I lived in Israel for 2.5 years, but I got never got used to terrorist attacks.
The level of terrorism then was nowhere near as bad as it has been in the past few years, but the death toll rose steeply after they signed the peace accord.
I remember returning from The Sinai, a Bedouin-run stoner/snorkeling enclave just across the Egyptian border. The smiling Egyptian guards were handing out all these flyers. I took one. It was a white piece of photocopied paper that said 'shalom, salaam, peace, paix...' in every different language with hand-drawn doves.
I had missed the making of history. I had been sunning myself by the red sea while the historic Oslo Accord was signed. At the border, people around me were already planning trips to Petra.
I turned on Jordanian TV that weekend and there was a Jordanian singer-dancer belting out the Arabic version of 'shiru shalom' - the song of peace. I called in my roommates to watch. We all got teary.
My right-wing friends used to call me a "yafeh nefesh' - a beautiful soul (this was an ironic moniker that really means 'fool') because I believed so wholeheartedly in the possibility of peace. But I was not the only one.
Then the suicide attacks started. They would happen in clusters. Bus shooting, car ramming into crowd, bus bombing, bus bombing.
In Israel, they listen to the radio all the time, in every location. You would know that an attack had occurred if the rock station suddenly started playing sad music, particularly the song 'Yoram, tagid li atah...' about a friend who dies at 20 and will always stay 20. They played that song a lot my last year in Jerusalem.
I used to say that I was 'used to it' when people called from home. I would try to sound blasť and world-weary at 20. But then I would catch myself crossing the street at arbitrary moments because of a 'feeling' or because I saw someone who looked suspicious. I scanned faces for evil intent and the clothes for bulkiness as people got on to my bus.
I remember wondering how the hell I would ever explain this reality to my friends in Toronto. It was a time in my life when:
I was afraid of someone because they looked like they were a particular race.
I was glad to be surrounded by gun-toting men because they were protecting *me*.
I'd see television footage after a bus bombing and recognize, with horror, the arm of a child on the sidewalk. Later at work with Palestinian chefs in the kitchen there was so much awkwardness on both sides (in a world where everyone is a both a person and a personification).
They held medieval-style protests outside my window, where people carried torches and shouted 'death to Arabs, death to Rabin'.
Then gunmen came and fired on the strip of restaurants where I worked (it was my night off). Then my roommate's coworker's son was kidnapped and killed. It got closer and closer.
People tie red threads in their clothing to ward off the evil eye. They give money to beggars before getting on the bus to ensure a safe journey. They say "Yehi-ye beseder-it will be ok" like a mantra.
But soon I could not find a route that felt safe enough anymore. I found enough good reasons to support my decision, and left.
When I got back to Toronto, I was sitting in a cafe. A guy walked in with a machine gun. No, it was a bicycle seat. Double take. Deep sigh, shake the head. Relief.
I can't imagine what it is like now in Israel; beyond what my sister and Josh tell me. I don't know how they manage, what realities they adjust to daily or how it changes them.
I am not so naive to think that the scars on either side will heal in one generation.
But I remember those giddy Egyptian border guards. The Jordanian singer. There were moments I could not help but feel that on the other side of the blood thirst is this urge to stop, throw up your arms with relief and say: 'You! Enough! I don't want my beautiful children to die anymore, you? Can we stop now and drink tea together?'
When the WTC attacks happened two years ago, I was 3 weeks into my first job in a newsroom. I did not have much time to process my feelings at the time.
I went into a familiar survival mode. I rationalized that everyone I loved was OK. I briefly and morbidly wondered: If the CN Tower down the street were to be knocked down, would it roll like a monstrous spool?
This was before depictions of this event started to resemble porn and necrophilia. Before deaths became justifications for more death.
Do I have a memory that was not manufactured by the news? I remember knowing that people were dying as we watched. And we had no way to help them. In the hours or minutes before they became icons, personifications, martyrs, and heroes, this is what I remember. Those beautiful souls.