Monday, October 06, 2003

Cross Country
In high school, I was on my school's cross-country running team for a while. I was good at running long distance and I liked it, but I wasn't crazy about cross-country.

Running long distance track is like meditation. Once you have found your pace, you are free. Your mind soon shuts down and all you are aware of is your steady breath, the feel of your body movements, and the sound of your feet as they hit the ground. This is true for practice. Races have a different energy, but still, the steadiness, the sound of the footfalls, and your breath, always your breath.

I didn't like team practice, although I liked running in the evenings, on my own. They told me I had good style, which I found flattering, but I wasn't really very interested. Running in school was mainly an excuse to get out of games. When they started playing basketball or volleyball or something, I would tell the teacher that I was going out to run. She was quite happy with this because she needed me for races and I didn’t come to team practice.

Cross-country races were no fun because you couldn't get into a steady pace. There were constant surprises along the route, ups and downs, sandy bits, muddy bits, sun, heat, rain (the three and a half days of rain a year always seemed to fall on race days), missing the arrow and getting lost. You never knew what you were in for. And I missed that soothing, calming, steady awareness of my breath. I wasn't really the sporty type and always felt a bit out of place at these sweaty, dusty competitive sports events. I tried to skive off such events at one point, but my teacher lived in my neighborhood, right on my route to the bus stop, and curiously she always just happened to be coming out when I tried to sneak past.

* * * *

It would be nice if life could be like track. Someone would just show us the right direction and we'd be off, like the Energizer Bunny. But life is more like cross-country. You never know what's round the next corner or over the next hill. It's difficult to build up a steady pace. You have to be alert, ready for whatever surprises may lay in your path. You can't switch off and just run.

Another thing about cross-country is, you see, that there are no short cuts and no packing it in. You can't just give up in the middle and cut across the track towards the changing rooms should you decide, in your exhaustion, that you made a mistake and this is not for you. However tough it gets, however tired, broken, wounded, and desperate you are, you must finish the course. It requires stamina and flexibility and a dogged determination. And, unlike track, it's a team effort.

But somehow most people seem to think we have a right to run track. They think normal life involves moving along a steady, foreseeable course.

People crave predictability. People need a feeling of control. But these are illusions. They do not exist. Still people try to find quick and easy solutions for complex problems.

We Israelis used to react differently after terrorist attacks. We desperately wanted it to stop and we scrambled for instant fixes, each according to his or her basic beliefs.

Now we know, and we have known for a while, that there are no instant fixes, no quick and easy solutions. Bombing the living daylights out of them, and/or forcing them all onto trucks and dumping the lot of them on the other side of the border, will not bring about the desired impact. Neither will immediate, unilateral withdrawal to the 1967 border, and/or complete, unquestioning capitulation to each and every last Palestinian demand. Sadly, our experiences of recent years have shown us that not even moderation, compassionate dialogue and willingness for true compromise will do the trick. Nothing short of our ceasing to exist will suffice.

Because, as Melanie Phillips says:

...The Palestinians could have had a state when it was offered to the Arabs in 1948; they could have had it any time between 1948 and 1967, when the West Bank was illegally occupied by Jordan and Gaza by Egypt; they could have it after 1967 when Israel offered the conquered territories to the Arabs in return for peace, which was refused; and they could have had it in 2000, when almost all the land was offered again at Taba, and to which the response was the past three years of mass murder by the Palestinians.

In the face of this realization, and the depression and desperation it elicits, cross-country running has turned out to be a good preparation for life. Stamina and flexibility and a dogged determination. And team effort.

The collective experience of the Jewish people, down the centuries, has been like a particularly harsh, never-ending, cross-country event. As a people, we have learnt tenacity and adaptability.

D. thinks the Palestinians have more staying power than us. They don't.