in shouting (in a low voice) “haf sukka” (break!) with my horrible accent, Roni, with his back to me, beamed, turned — and concurred.  We buzz-glowed to our spot under the trees to sit on upside down crates, to share a nosh, some final conversation and a bit of sitting together in silence … still there, in the present.

Sha’ron, Arielle, David, Israella…

What I learned in those weeks in the middle of the dessert is that I am afraid of the dark — and that maybe I don’t have to be.

I learned how to make jam, package raisins … which branches of a pear tree need to be stretched — and where to clip the grapevines.

I made feta cheese from scratch.

I learned how to operate an industrial dishwasher, a fork lift and the handle for the wine cork plugger thingy — and how quickly you can wipe dry a floor with a broomstick that has a giant squeegee on the end of it.

I learned that even though I was too tired or too busy to notice, Max was right … the sun sets every evening at Neot S’madar — as I watched it do again through the bus window passing through B’ar Sheeva on the way to Tel-Aviv — as it will when I get to Paris in a few days –and surely do in New York when I get home at the end of May.

And I learned that even though I don’t speak their language, I can communicate through silence, love with my presence and embrace with all my heart.  Awesome.

Rina, Roni, Tessa, Ruth, Max

NOTE TO SELF: Shalom (goodbye) and shalom (peace).

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.

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