In about 72 hours, I leave the United States and move to Israel. This move has been two years in the making, and somehow it feels like it’s both taken forever and suddenly sprung up on me.
It’s a bittersweet experience. I am excited; I am sad. I look forward to so much, and at the same time it’s hard not to look back. I’m more aware of America’s faults than I’ve ever been, but I love America more than ever.
Although the flight from Israel is between 9 and 15 hours, depending on where in the States you depart from, I keep telling myself that it’s really not that much different from living in Chicago – at least, in terms of practical distance from my family. I’ll come home to visit about as much, once or twice a year. It’s much faster to fly than it is to drive, and god knows I’ve done that too many times to count.
At the same time, I am painfully sensitive to the enormous distance I’m putting between myself and everything I know. It’s not that I don’t know Israel; I’ve spent plenty of time there, I have good friends there, and obviously I have Udi there. But visiting a place and living in a place aren’t the same. Going out to eat as a tourist and trying to figure out how get your driver’s license are completely different endeavors. I’m excited and nervous to navigate the culture, learn the language, and try to figure out how to be an American Lizraeli.
A couple of nights ago, I was feeling anxious about the move, so I went for a walk. I had planned on listening to a favorite podcast, but instead I wandered around the dark streets of Vernal, trying to remember how I felt when I moved to Chicago almost 10 years ago. I had just turned 22, and was going to place I had never been, where I didn’t know anyone, and where I had no idea what to expect. I was terrified. I cried on the way there, I cried many of the first days, I struggled to pay rent and ate ramen noodles and canned spinach for lunch day after day after day – but I never gave myself the option of running back home.
In many ways, this move is the same, and in many ways it’s different. On the one hand, I know where I’m going and I have wonderful people waiting for me, eager to help me settle in. The weather doesn’t suck asshole in Israel like it does in Chicago, and I’ve got a good job and a great place to live. On the other hand, people in Israel are confrontational, often don’t speak English very well, and my neighbors just over the border are teaching their children to stab my children in the neck with a knife. It’s a peculiar trade-off.
On the third hand, the stakes in this move are way, way higher. As long as Israel succeeds in defending itself from the genocidal ambitions of its neighbors, I’m never coming back to live in the U.S. Just like when I moved to Chicago, this move has to work. Throw in getting married, starting a family, and navigating life in a different country with a different language, and I’ve gotten myself into a fine kettle of fish.
To be honest, sometimes I’m horrified that I’m in this situation. The commitment to another country – to say nothing of the commitment of marriage and a family – is very scary. Getting married is supposed to be exciting and all, and it is, but I’ve been married before and I know this stuff is hard work. Real, lasting commitment takes constant effort and compromise, and the painful truth is that effort and compromise day in and day out are not fun. It doesn’t always feel happy or fulfilling.
As I end several chapters and start new ones, I want to remind myself and anyone else unlucky enough to be reading this hyper-emotive quasi-journal entry that security and stability don’t come easy or cheap. I’ve tried a lot of stuff, and quit almost all of it. I’ve won and failed, lost and gained. I don’t feel like I know that much, but I know that often the best parts come after you’ve pushed through the worst.
There’s something about going somewhere, tying yourself to someone, taking that challenging job, pushing yourself into a situation that you can’t get out of and sticking with it that makes you shape the worst of yourself into something approximating the best. I don’t know how you find out the best of who you can be if you aren’t willing to push yourself into scenarios where you’re forced to confront what a tremendous asshole you often are.
So here I am. With a brick-shitting leap of faith (somewhat backed by past experience), I’m excited, eager, and ready to get to work. I’m getting married to a man who is so sweet and giving that sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s normal to be loved by someone all the time. We’ve got a home, we’re self-sufficient, we want the same things in the long and the short term. He is the kind of man that women all over the world would gladly strangle me to get the chance to be with. He’s the kind of man for whom I’d strangle those bitches right back to keep.
In my saner, more rational moments, I have experienced an overwhelming sense of being humbled by how profoundly lucky I am. Lucky doesn’t feel strong enough of a word, and yet I don’t want to say blessed because that connotes a higher power I don’t believe in. The feeling is both sacred and rooted in rationality. I am grateful.
Flash back to about a year after I’d moved to Chicago. It look a long time to make a good group of friends, find a decent job, and stop getting extorted by Chicago city parking tickets every other week. I was laying in bed on a Sunday morning, looking at my cute, simple room. I had one white bookshelf, full of books I mostly brought with me from college; I had a small, blooming white orchid on the wooden windowsill; I had a wicker chair with a cushion, and a wicker laundry basket, both covered in floral black-and-white pillowcases that matched my bedspread. I’d gotten them on clearance at T.J. Maxx, or somewhere like that, for a song. It was snowing outside. The overall result was a lovely, monochromatic scene that I swear appeared in soft, fuzzy TV glamour glow.
I didn’t have much, but I had an intense feeling of peace and satisfaction. I had done it; I’d made it. I’d soldiered through a shitty Chicago winter, gotten fired, spent the last bit of money on my credit card on cheap wine from the liquor store across the street. I was probably going to eat ramen and canned spinach for lunch, again. Yet somehow here I was, in this cozy, clean room with my sweet dog and bitchy roommate and an immense feeling of satisfaction and well-being.
I lay in bed with nowhere to go that morning and watched the sun filter in through gauzy white curtains from Target. For hours, I did nothing but float in and out of a sleepy consciousness and roll in the sweet, sweet mud of my own success. Hard times were ahead, but those occasional quiet and peaceful moments had come once and I knew they would again.
I see more of these times ahead now. I don’t know how long it will be until I feel the first one. Maybe a while, maybe not so long at all. Maybe I’ll be happy alone in bed on a lazy morning; more likely, I’ll be snatching a desperate moment of quiet in between urine-soaked escapades with dozens of cute Israeli-American children. I look forward to these moments and worry less about being “happy” than I do about finding long-term contentment.
More and more, I think the exhaustive search for “happiness,” the never-ending exhortation to self-care and to ditch people who don’t love who you are right this second – this advice is specious and misguided. The truth is far more complex. We are flawed, and we should seek out people who love us anyway but don’t let us off the hook. We should take care of ourselves, but we should seek opportunities to serve people around us. We should grant people the grace we hope they would give us and lean into our relationships, rather than running away.
At the end of the day, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But insofar as I’ve learned a thing or two in my brief 31ish years, I know that working towards something and setting your aim high is the way to go. I’m doing that now, the best I can. Even if things turn out wonky (and they most assuredly will) I’ve got it pretty good in the meantime.
Israel, put up your dukes. I’m coming for you.