I told the waiter that it was my birthday just so that I could get the cake that comes with all of the candles and the Happy Birthday song that everybody in the place is obliged to sing for you when it’s your day. I was taught as a child that it is never okay to lie but this time I chose to recognize the truth as an inconsequential detail that should be suspended for just a moment, with the hope that I might remember what in the world normal feels like.
It was September 27th, the year was 2001 and we were sixteen days into what would end up being an eighty three day attempt to “go home”. While everybody else seemed to be getting on with their lives as if what had happened on the 11th hadn’t happened, we were left unfortunately, to contend. I too wanted to forget what had happened and to get on with the everyday things that we all so easily take for granted – running errands and opening the mail and deciding what shoes to wear and eating birthday cake.
They sang for me, I blew out the candles and we ate cake and in that moment I felt something familiar. In that moment I was no longer afraid.
I can not listen today, to the reports coming out of Gaza about the fighting without remembering why I lied that day for cake. Why I lied however, does help me to begin to be able to imagine what life might feel like right now for a mother in Gaza who just wants to get her children safely to school and back home again at the end of the day. And, I can only begin to imagine the fear that pounds in the heart of a husband in Israel who waits to hear that his wife is alive, while I run errands and decide what emails need to be returned.
It’s easy to hear the reports, sympathize for a few seconds and then “get on with it”. It’s harder to consider, as we listen to report after destructive report, that there are real families who are being impacted in real ways and that there will be many families tomorrow and the next day who will just want to “go home” and remember -
what it feels like to be normal.