Tel Aviv, Israel
I woke up yesterday morning once again to an empty apartment. I could feel a sense of comfort, even boldness growing within as I considered leaving the bathroom door open as I got ready for the day. Strange, how I’ve inadvertently commandeered this vacant vessel.
In the late morning I checked my email. I saw that Ira had in fact contacted me leaving instructions for recycling and apologizing our paths wouldn’t cross again during my stay.
I spent much of the day working away, which is to say reading, writing, aggressively looking for work back home, and as always, in deep reflection. Afterwards, I headed to a bookstore recommended to me by the owner of a restaurant I had breakfast at on Saturday morning. I browsed the books in English, which at first appeared to only entail the likes of Austen, Dickens, and Doyle - authors and stories I didn’t have the interest or patience to entertain on this day.
I paced back and forth between “Israeli History” and “Self-help” before stumbling upon a collection of a few New York Times Bestsellers, the kind you might find beyond the Twizzlers and salted almonds at an overpriced airport bodega.
I asked the store’s owner if he had any books by Haruki Murakami. He looked at me quizzically before asking me to repeat the author’s name. He started a search on his computer, but I could tell by his reaction I might as well have asked for the Book of Kells. I was about to leave when a book half-heartedly returned to its section lay across the few manuscripts neatly stocked. The book was called, When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with terminal cancer.
I’d read about the book in the New York Times several months before and meant to pick it up, even telling my close friend Dan, an orthopedic surgeon and similarly, a constant searcher about its critical acclaim. This must be a sign, I convinced myself.
I made my way back to Pinsker Street before a brief pit stop at a juice bar. After making my order a young girl in her late 20s wearing a backpack with a beaming smile stood beside me. “I don’t know what to get,” she told the man. She turned and asked, “What did you get?” I went into some long description using twice has many words as needed before she agreed to get exactly what I’d ordered, but in a small cup.
We chatted away as the clamorous sounds of a blender cut through kale, spinach, and strawberries.
Her name was Jen, I learned, a schoolteacher from Washington D.C. visiting Israel for the first time. She soon discovered I’d been to the country before and starting asking for any tips on places to go, sites to see.
“You have to go to the Dead Sea and Masada,” I told her. “You can actually do both in one day.” I took strange pride in knowing my way in this country, half-wondering who the hell I thought I was mid-way through my spiel. Just then our drinks arrived on the counter and we started to make our way. I kicked myself for not buying her drink. It just seemed like a kind thing to do.
We headed west towards the next street corner where’d I planned to turn off and head home. She glanced at the book I’d just bought and said, “Oh! I just started that one. It’s great.” Of all the books, I thought.
I wished her a pleasant stay before we both went about our separate ways. Two Americans in a strange land sipping the same juice reading the same book. How bizarre.
As we were discussing the themes of the book we were both reading Jen told me, “I’m not looking for the meaning of life. I’m just looking to play it.”