Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Time Traveler's Wife

“Why did you come to me?”
“Because I had to come to you. It wasn’t a matter of choice.”
“Fate?”
“Call it whatever you want. Things get kind of circular, when you’re me. Cause and effect get muddled.”
-The Time Traveler’s Wife

July 18, 2006 (Paul is 26 and 13)

Today was the last day of the first session of camp. I bade my kids farewell in a semi-detached manner. I said goodbye to the kids that I wanted to, and gave them all big hugs, but I didn’t make it the sobbing emotional affair like so many. In situations like this, you can either laugh or cry, I chose the former and sang “You’ll never see your friends again” at a decibel just soft enough not to get me lynched by emotional teens.

After the kids left, we started cleaning up the ghost town that is now camp. The calm after the storm, as the kids return to their own maelstrom. It was a beautiful, hot day and I planned to go swim in the lake after my work was done. Unfortunately, a rainstorm appeared out of nowhere, and brought torrential rains down upon us. The rains soon subsided enough that I could make my way back to my deserted bunk and finish my wonderful book.

I just finished reading “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. It is a fantastic book, recommended to me by my friend Sarah. While I don’t agree with her statement that it was better than “Love in the Time Of Cholera,” it was still a book I could not put down. As I finished the book, the rain returned in a soft, subtle manner. Just as I closed the book, I looked up at my name on the ceiling of my bunk. I was a counselor last session in Bunk 14. I had also been in Bunk 14 previously as a camper in 1993. I stared up at my orange spray-painted “Rock ‘93” and left the cabin.

While I was walking down the road, staring at the drops landing softly on the shallow puddles, I suddenly felt like the main character “Henry.” I just spent the summer in a place that I once resided. 1993 was the last time I lived in that bunk. I was 13 that summer, and no one had any idea the storm that was to come that fall. That autumn, I had my first bouts with the terrible teenage years. I was melancholy and depressed without ever knowing why. My parents struggled to figure out how to motivate a seemingly listless body that never acted this way before.

1993 was also the first summer of Seeds of Peace. That summer, the program took its pioneering first steps in trying to accomplish what no one thought possible. I almost took part in that first experimental summer, but my apathy had already started kicking in. I turned down the invitation to participate in that first session, and went on with my business. The historic signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn that Fall later buoyed the exuberance of the first summer program that Fall. The first SOP campers were at that event, standing with Clinton, Rabin and Arafat as all hoped for a brighter future.

My listlessness continued until I made my own journey to Israel. In 1996, I was convinced to go to Israel for the summer on an Israel Discovery program by my then-girlfriend Heidi. For the first time, I didn’t return to Camp Powhatan. That summer I was reawakened as I found purpose of being again. I also had no way of knowing that the summer would be Powhatan’s last. I left Powhatan to go to Israel, and the identity that was formed that summer would sustain me for the next decade. My father once remarked that it was this trip which gave him his son back. If I hadn’t gone to Israel that summer, it is highly unlikely that I would have ever ended up working for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It is also highly unlikely that I would have returned to this place as a counselor at Seeds of Peace to find my closure that I so longed for.

So now I have returned. I returned for closure that I am finally able to achieve. I spent the first session being the counselor I always wanted to be, and the kids loved it. The kids wrote the most wonderful things to me in my scrapbook. There was at least a good handful that I feel I really reached.

As the Middle East is racked with violence, I sadly hark back to the innocence that 1993 held. The calm before the storm for me, and for the region I have found myself so inexplicably tied to. As Henry of the novel writes, “Time is nothing.” As I wake up in the same place I where I went to sleep thirteen years ago, I have to agree.

2 comments:

Local Wizard said...

Good job Pauly! I have the highest esteem for the Seeds of Peace folks. When we humanize 'the other' we have some hope for peace. And I can't think of a better time to do it, now with so much unrest in the world consciousness. It really will be the new generation's job to work with each other in the new modern age. Call me a bleeding heart, but I do believe connection and compassion are indispensible for a future that doesn't involve hate crimes and war.

mixedjewgirl said...

Paul,

Well done. I think I should take a break from the essay stint I've been on lately to read the book. Was it really that good?

Israel, for all the fighting, is a magical place. It has the power to instill such inner tranquility despite the outer conflict between people.

I'm happy to see you come full circle. Some people never get the chance.

aka kosher chocolate