I couldn't come all the way to Israel without visiting Maxie's Forest. I made the trip there Friday with my friend Tali, her Fiancé Asaf, and my cousin Leslie. It took us a while to find because the entrance is not obvious. We drove in and out of several roads in the Ofer Forest area of the Carmel before finally arriving in the familiar parking lot.

It's odd to me, in a way, that a place where Max never was and never will be can feel so full of Max. When people ask me if I feel his spirit there, I hesitate, because that isn't what I feel. I think what I feel instead is the love of everyone who supported us in creating this monument to him. I also deeply feel an immediate reaction to the wording we used on his pilar - which is the same as on his gravestone (and tattooed on Ted's arm). It gives me an immediate sense of HIS knowing that I am there and missing him. 

I don't LOVE Maxie's Forest. I hate it. I hate having a memorial to my son. It just is what it is though and considering the fact that I can't change what is - it is tremendously meaningful to have this destination point in his honor.  It gives me the opportunity to stand back and reflect on him and my life without him. It's not unlike visiting the cemetery - except for that instead of being surrounded by death, it feels surrounded by hope. The pillar marking Maxie's name is surrounded by pillars marking other names - people and organizations and communities who contributed to replant the Carmel Forest after a raging and tragic fire that happened only a couple of months after Maxie's birth. Tree by tree, people contributed to replant a mighty forest that was actually once my backyard. It speaks to me in so many ways - like how each breath, each act of kindness, each cuddle with Mo, Myla and Ted, each day that has passed since losing my beautiful boy, has slowly begun to rebuild a new spirit inside of me.

We've been here during a very hard time this summer. The images, stories, and remnants of war are everywhere. We've travelled up and down the country clinging (as all Israelis and Palestinians have been) to a very fragile ceasefire. We haven't heard one siren. I haven't had to visit the bomb shelter once. But I got here after such a tense time. The nerves of everyone around us are frayed and their hearts are all broken. Their dreams of peace seem to be crushed. Maybe there is no way out of this - they are finally saying. A much different tune than was being sung than during the first period that I lived here in 1994 after Oslo had infused the nation with hope.  

I remember in those days, we'd walk from my Kibbutz, Beit Haemek, to the nearby Arab town of Kfar Yassif all of the time. It was cheaper than taking a cab into the nearest city (only 5 minutes away) of Nahariya. The surrounding Arab villages soccer teams would regularly practice on our kibbutz field and there were tournaments in the area between the Arab and Jewish teams. I'm told the kibbutz members don't really visit the village anymore. How it was is the way it should be.

On our way out of Maxie's Forest, I saw a big truck and took a video for Mo. I realized that it was a KKL - JNF truck (the organization I work for) and got excited. It looked brand spanking new, which likely means it was donated after the 2010 fires.  The truck pulled over and the ranger came out to meet us.  "I work for JNF-USA", I told him in Hebrew. "I know", he said - his accent very Arabic "I could feel it", he said with his eyes smiling at me. We spoke to him for a while. His name is Jamal and he is a Muslim Arab from a nearby village - a place where massive rioting had been taking place only days earlier.  Jamal explained that he is a ranger who takes care of this part of the Forest - Maxie's part. He knows every inch - every tree - every bump in the road.

Thanks to my friend Tali, Leslie and I got an impromptu tour in Jamal's truck up through the reforestation area. He spoke to us of his family, the fires, and his work in the forest. Its comforting somehow to know who is looking after Maxie's trees. 

The expectation that I will find internal peace among those trees is unrealistic at this stage. I've been too hurt, I am too heartbroken, I am too sad to feel deep peace today.  It will be a long time before I can visit that place without completely breaking down. But each year that passes, each visit here, each breath I take, brings me a little closer.  I still feel very hopeful about that.

I also believe that it is unrealistic to think that Israelis and Palestinians will find peace anytime soon.  What I do know is that there are people who are willing to look beyond the religion of their neighbor on both sides of the fence.  Meeting Jamal, listening to him to tell the story of the forest, having him take us through with so much enthusiasm reminded me of the Israel that can be and maybe will be once again.  In the meantime, there is a lot of healing to be done.  Peace takes time...

1 comment

Rose said...

Such a beautiful post, Abby. Xo Rose