You know how it is when you have company for dinner or you’re just hanging and shooting the shit with friends and one of them says: “Have I told you the story about………?” And their story reminds you of a similar experience that you had and you want to share your story too. Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to share a story. At least verbally. I speak in short, concise, carefully worded sentences. And then only if there is no background noise and I know the person I’m speaking to. I will sometimes attempt communication with a stranger but only as a last resort. But seriously, does cappuccino really sound like cup of water? This blog has become my vehicle for telling stories. So if you have a moment there is a story I would like to share. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
August 11th, 1980. Tel Aviv, Israel. We got off the plane at Ben Gurion International Airport and stepped in the sweltering Middle Eastern summer heat. I had traveled to Israel with my good friend Brian. We made our way to the volunteer office and were randomly assigned to Kibbutz Degania Bet in the Jordan Valley. When Brian and I first arrived on Degania we discovered fairly quickly that among the volunteers there was a well-established hierarchy. You knew who the veteran volunteers were because they had fans in their rooms. The rest of us had to suffer through sleepless, suffocatingly hot and muggy nights. In England it was always so mild that I didn’t even need to open the bedroom window in the summer. But in Israel, when I got up in the morning my shape would be outlined in sweat on the mattress. One of the veteran volunteers whose fan I coveted was this American girl with the same name as me. But she resisted all attempts at socialization. Many years later she said that this was because she had a lot going on in her life and didn’t want to get involved in any new relationships. Relationships? All I wanted to do was to borrow her fan.
Two weeks later this girl left to meet with her parents who were vacationing in England at the time. I stayed on Degania for another nine months but eventually had to seek gainful employment off the kibbutz because I had spent my air fare home on a new tape deck.
October 18th, San Diego, CA.
When I look back at pictures of our departure from San Diego it seems as distant as the time that I arrived in Israel. We’ve all been on the road together for a little over a month but the west coast seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened. There has been more than one occasion when I thought the trip was surely over. I have relived the moment of the crash a hundred times over. I do not recall how I got so close to the curb on the left of the path. I may have been looking ahead. A moment of inattention on a clear path. I may still have hurt myself if I’d landed on gravel. But I didn’t. I landed in a small patch of rocks. The only patch of rocks for as far as the eye could see in either direction. The “perfect storm” of bike crash conditions. It was almost as if the rocks had been waiting for me to happen upon them. As we have driven across the country I have given a lot of thought to what might have been. It’s useless to do so I know but sometimes it seems your brain just wants to taunt you. Yet somehow, here we are.
When I left the kibbutz I got a job on Moshav Givat Yoav on The Golan Heights. I herded sheep, weeded tomato fields, fixed irrigation systems, weeded olive groves, built barns, weeded cucumber fields, cleared fields of rocks, so that they could be planted (and then I weeded those too). And all for the princely wage of a dollar an hour. But after nine months of working from dawn to dusk six days a week I figured that I had enough money saved for a plane ticket anywhere in the world that I might want to go and should even have enough left over for a few beers. So I went back to Degania to regroup. And who should have just returned a week or so before but this unsociable American chick. On my first day back I remember standing on the porch of the volunteer building seeing her return home from work. This girl that I had first encountered for just two short weeks, over eighteen months ago. Who, for some reason, had occupied my thoughts in the interim for more time than I care to admit. Walking towards me across the grass between the date palms. Wearing the faded blue, sun bleached workers’ uniform of the kibbutzim. Covered from head to toe in dirt from working in the banana fields and of course, totally oblivious to my existence. This time, however, things were going to be different. Although we had both just returned to Degania, since we had previously spent a significant amount of time there in the past we were both instantly afforded “veteran volunteer” status. So now that we were on the same social strata, verbal communication between us was acceptable. So I said: “would you like a cup of tea?”
A week or so ago it was just me and Rae in the car driving through Louisiana as Daniel and Andi were riding. Then out of the blue Rae asked “How will I know you’re still with me?” While the question surprised me, I did have an answer. But when I tried to verbalize a response I couldn’t get the words out. The thought that one of us would not be with the other had never really occurred to me. Even if one of us is not there physically the essence of that person remains embedded within the person whose life you shared. So really, how can we ever not be together. I’ve been making movies for Rae for her birthdays for when I’m not around. Rae says I’m her memory so each mini movie is about a certain time or event in our life. How many thousands of conversations have we had? Granted, given my lack of propensity for conversation, even when I could talk, we’ve probably had less than many couples who have been together for as long as we have. But even that lack of conversation is part of our familiarity. How do you measure the essence of what it is to become so utterly familiar to someone? So well known and ever-present that the two of you become indivisible. And then to lose that physical essence. How can you not be there. Ultimately, for better or worse, that absence takes on a presence all of its own. I will always be there.
November 19th, 2015. St Augustine, FL. When I dipped my rear wheel in the Pacific it seemed a little silly really. There were all these beach goers around us and I was getting sand in my cleats and I imagined everyone looking at us and thinking, there go another bunch of idiots. I just wanted to be done with the silly ritual and get on the road. When I dipped my front wheel in the Atlantic it was one of the most emotionally overwhelming moments of my life. Rae was holding Jack in one arm and gave me my bike wheel with the other. I wanted to hold her hand. It didn’t feel right to do it alone. No matter how much time, work and planning you put into a task, no one ever gets where they are going alone.
I walked forward towards the surf and the the sounds of our friends cheering was gradually drowned out by the sounds of the waves. As the surf washed over my legs they felt like they were going to give out. Not because of the strength of the current but all my strength just left me. My legs got me this far and they were done now. All there was in the world was the water washing over me and Rae’s hand on the back of my neck. I think I was baptized as a baby. I don’t recall the event. This I will not forget.
Peace, love and Midwives
Ray and Rae (and Ian, Luci, Andi, Daniel, Ira, Lynny and Bill)