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Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Sweet Good-Bye

Almost six years ago when I first started commuting from Gush Etzion to Beer Sheva, I also started a sort of volunteer taxi service.  By this I mean that most mornings I ended up filling my empty seats with soldiers and students who needed to make the trip south (or back).

I've never regretted the extra wear & tear on the car these extra passengers have caused because I've been privileged to meet some truly special people over the years.  And besides, I feel good at having been able to make regular deposits into the 'karma bank' for when my kids find themselves in need of a ride.

One of the first people who rode with me on a semi-regular basis all those years ago was a pretty blonde high school student who, at the time, was just about the same age as my daughter is today; 15.  She lived in the Gush but was going to high school in a distant Negev community.

This young woman stuck in my memory among the many other passengers because, a) she was very young to be traveling alone to a distant town every day for school; and b) she often made the trip with a small cage containing a little green parakeet.

Over the months and years I began to find out bits and pieces of this girl's 'story'... sometimes from other passengers who knew her, and sometimes directly from her own, constantly smiling mouth. 

I mention her smile deliberately here because at first I suspected there might be something 'not right' with her.  I mean, nobody smiles all the time... and certainly not early in the morning.  But morning or evening, rain or shine, she was always smiling.  Even a year or so on when she told me her bird had flown away, she had a smile on her face... albeit a sad one.

Another note about her appearance before we move on with our story:  She always dressed in loose-fitting shirts and long, baggy skirts.  Yes, she is religious, but the first impression she gave with her attire was that she was a bit heavy.  But after getting to know her, and a bit about her family, I realized that she was simply the youngest of several girls, and being entirely uninterested in fashion, she just picked up whatever hand-me-down clothes her sisters had discarded. 

Oh... one more thing; she always wore sandals.  I can recall picking her up in the snow one time.  Her feet were blue.  Purple, actually. Rather than drop her off at the bus stop nearest to her kibbutz, I brought her all the way to her door that time (even though she insisted through chattering teeth that she could walk!)

Anyway, what emerged over the years that we traveled together was a story of a scary-smart girl who didn't fit the traditional profile of a good student.  She rarely sat still; preferring to fidget and even walk around the classroom during lessons.  Even when she didn't appear to be listening, teachers were rarely able to surprise her or catch her off guard.  She always knew the answers... except on the rare occasions where she was forced to sit still in her chair and face forward.  Then she usually came up empty.

She bounced through a couple of schools before landing in a high school in the Negev Desert that split the curriculum between classroom work and field trips.  The school wasn't as academically challenging as this young woman might have liked, but being able to go out and hike around the desert on a regular basis helped her stay centered.  And besides, she did university level math and physics problems in her spare time just for fun, so strictly speaking, she wasn't really missing out on much.

When she finished high school she enrolled in a Shirut Leumi (national service) program in an agricultural community, giving horseback riding lessons to kids, and tending to the horses.  It was a perfect job for her thanks to the nearly unlimited physical activity.  And in her spare time she took advanced physics courses at the Open University.

As I've mentioned before, nearly every morning, Zahava lets Yonah use her cell phone to call me from the bus stop.  Since I have a hands-free speaker in the car, all of my passengers have gotten to know Yonah by way of these calls, and have been able to follow his progress from inarticulate mumbles and screams to the cheery chatterbox he has so recently become.

On many occasions this young woman asked about Yonah and we spoke often about his 'issues' and how he was progressing.  At one point she suggested enrolling him in an afternoon riding lesson once a week since, 'from her experience', it seemed to do wonders for kids with sensory and learning issues. What I didn't realize at the time was that she was probably talking about her own experience as a kid, rather than as a riding instructor.   Zahava and I both rode horses as kids (she more then I), and there is certainly something very calming about being around these big gentle animals.

Whatever the case, it now looks like we will miss the opportunity to have this young woman teach Yonah to ride.  It turns out she has just finished with her year of national service and will be spending all of her time getting ready for university. 

She told me this about a month ago, and our last trip together was during the week before Purim.  When I dropped her off I wished her luck with her studies (not that she'll need much), and she thanked me for all the years of rides. 

As I let her off she flashed me one of her big smiles, and I felt a little like I was saying goodbye to one of my own kids.  So, I figured that was that... the end of an era.  

But a few days later on Purim, there was a knock at the door and lo and behold, there was this smiling young woman standing in our doorway with a handsome young man (who I assume is her boyfriend), delivering a traditional Purim basket of treats. 

I introduced her to Zahava and the kids... all of whom she had heard on the speaker-phone at one point or another.  But even though she seemed pleased to see all of us, she only had eyes for Yonah.  I think that she really viewed Yonah as a kindred spirit, and I couldn't help feeling she'd made the trip over to our town just to meet him.  I say this because, along with the basket of food, she had included a big illustrated book just for Yonah, filled with neat projects that can be created with Plastolina (modeling clay).  He squealed with delight when he realized she had brought something just for him, but collected himself enough to say a proper thank-you.

As Zahava and I said good-bye to this young womanand her young man at the door, I slipped her a jar of honey and again wished her luck with her studies.  Although... truth be told... in this tiny country, good-bye is never really good-bye.  Who knows... maybe she'll end up studying at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva and will need a ride south once in awhile. 

Posted by David Bogner on March 26, 2009 | Permalink

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:)

Posted by: SaraK | Mar 26, 2009 4:05:28 PM

Nice story... love how things kind of seem to come full circle.

Posted by: val | Mar 26, 2009 4:36:46 PM

Nice story. Didn't realize that about horses. My nephew has special needs and has been taking lessons recently as well.

Benji

Posted by: What War Zone??? | Mar 26, 2009 4:59:39 PM

That was a beautiful post.

(Epitome of what I love about this blog.)

Posted by: Ezzie | Mar 26, 2009 5:06:08 PM

I love these stories.

There's a therapeutic horsemanship place here in St Louis, coincidentally. It really seems to work well for a lot of ailments, mental and physical.

Posted by: Tanya | Mar 26, 2009 5:40:50 PM

Very touching.I hope this young woman will continue to use her many skills to teach and help others.

Posted by: ED | Mar 26, 2009 7:46:40 PM

Great post, Dave.

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Mar 27, 2009 8:35:54 AM

Another great story. Shabat Shalom to the B family.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Mar 27, 2009 10:12:28 AM

this country is full of the most amazing kids! what a privilige to meet so many special people through your stories...

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Mar 29, 2009 9:35:46 PM

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