Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern – Why Can’t You Understand?

An Israeli firefighter plane helps extinguish a bushfire in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. Hundreds of Israelis fled their homes on the outskirts of the country's third city Haifa with others trapped inside as firefighters struggled to control raging bushfires, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

An Israeli firefighter plane helps extinguish a bushfire in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016.
Hundreds of Israelis fled their homes on the outskirts of the country’s third city Haifa with others trapped inside as firefighters struggled to control raging bushfires, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

Paula R. Stern – Why Can’t You Understand?

Or maybe the question is how can you possibly understand the horror of watching your land burn? It is an open wound you don’t forget for a moment, a thought that stays in your mind as you go about your day.

The horror of what is happening is there.

My daughter posted this video and I thought – there, that’s it…that’s the horror of it. If you really want to understand what it is like…freeze the video and look at the city in front of the mountain. Imagine that you live in that city with the beautiful view of the mountains gently climbing beside the city. Imagine your house is right there…

Now run the video and as you watch in twenty seconds what took an hour to film, imagine for a moment, sitting before you window watching as the mountain is consumed with flames. Imagine the smells that come and the thought that maybe you should take your children from their beds, pack up the photo albums that can never be replaced. Your wedding album, the baby clothes you put away hoping to give to grandchildren not yet born because they were once worn by your babies. The new shirt you bought just last week.

Imagine looking at the silver spoons that come from your grandmother. You need to take them too. If your house would go on fire, the heat would be enough, surely, to melt them to nothing. The albums, the laptop computer you got last year. You have to take it. The mixer you bought last year…the one you use every week. You can’t take it. You can’t take the treadmill you bought last year, it’s took big and really, don’t you wish you’d used it more? Will it be there when you come back?

As you look around, the police come and knock on your door. You have to leave now, they tell you. You stare at him and he tells you not to worry. They’ll watch the house for you. You want to laugh. Watch the house? Will you watch it burn? But there is nothing the man can do. His job is to get you out of here. There are others, up there on the mountain, fighting the flames back.

You can’t think of them now or you’ll break. You need to take the children and the albums, the spoons…you can’t leave the spoons…and the blanket your grandmother made. Your jewelry, her necklace that your mother gave you, your ring you only wear when you go out…the passports. Your driver’s license. The extra set of keys. Keys to a house that might not be here when you come back. What else?

Oh God, what else can you take in the minutes you have? You look out the window…the glow is brighter, larger. Why does it seem closer? You need to call your sister, your mother. Your mother-in-law. The dog…you have to take the dog.

You get it all together. You;re ready to walk out of the house, not sure it will be there when you come back. You take your sleeping children from their beds, wrap them in blankets and carry them to the car. They’ll never remember this night, no matter how it ends. You’ll never forget it, no matter how it ends.

How long have you lived there? Will you lose all there is? What else should you have taken? You can smell the fire. You buckle your kids into the car. The trunk is stuffed. And you realize that all that is precious is there and all that you left behind…isn’t worth your lives.

You drive to the end of the block. To the right is the mountain, on fire. You join a long line of departing cars. The children have gone back to sleep. You turn to the left, to life, and drive away. Did you take the spoons? What about the matching fork? It was in the dishwasher, now left behind. You can’t go back…only forward. Forward to safety. Out of the smoke, away from the flames…even if the flames follow you.

And all over Israel, you know this scene is happening again and again because as high as the mountains are, that’s how much they hate us. You can’t put out the fire of their hatred and so all you can do is focus on life. What they burn, we will rebuild. What they destroy, we will recreate.

A time lapse video by Noam Armonn Noam Armonn Time Lapse Photography:

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