History always felt to me like something of the remote past, something significant that others have lived and that we learn about years and decades later. Growing up, I always saw myself as living in a time where nothing “historical” happened – no World Wars, no “walls” being built, no worldwide economic crash. Learning about history in school, I perceived life – mine, my family’s and my country’s – as calm and historically uneventful. History was, to me, very distinct from the present. I think it was when 9/11 occurred, during my early teenage years, when I first fully grasped that history and the present are very much intertwined. Since then, I would often ask myself, “Will my kids one day read about this in their history textbooks?“, and would try to imagine events of my timeline as “history” for people to come.
The idea that “history” did not have to be far in the distant past hit me most when I personally met survivors of the holocaust, or veterans of World War II, or people — not even that much older than me — who lived in Berlin at the time when the city was split into two. That innocent, childlike distinction between textbook-history vs. present-day life that I had believed in as a little girl obviously disappeared in time, as I became older and more knowledgeable about current events and politics. And yet, what did remain was the feeling that my own surroundings, fortunately, seem safe and relatively uneventful, compared to many places in this world.
Another aspect that has changed considerably from even one generation ago is that it is exceedingly difficult – perhaps even impossible – to live in ignorance nowadays. With so much of our daily routine involving the internet, and with our eyes continuously being fed by Facebook status updates, videos in circulation, tweets and blog posts, it becomes easier to witness the events occurring half a world away from our homes and, above all, to understand the profound impact these events have on peoples’ lives. It seems like a completely obvious thing to say, and yet it still manages to surprise me that I could wake up in the morning to my friends’ first-hand reactions to the economic situation in Greece, the elections in the US or, most recently, the escalating hostility between Israel and Hamas – not only reading information I would easily get from the news, but learning how this directly impacts my friends, their families, their daily-life and their plans. I read their updates, hear their voices and know their feelings. History not only feels immediately tied to the present – it is downright in your face.
This week, my newsfeed had a great number of posts about sirens and safe-rooms, rockets and explosions, waiting and fear. I read about friends being in and out of shelters so often over the course of a single day that it seemed to them like whenever they were actually not in a shelter, they had to immediately find one. I read about the moments before and after the BOOM, and that desperate hope that nothing would have collapsed around them when they open their eyes. I saw images and videos of destruction in my friends’ own cities and neighborhoods, illuminated skies above their homes, and billowing smoke on the horizon. One person described hearing sirens everywhere, even while in the shower. Another described being summoned to complete military duty and feeling intense inner conflict, not knowing which side is right and which is wrong, or what the solution is, but knowing that on both sides there are people who are suffering, living in fear or no longer living.
I learned from these posts that safe-rooms are legally obligatory in newly-constructed homes, whereas residents of older homes have to run to the nearest public shelter. In a message called “rocket defense 101“, a friend of mine explained the procedure when a siren is heard, and that they have one minute (or fifteen seconds, in some areas) to seek refuge. If they are not close enough to a shelter, they have to run to any building in sight and wait on the lowermost level, and if they cannot get to a building in time, they have to lie still on the ground outside. These detailed descriptions and the kind of matter-of-fact way of writing about them blatantly indicated to me that this whole procedure has actually been a routine part of their lives for years – they know the drill and have to be prepared.
Many of my friends from that area are actually studying abroad, in Canada or in Europe, and their normal lives have also been halted these days; they are distracted from their PhD work and daily duties, as all they can focus on is staying in touch with loved-ones and hoping for an end to come soon. I sensed the disbelief of one of my friends when she recognized her own neighborhood on the news, heavily destroyed by the fall of several rockets, one of which fell just next door to her best friend’s house. Another friend posted a screenshot of her parents skyping her from the safe-room in their home, both of them – amazingly – smiling. The caption of the photo read “Reporting live from the war room“. I looked at the photo for a while, and couldn’t imagine myself in their shoes – on either side of that camera. I couldn’t decide if my friends are lucky to be away during this tumultuous period, or whether it must feel much worse for them to be so far from family and from their home, not knowing what the next hours or days could bring. I smiled with admiration when I caught glimpses of humor and positivity in some of their posts, in awe of their courage and optimism, which I am not so sure I would be able to hold onto if I were living through such experiences.
I have been thinking of those who have been affected by this conflict in the last days, whether they are there in the midst of it all — on either side of the border — or whether they are miles and miles away and terribly worried about the people they have left behind in their hometowns. To readers of this post who are affected – I hope you stay strong and will get through this awful period soon.