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THE VISIT--ABOUT ISRAEL AND STRANGERS.
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(3/29/01 11:18:23 am)
Reply THE VISIT--ABOUT ISRAEL AND STRANGERS.
Remembering now, almost three years later, I suppose the first time I really noticed the pair was in the
rock strewn pastures and grazing land outside of the biblical town of Bethleham. The couple was part of a
group of fifty plus American travelers and their guide touring Israel and Egypt. The tour group were
primarily older members of the Morman Church, however there were some young singles in the
entourage--- several being children accompanying their parents Although I was not a church member, my
wife Mary was and we had long planned and saved for this trip to the Holy Land---finally having it come to
pass in our lifetimes. Thank goodness it did’nt evolve into another of those situations all married couples
can relate to, ‘WE SHOULDA’!!
Early spring time, 1998 found our tour group in a reasonably stable political environment, free from
terrorist activities and religious upheavals. The tiny, middle eastern nation was commemorating their 50th
anniversiary of statehood amidst glorious weather of warm days and cool, clear nights---it just could’nt
have been any better.
That day the tour guide, Daniel Rona, who held a dual citizenship from the United States and Israel,
had the group assembled in a haphazard circle under a large, scraggly, olive tree. The rugged landscape,
with it’s sparse vegatation, was very rocky and deeply rutted with animal trails. Each person had their own
separate folding stool and a colorful umbrella that advertised FUGI FILM. When the group was sitting and
heads covered with the FUFI umbrellas, they had the appearance of red, yellow, and green mushrooms
there on that Judean hillside.
I had wandered off from the group--my attention directed at the rocks, stones, and peices of trash
containing fragments of marble, vitrified clay, and even colored decorative tile. I comtemplated as I
searched through the discarded materials that it may have come from some place ancient and long
abandoned. Only days earlier we had toured ancient Roman bathhouses and tubs containing very colorful
inlaid tile figures, like the tiny peices laying around in the dirt. Off in the distance small children, some
scarcely out of diapers, were tasked with the herding chores--sheep, goats, donkeys---I mused further, it was
probably a scene that had played out, unchanged for thousands of years.
I heard the wailing and weeping, long before I could determine where the sounds were coming
from---subsiding into muffled sobs and then once again, pathetic caterwauling--- this time accompanied by
groaning, as if in mortal pain. I stood up from the rock on which I had been kneeling in an attempt to get
my bearings on the sounds and the souce of the pitiful outpourings.
They were standing on the lee side of a slight incline, hidden from the group seated under the FUGI
mushrooms---the man and the woman--- holding---no, clinging to each other. For a fleeting moment I felt
as if I were imposing into someones intimate interlude. I continued to look---questing---spellbound---
trying to give some structure to what was happening.
I suddenly recognized the couple as members of our tour group. The evening before they had set in
the dining room at an adjacent table from my wife and I. We had exchanged polite greetings but had not
conversed with them because of the lively chatter that was going on at our table. I suppose it would have
made no difference, knowing them or not, but I felt almost compelled to go to them and offer up some
comforting words. To this day I still don’t know how I made the initial approach--I only recall being near
them and reaching out to them--touching their heaving shoulders--waiting for the convulsive sobbing to
Almost simultaneously, the couple turned their heads toward me---tear-stained faces, flushed rouge
colored to match their red-rimmed eyes. Amazing thing, they looked so much alike--pale green eyes,
though very blood shot, blinked rapidly as if trying to focus on their inquisitor. Both the man and the
woman had the same strawberry-brindle color of hair, the same rosey-looking splotches on their cheeks and
necks. I thought to myself, if I could see it , they would probably have the same aura around them, you
know, like the halo thing---that glow which radiates from around some objects, people included.
‘May I help you folks’, I implored, ’are you ill--do you want me to call Mr. Rona--I have some medical
training and my wife is a nurse--can we help you’--may I get you a drink of water’? Although the
body-wracking sobbings had ceased, shivers seemed to permeate from them. I realized I still had my hands
on their shoulders--not clutching or grasping them, but simply like the laying-on-of-hands.
The man, who was about my age, shook his head back and forth as if in a negative response to my pleas.
‘No sir, you are very kind to offer--God bless you for being so compassionate, but we’ll be okay’. He sighed
heavily as I took my hands off their shoulders and waited. They turned to face me as if they were going to
deliver up an explanation, and the man continued to speak. ‘It is now that time of the year we lost our child
five years ago--in the early springtime’, he stated to me, as if I had to have some logical explanation for
their grief---’she was never a well child, she was only with us a short time, but we loved her so very
deeply--this time of year it is the worse for us’, he seemed to be admitting--’that is why we came to Israel,
the Holy Land--with hope against hope that some of the terrible hurt would lessen’.
Now that an explanation had been offered up, silence prevailed. They both looked up toward me with
those sad, red-rimmed eyes--unblinking. Now separated, standing slightly apart from one another, the
woman reached out and clasped both of my hands in both of hers. She spoke for the first time to
me--incredibly, the couple who looked so very much alike, sounded exactly the same also. No gender
differentiation at all in the voice of these two kindly looking people. ‘You are so very kind to notice our
plight and offer to help us--I just have a feeling something good will come from this meeting---I don’t know
what--just a real warm feeling’, the matronly looking woman stated. ‘Like Richard told you---what is your
name---John Wilborn’, as she offered up my name, reading if off the nameplate I was wearing on my coat
lapel. ‘It is so bad for us in the springtime as we remember our darling little daughter we lost---so very bad’,
she repeated, her voice trailing off, as she lowered her head--perhaps to hide the tears and the
accompanying sobs that had returned so suddenly. She was still holding onto my hands and the tremors
she was experiencing, seemed to telescope themselves right through me. Strange--- suddenly I felt like
weeping along with this lady and the man named Richard. Tears were so very close---such terrible grief.
As quickly as she had lowered her eyes a moment before, she raised her face toward me and let loose of
my hands she had been holding the entire time. Now smiling, suddenly radiant looking, with the only clue
she had recently cried was the tear that seemed to cling onto her rosey-spotted cheek. ‘I know--I just know
John Wilborn, we were destined to meet out her today-- I have the feeling you grieve as we do---I don’t
know why, but you somehow, know how we feel, Richard and I’, the large lady stated emphatically. Without
a further word or gesture, the couple turned and headed off toward the FUGI mushroom umbrellas.
So very strange, there had been no shaking of hands, no declarations of goodby, no ‘see you laters’.
Why had this meeting even occurred--what did it mean. The lady had made it seem that our chance
meeting here on this Judean hillside had some profound meaning; maybe even something spiritual the way
she had stated as to how she felt.
I continued to prod and poke around in the discarded derbis. I wandered aimlessly away--a path that
took me further from my assembled group under the old olive tree. I had meandered some distance away
from where I had met the couple, but I was a million miles away in thought and in spirit---a detached
feeling that was so pronounced for me it was as if I were ‘out-of-body’, so to speak.
Suddenly I was brought back to reality by the tugging on the sleeve of my jacket---not threating tugs it
seemed, but persistant yanks. When I looked, there was a small girl at my side, still holding onto my
arm--no longer tugging, just holding onto the fabric. The girl child was attired in dark, shapeless clothing,
with a coarsely woven scarf about her head. Straggles of raven black hair poked from out and around the
head peice. I guessed the young person to be at or near her teen-age years. Two similarly dressed children
were with her---another younger girl, and a small boy, not more than four to five years old. There was an
urchin, waiflike quality to the youngsters---their dark colored eyes so intense, their gestures with dirty
hands up to their mouths, like they wanted something to eat, so pitiful.
I recalled the tour leader, Mr. Rona, mentioning the children of the local shepherds would appear and
beg from the tour groups, in fact he discouraged giving the children anything until the group was ready to
depart the fields and pastures. He remarked that the Americans were so vulnerable to the young
children’s begging and that they actually become a nuisance factor when he was trying to teach or talk to his
groups. So easy to rationalize.
I surmised I was far enough away from the tour group so I decided to give them something; just
something and I began to pat my pockets, to check for a gift, coins, candy, anything.
My searching hand closed around a fresh roll of Certs breath fresheners in my pocket. I handed the blue
and gold colored roll over to the older of the two girls. She snatched it away with no ceremony whatsoever,
turned away from me and began to peel the wrapper from the white tablet looking candies. She gave one
mint to the small boy, another to the girl , and popped several into her own mouth. The two smaller
children were still facing me and it made me feel so good as I watched them. They rolled the candy
around in their little mouths, discovering and savoring all at the same time--not smiles yet but as their eyes
rolled and their lips smacked with gusto, the smiles began. What joy I experienced--- watching them---in
fact the joy was so heartwarming that when we returned to the hotel that evening, I wrote a story about the
day, the highlight of course being the children and the candy.
Later next day as we visited and interacted with group members, my wife told several of the ladies of the
events and the story I had written about them. After reading my story, one lady from New Mexico asked
my permission to copy the story and pass it around to the group Certainly I had no objections, in fact I was
very flattered. In addition to the candy and the children, my story also included our tour through the
Holocaust Museum, the planting of pine trees in memory of our deceased son John there on a Jerusalem
hillside, and some of the other depressing events that happened, as well as those that brought us so much
It was two days later when I was relaxing in our hotel room. My wife had gone off with a group of
ladies shopping. There was a gentle knock at the door. I pictured the housekeepers ready to clean the
room and was very surprised when I opened it to be greeted by Richard and his wife. I marvelled again at
how much they looked alike as I invited them into our room. This meeting seemed stiff and awkward---the
room had not been made up and there was no place for them to set other than the messed-up bed. They
both sensed the situation and Richard made the first comment as to their reason for the visit. He pulled a
folded peice of paper from his inner jacket pocket and asked me if I had been the one who had written the
story about the shepherd children out near Bethlehem. I acknowledged that yes, I had written the story
and further commented to them that those particular events had happened immediately after having
talked with them that day in the pasture.
In my experience with people, I have noticed there are folks who will touch you as they talk, and there
are the ‘huggers’---lott’a huggers, and the hand shakers are probably the most common of all, especially
among the menfolk, but Richard’s wife was a hand holder. I recall that day when I found them crying and
clinging to one another, that when she spoke to me she had held onto my hands in both of hers. Now she
had reached out for my hands as she exclaimed to me , ‘John, you remember when Richard and I spoke to
you that I just knew we had been destined to meet--that somehow you knew how we felt--that you feel as we
do’. I must have been nodding my head in the affirmitive for she continued, now a pleasant, half-smile
adorning her face, eyes clear and bright. ‘I know it is a terrible thing to recall--you know looseing a child,
in your case, a son John as you had written about in your story, but you never did tell us the day we talked
that you knew how we feel’. She continued to hold my hands as she further remarked; ‘so often when well
meaning people try to console your grief, they will just automatically say that they know how you feel and I
contend angrily at times to them, that unless they have lost a child, they have’nt the slightest inkling---not a
random clue of how it feels’!
I was rather taken aback by the gentle appearing lady’s forceful remarks and her firm convictions---still
holding onto my hands--that hint of a smile marking her face. ‘Richard and I have read and re-read what
you wrote John--we thrilled at your describing the children sucking on the candy--how you noticed the
older girl putting several in her mouth after having given the young ones just the single mint--that made us
laugh---and John, the pine trees you and your wife planted on the hillside in memory of your boy---we were
there John, but our joy was multiplied many times over reading what you said about it’! Richard stood
nearby, silent and reverent, listening to his wife, as she sighed deeply and stated to talk again. ‘John, I must
tell you again, our meeting you this way, for whatever reason we may fail to comphrend, in these short days
we have had more closure and peace than we have had in all the time since little Linda left us--I can’t begin
to understand--perhaps it is where we are, this country, but we both wanted to tell you’.
Almost simultaneously after letting loose of my hands Richard and his wife turned and departed the
room. I thought of what had happened that day out in the pasture when they had done the same thing--no
goodbys--no manly handshakes, no hugs---seemed so very strange but there was much for me to ponder
concerning their visit and their words. I did my best to remember the way things were---I never did hear
Richards wifes name--only later when a list was sent in the mail, with names and addresses of the tour
members, did I learn their last names. I sent them a John’s Angel with the story of the whats, whys, and
----well, a single correspondence occurred---it was a thank you note from Richard and a short reinforcement
statement that our meeting had been one of those profound things neither of us fully understood. Will our
lives ever touch again---.