March 9, 2014

Ze Lo Nicaragua

Ever tried to pack too much into a day? We did on Friday. 

And although it required sophisticated pre-planning, we thought we had it all under control.

Our To Do List for the day:
Run the Tel Aviv Marathon at 9 am
Return home, pack up car, pick up daughter from school
Drive 200-km to Tsfat
Cook, clean and set up our place for 40 girls who were ‘dropping by’ after dinner
Have everything done by candle lighting at 5:08

Did we squeeze too much into our day? Well, it all depends on whether everything runs smoothly…and one never knows what can happen in a day.

It was a bright sunny morning as we drove to the Herzliya train station. We had our son’s bike on the roof rack as he wanted to pick it up later and ride to the beach to catch a few waves. (He was not planning on coming to Tsfat.)

It was a six-minute train ride to the starting line of the race, the train was leaving in five minutes and, uh, oh, everyone else in the parking lot was wearing the same marathon shirt as us. We were swarmed by hundreds of other runners who also decided to take the train—and there was only one stressed-out man at the ticket booth.

The train was now leaving in one minute.

My 15-year-old son, who had decided he was going to win this one and did not want to be late for the starting line, jumped over the stile along with about 100 other frantic runners and disappeared down the stairs.

We stared in disbelief, then resumed our wait in the long line, happy to take the next train.  We made it to the race just on time. Music was blasting. People were stretching, chatting, jumping, shaking out their limbs. With 40,000 runners packed in to a small area, we only realized the race had begun when the mass slowly surged forward. The road was so dense with people, we had to constantly dart and dodge between runners. This race felt like a cross between bumper cars on Nikes and a massive street party.

We felt a part of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, running past people sipping café lattes in outdoor cafés and cyclists carrying baskets brimming with flowers and fresh produce from the market. 

There were blind runners being led by guides, a smiling teenage girl with Cerebral Palsy accompanied by three watchful youths who protected her on each side. The Israeli National Speed Walking Club was out there strutting their stuff while Hareidi women, covered in black long sleeves, ran past girls in skimpy pink tops. I felt as if I were part of one united, healthy, happy nation.

We ran past a rock band, thumping away, strumming a fast beat to encourage us from the middle of an intersection. A few kilometers later, a full choir belted out tunes from a park. It was all so invigorating, fun, lively. And since we were running at a good pace, it was likely that we would be heading home soon.

And then my phone rang.

We were about eight kilometers into the run so I ignored it. It rang again and I ignored it a second time. My husband’s phone rang and he picked it up as we jogged along.

Someone asked in Hebrew if he was the father of our turnstile- jumping-overly-eager-determined-to-win son. 

“What’s ‘hitalef’’ mean?” my husband asked me.

Hmm, I thought, scratching my head and searching my brain for words I had learned but could not remember. Fainted? Collapsed? After many years of living in Israel, I still could not comprehend the important stuff. But what I did understand was that my son was in the hospital.

We felt confused, distracted and worried but had no choice other than follow the crowd to the finish line. The dancing and music at the end meant nothing to me as I made a beeline to the exit; I knew I had to find my son, but first needed to find my car or the train station or a cab.

But we were lost.

We must have walked an hour until we found a cab. I looked at my watch and decided there was no reason to be frazzled as I was not going to Tsfat. The cabbie, in true Israeli-philosopher cab style, told me not to worry, that all was good and it could have been worse and ‘ze lo Nicaragua.’

Nicaragua? What did that have to do with anything? We may not be in Nicaragua, but we do happen to live in the Middle East surrounded by enemies. But since cabbies in Israel are modern-day  prophets, I took this as a special message reminding me to be calm and grateful.

We got to the train station, jumped in our car and headed back to Tel Aviv. But since many roads were closed due to the marathon, we could not get to the hospital so easily. 

The clock was ticking. 

My husband jumped out at the emergency ward of Ichilov Hospital and I decided to park the car. So I entered the underground parking lot.


Hmm. What was that? I drove on, deeper underground.

Crunch, crash.

The bike! I stopped the car and thumped my head on the steering wheel. I got out to investigate and saw a gnarled bike squished into the metal rack like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I recently found in the bottom of my son’s back pack.

I am a weakling. On a good day when the bike is not mangled into metal, I cannot lift a bike off this rack. And now? No one was around in this deep, dark garage. Sweaty, tired from the race and stressed out about my son, I just wanted to curl up in the back seat of the car and cry. But I did not. I pulled and tugged and extracted the bike, then shoved it into the back of the car. By this time, my husband and son were outside waiting for me.

“No problem. I am coming,” I assured them.

I followed the exit signs and at the electronic arm realized there was no person at a pay booth. All you needed to exit this dungeon was a credit card. But I, unprepared in my sweaty running clothes, had nothing on me but a 100 nis bill.

I backed up and went round the garage again. No pay station. I parked the car and ran inside wildly, looking for someone who could guide me out of this dark abyss.

The clock was ticking. I felt as if I were in a nightmare, the slow moving kind when you try to wake yourself up by screaming but cannot.

Finally, a woman told me where to pay with cash. I paid then exited into the garage, but could not find my car. The nightmare continued, spiraling me into stress. Of course my phone was at one percent battery. So I gave in and panicked, running  around the parking garage like a mad person, jogging up and down the lanes and ramps, cursing my bad sense of direction. Forget about Shabbat in Tsfat, I thought. I will be spending my Shabbat in this parking garage. And with my nearly dead phone, I would not even be able to tell my husband where to rescue me.

I finally did locate the car; it was the one with the mangled roof rack. I carefully drove out, ducking my neck under the low concrete ceilings, afraid the entire car roof would cave in over me. 

When the electric arm finally went out and released me to the outside world, I rejoiced to see blue skies. And I was reunited with my husband and son, who, it turned out, was OK. He just needed to learn how to use his brain more than his feet while running. I decided he should stay in sight close by my side for the next decade.

We crawled home through Tel Aviv traffic, arriving on our doorstep at 1:30, exactly three hours behind schedule.

“We can make it,” my husband said in his pep talk tone as I pulled food out of the fridge and freezer, stuffing it into plastic bags. No time for a shower or eating or packing Shabbat clothes. Not this time. We jumped back in the car, picked up my daughter who had been waiting at school three hours for us and hit the highway.

When I finally lit Shabbat candles that evening in Tsfat, I was teary; grateful that my son was healthy; relieved that we made it here safely and on time; ecstatic that I had Shabbat in my life and thrilled that I was here in Israel,  'lo Nicaragua.' 

Before me lay a full 24 hours of pure, divine, timelessness. If I did not have Shabbat, I know how complicated and fast paced my life would be. Just imagine what my To Do list would look like.

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