Ten Years Ago
It was the usual apples and honey with friends on September 18, 2001, the night before I flew home to the United States. We were celebrating Rosh Hashanah - the New Year in Tel Aviv, Israel with a warm ending to a life transforming trip. What would we do with the New Year that we had lived to see in a world altered by tragedy? Would we build stronger walls knowing that someone could still scale them? Would we find creative and sustainable ways to keep ourselves safe?
At the Ben Gurion International Airport on my way home, the security officer asked, "Do you have family in the U.S?"
I answered yes, thinking about my parents in Utah, my girlfriend, my friends and colleagues in Connecticut, an hour outside of New York City.
"Weren't you afraid to leave them at a time like this?" The officer continued as I stood in the airport named for Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who said, "Courage is a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared." He also said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”
"It wasn't a time like this, when I said yes to my Israeli trained mentor and boss at the multidisciplinary alternative medicine clinic in West Hartford, Connecticut where I worked. It wasn't a time like this when I bought my ticket and arranged to fly to our Israel clinic to lend my expertise in brain and nervous system disorders. It wasn't a time like this when I dreamed of scuba diving in the Red Sea in the waters, Jacque Cousteau called the most beautiful place on earth."
The Red Sea
Just 12 days earlier, I stood fully geared up in Scuba equipment in Dahab, Egypt on the shores of the Red Sea fulfilling a lifelong dream.
"No one wants me here but the shop keepers along the beach and they only want my American dollars. My friends and family questioned my sanity. How can you go to the Middle East at a time like this? They asked."
I thought a lot about safety, as I passed through three check points with Egyptian soldiers with guns,
I'm here! Nobody wants me here, but the local shopkeepers, who are interested in my American dollars. But I have dreamed about this day for years. I have dreamed about this red sandy beach, this place, the Blue Hole, which Jacque Cousteau, the most famous scuba diver and undersea explorer called "the most beautiful place in the world."
My family and friends think I am crazy. My life insurance company deems it "High Risk Behavior" and that is just the scuba diving, not this bustling beach. I call it living passionately and experiencing the richness and vibrancy in this world. I am on a quest to embody one more experience on my life-time to do list.
Sandy Particles, Sea Waves
The red sand is hot on my bare feet. On this sunny September day as far as I can see are the rolling hills of the Sinai Desert where the Bedouins and their camels and sheep move. Across the Red Sea way in the distance is Saudi Arabia and further along is Jordan. I am the only American on this much fought over beach and back that way through three barricades manned by machine-gun-toting Egyptian soldiers is my hotel and beyond that present day Israel.
Six thousand miles from my Connecticut home, I am soon below the surface swimming through a clump of safe, boring sea grass and instantly came face to face with a pride of lionfish, small sea terrorists. Their beautiful-but-poisonous spines flow in the current like colorful streamers. The wide vertical bands of black, red and green markings, separated by a sharp white stripe camouflage the nature of these predators. Twice the size of my outspread hand, the lionfish venture close enough to touch, but I pressed my hands tight against my body. They are brave when they are hungry and hunting. With tiny eye-like structures on the business end of the spines, they distract and confuse their quarry before trapping and killing them.
In this most stunning and abundant dive spot, I am surrounded by deadly creatures. I know the Titan triggerfish on my left will aggressively guard her home, her nest, her eggs with a fierceness that will draw blood. Sitting quietly in and amongst the coral is the lionfish's deadly cousin, a stonefish with unseen spines that can penetrate the black neoprene of my protective scuba gloves. If I frighten this one with my hand, I will be dead before I reach the safety of the shore. Here in the Red Sea, predators lurk and the least visible are the most deadly. A moray eel will react aggressively if I reach my hand into his home-if I frighten him where he lives. Below me nestled in the sand is a blue spotted stingray and cone shells with small snail-like creatures carrying deadly harpoons that paralyze their fleeing prey. Green sea turtles gliding along the coral and a huge alligator fish poking her snout up from below the sandy floor waiting to ambush her prey.
The stillness is broken only by the sound of air leaving my mouth and bubbling up to the surface. Even before I encounter the lionfish and their deadly cousins, I wasn't under any illusions of safety and yet, following my passion, I pass unharmed. I feel held and safe in the water. I faced my demons in the months before reaching the Middle East, and as of this moment, I have no idea of the fear that will grip the world and close borders.
Particles, Waves and Dreams
Fred Alan Wolfe describes quantum physics as particles of experience and waves of possibility. Experiencing the lionfish and literally drifting with the waves of possibility, how could I have known that a week later the border between Egypt and Israel would be closed. A week later I was in Tel Aviv, watching the Twin Towers burn.
I am here in the Middle East because I believe people who set off on a healing journey, people who recover the quality of their lives after an injury or disease or medical diagnosis, make better choices for themselves, their families and communities. This I know from personal experience and because of the complementary medicine skills I have become passionate about on my own healing journey. I use those skills to help people heal their nervous system, improve their vision, and move more easily so they can more comfortably, appreciate their communities, and accomplish their goals.
After my dive trip, on September 4th, I feel grateful to be in Israel with friends, sharing healing modalities in a wonderful physical therapy clinic in downtown Tel Aviv. I mobilized the ankle of an Israeli soldier who was injured and experiencing the particles--the reality--of severe foot pain. She wants to experience a full, comfortable range of motion so she can walk easily and follow her dreams. Her gun and camouflage jacket sits beside the massage table as she shares with me an Israeli saying, "People with houses, shouldn't throw stones."
And I think, we are all the descendents of people who paid attention to every sound in the woods or the savannah or the desert. We are alive because our ancestors were careful. Defensive posturing runs in our blood but we live in a different time and must find a way to stop the terror and the blood running in the streets.
I connected with the physical rhythms, the heart beat, the craniosacral flow of a much-loved rabbi who is experiencing the particles of cancer. Tiny cellular terrorists run through his blood chased by the chemical and nuclear warfare of the medical establishment, fighting terror with terror. Many innocent bystanders, healthy cells will also die in this attack. The rabbi wants the war on terror in his body halted. He seeks my hand, my heart, my abilities in a desire to move into the possibility of continuing to live, learn, and share his message of hope with his community. I can't know it now but in ten years he will still be alive and well and teaching. He shares with me a quote from former Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us."
I touch reflex points on a child experiencing the physical reality of cerebral palsy. Her mother dreams of a life of opportunities, movement, and communication. The desire to be there to transform these dreams into reality kept me feeling safe and happy. I gladly open my bag as I head into restaurants and wait as the trunk of the car ahead of me is inspect. It is a wonderful week of treating clients and teaching physical therapists in a Tel Aviv hospital.
On September 11, the clinic door opens. I am told of a bombing in New York. After work, I walk back to my hotel. I stopped at a falafel stand and take in the sights and smells of delicious Mediterranean food. I feel the heaviness of the day and am saddened by the violence. I don't yet realize the extent of the terror and the devastation. Later alone in my hotel room, it is there on television. I see the events of that day unfold.
Safety Begins With Passionate Dreams
The weeks leading up to my trip to Israel have been filled with friends and family questioning my sanity. Wasn't I worried about visiting Israel? Did I really think it was safe enough? What did I think about suicide bombers? Everyone has questions about how to stay safe and suggestions that maybe it would be better to wait until things improve. I listen to my friends, to my family, to my Jewish girlfriend. I feel their fears and concerns, but in those weeks before the lionfish, before the rabbi's cancer, before September 11th, I come to understand safety. I am bombarded by well-meaning-but ultimately fearful-thoughts. They don't ring true for me, rather they push me to understand how to always keep myself safe.
My recipe is follow your dreams, do what you feel passionate about, learn and live your life fully with rich experiences. This is how I keep myself safe and find myself in the right place at the right time.
Building a wall and lock the tower won't keep people from affecting you. Walls do not keep you safe, they keep you isolated. They keep you compressed. They keep your ideas and dreams from rippling out and contributing to the world. They keep out the most amazing things. If you stop doing what you love because of fear, then the terrorists and the bullies in have won.
September 12th was a day of mourning in Israel, and everyone went to work. I joined the Israelis, who have a marvelous capacity to be sad, even horrified, and still be productive and contribute their unique creativity. What I learned that day in Tel Aviv is that we let go of our fears by following our passions, by loving and creatively expressing ourselves.
A few weeks earlier, when my friends were warning me about traveling to Israel, teaching an Integrative Manual Therapy class in New York seemed like the prudent thing to do. But on that fateful day, Tel Aviv was considerably safer and I was there doing what I feel driven to do: share my skills with others and, in my way, bring peace to the world by affecting people's lives, one person at a time. Safety begins with listening to your intuition, passionately following your dreams and making choices based on what you want, not what you fear.
Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)
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