The New Normal

After Sandy skirted most of Massachusetts and spared us from week-long power outages and cold I couldn’t manage; after the nail-biting climax to the presidential election; after the Nor’easter that turned out to be more of a threat than a reality in these parts; after a major water main broke in Worcester last week, forcing the city to shut off the entire water supply for the night and institute a 48-hour boil order that had me fretting about how to keep my ulcer-ridden fingers free of infection; after all that, when the water was clean and the power was on and the heat was working and the sun was out—I came home to my email last Wednesday to learn that Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza were shooting rockets at each other and all hell was breaking loose just 44 miles from where our oldest, Mindi, lives in Tel Aviv.

It was about 8:00 p.m. when I sent Mindi a text to find out how she was doing—3:00 a.m. her time. I figured she’d see my message when she woke up for work.

A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Mindi. She had been out late with friends, talking about the situation, finding out who of her friends in the Israel Defense Force had been called up. She sounded okay, tired but confident, and it was a great relief to hear her voice. We agreed she would check in again on Thursday.

The next day, I was working on a project, trying to concentrate while scanning whatever news I could find about events in Israel. American media were still preoccupied with the Petreaus scandal and election aftermath. I discovered the Times of Israel live blog, which gives excellent up-to-the-minute coverage. I sent Mindi a text about when I would be home to talk.

Around mid-day, the phone rang. I recognized Mindi’s caller ID and answered right away. Long pause on the other end.

“I know you’re going to hear about this, so I wanted to tell you there were sirens in Tel Aviv today,” she said. Her voice was measured, carefully paced so as not to upset her already anxious mother. She explained how she had gone to her apartment’s bomb shelter for a half-hour, no damage from the rocket attack, and she was doing okay. Neither of us knew what to say. I tried to stay calm and absorb her news. We agreed she would continue to let me know if there was another attack. I told her I loved her. We hung up.

I spent the rest of the day trying to understand what was going on. I couldn’t concentrate. I was fighting tears. I skipped my evening dance class to be home with Al. We spoke to Emily and shared all of our concerns. I read as much as I could online to stay informed.

Friday morning, I woke around 7:00 a.m. to find a text from Mindi that there had been more rockets, but she was fine. She sent me a picture from her iPhone of a Fox news reporter interviewing people in a Tel Aviv café, shortly after the all clear. I asked her if she knew where the public bomb shelters were. She wasn’t sure. I spent the next 20 minutes on my iPhone, researching, and discovered that underground parking garages are on the list. I sent her all the links. I wondered how this could be, that I was looking up information about bomb shelters in case my daughter is on the streets of Tel Aviv when a rocket lands. Later, as I read of Hamas’s threats to send suicide bombers into Israel if the IDF sends in ground forces to Gaza, I texted updates. “Please don’t ride the buses or go to cafés right now,” I wrote.

On Saturday, I was relieved to read that the IDF had placed a fifth Iron Dome anti-missile defense system in place to cover central Israel. Hours later, it downed another missile heading for Tel Aviv. Mindi wrote, reassuring me she was fine and with friends.

On Sunday, I woke to a 6:45 a.m. text that more rockets had been intercepted while she was taking care of her toddlers in the Tel Aviv nursery school where she works. They were fine, she wrote. Then another message, about six hours later, that there was yet another missile attack, again intercepted. She went to the bomb shelter in her apartment. We texted a bit. She was on her way to friends for dinner. I told Al, who was outside, raking leaves. Then I went back to my writing, taking care not to bang the fingers sprouting new ulcers from all this stress.

Later, we spoke by phone. “You sound sad, Mom,” she said, edgy. No need to be concerned, everything is normal here, she insisted. I understood. She was coping on her own, and I needed to back off. Our old dance.

And so it is. My new routine: reading updates several times a day to keep on top of the news and any glimmer of a cease fire, trying my best to concentrate on my work and what’s in front of me, trying not to worry about my very capable 24-year-old who can manage by herself when rockets are flying toward her city, thank you very much, praying for peace, praying for the safety of innocents.

It’s amazing what you can get used to. Like the coming and going of strange, extreme weather. Like learning how to bleach your hand-washed dishes during a 48-hour boil order. Like sprinting to a bomb shelter within the two minute window you have after an enemy rocket launches toward your city, then going about your business. Like accepting that you have no control over what’s happening to someone you love so much, so far away. Like living with the drip-drip-drip of a chronic disease. Amazing.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

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