Monday, March 17, 2003

Fear Factor

I had a bad dream last night. That’s not so unusual. But it is particularly disturbing because it's my first war dream.

In it I find myself on a beach. A war, which I understand intuitively to be with Iraq, is raging nearby. There are large planes flying above me, obscured by dark clouds. I find myself running, trying to get as far away from the fighting as I can when I spot these strange hot air balloons streaming in over the mountains in overwhelming numbers. They begin raining down weapons that look like darts except they have hypodermic needles on their noses.

I jump into the water and hold my head under as long as I can, hoping that the darts will miss me but I get stung anyway. As I feel hundreds of pinpricks all over my body, I know I am being injected with poison and that I have reached the end of my days.

And then I wake up. Jody is still there beside me. The alarm is ringing just as it always does. There is a knock on the door: Aviv coming to give us our morning cuddle. Life seems normal.

I head on in to work and tell an Israeli co-worker about my dream. She says that she had a war dream last night too. In hers, she is riding in a car with her grandmother, trying to outrun missiles being fired at them from all sides. She also wakes up just as they are being hit.

The government says that the chances of an attack are very low. The websites that purport to know what’s “really” going on claim that the US has already taken out any really nasty weapons aimed our way. Perhaps my bad dreams are, this time, worse than reality. In a land wracked by suicide bombs and shootings, that would be ironic comfort.

But what if they’re wrong? What if there is a surprise in store that none of us could have foreseen? A new weapon. A new delivery system. Coordinated attacks by Al Qaeda and other terror groups. I check the Internet. Jpost. Haaretz. Debka. CNN. NYTimes. I whip though them in rapid succession, and then I start over again. It’s morning here. The White House is still asleep. The real news won’t start for another few hours.

Still, the feeling of unease is hard to shake. At first it was kind of a game: a mildly amusing office pool to determine when the war would start. A source for good banter at kiddush in shul.

But as the US attack on Iraq becomes more and more certain, and as the rhetoric ratchets steadily upward, it’s clear that my performance is off. Other than this column, it’s hard to get fired up about your work when you’re secretly wondering if this will be your last day on the planet.

Pull it together man. What kind of talk is that? I self-censor myself before I lose it altogether.

Who can I even tell this to? Well, all of you of course. But I wonder: do you judge me when I share these most fatalistic of nightmares? When the veneer of normalcy that I try so hard to project dissolves and I am no longer able to safely hide behind glib words and a witty turn of phrase.

At lunchtime, I walk the hallway from my office to the company cafeteria. Each door is plastered with a color Xeroxed page with a different happy clown. One is holding balloons; another has a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a Purim grogger in the other. Staff members are wearing costumes: hats and wigs and painted faces. I order the moussaka with hamantaschen for dessert (what did you expect - it's Purim). And I think: will this be my last meal?

Stop, stop. This kind of negative thinking will get you nowhere. I turn my focus to Sunday night: Jody and I started the first of 12 sessions of Dale Carnegie training. Remember him, Mr. How-To-Win-Friends-and-Influence-People? He also wrote How to Stop Worrying and Start Living which we were given as a textbook. The timing couldn’t be better.

"Insomnia never made anyone sick," Carnegie writes. "It's worrying about not sleeping that will kill you."

Ahh, there we go... If this is the end, so what! And in any case, why should today be more terrifying than going out on any regular morning and risking your life to sit in a cafe or ride a bus? Or driving in a car to Tel Aviv, for that matter. You can’t live in fear. Yes I know that.

Glibness overtakes me momentarily. The positive spin: live each day as if it’s your last and you will never take anyone or anything for granted. You will hug your kids and your wife and really mean it. You’ll order that moussaka and really taste it. You’ll appreciate as you never have before that beautiful sunset and the potholes and the feeling of sleepiness coming over you as your head hits the pillow.


I’m sorry. I am scared. I can’t deny it. I really would like to, but I can't. Not today.

I check the Internet for news for the 57th time. The countdown continues.

In a few hours I will be dreaming once again.

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