The kids have been climbing on a tree in the back of the house. Before Covid, we never considered our back area to be a back yard. It’s where we park the cars. And have a garage we use for storage. We share the space with our landlady. There are a few plants out there. And three young trees by the side of the house.
Since the beginning of Quarantine we’ve been parking the cars on the street. The kids have created an outdoor queendom made of concrete and imagination. We’ve put up a shade structure. Brought out the camping chairs. They play ball. And on hotter days they play with the water table. There’s little space for riding scooters – back and forth. It’s enough to make them happy.
And there’s the tree in the back. Fig tree. No fruit. It might be more than one tree, actually. I can’t really tell where one begins and another ends. It’s a net of fruitless fig trees, with big green leaves, and a scent of a mediterranean love song.
When I was growing up, we lived in an apartment building in Jerusalem that had a fig tree in the back area. It was a big tree. And I loved climbing on it.
One time I had a fight with my dad, and I ran away from home. Not my style. And not a reflection of the amazing relationship I had with my parents. But I did – I ran away. I went to my tree – my secret hideout. I don’t know how long I was there for. It felt like a really long time. My parents were sick with worry. Only now, as a parent, I can understand that worry. I was sitting on that tree for what felt like a few hours, but probably was less than one hour. The tree was tall. And one side of it reached the roof of a structure – I don’t remember now what that structure was for.
Sitting quietly on my tree, I could hear a couple of older boys on top of that roof. Fighting. It was a serious fist fight. I was scared. It was dark. And I was getting really cold because I didn’t think of putting on a jacket when I stormed out of the apartment. I was probably about 10 years old.
I kept quiet. They hit each other hard. I was really nervous. Were they going to kill each other? I was afraid that they would somehow find me there. And maybe kill me too? I thought I should probably go call someone. But I didn’t.
At some point, the fight ended. The boys left. And I felt safe enough to climb down the tree. It was time to go home. I walked around the building toward the entrance, and I saw my dad walking up the street. “Aba!” I called. He turned around. His worried face shifted into major relief. We hugged. He was searching for me the entire time I was out. I was really high up on that tree and he couldn’t see me. I never ran away again. Ever. Something in me realized that the horrible fist fight I was listening to while sitting between those branches, was nothing compared to what my dad endured inside his head the whole time I was gone.
We laugh about it now. The Fig Tree is a solid branch in the mythology of our relationship. It was a defining moment for both of us somehow. A coming of age moment for me. A heartbreaking, earth shattering moment for him. A moment when our respect and our love for one another grew even wider. And we laugh, this memory etched in the bark of that tree, its roots deep in the soil of our souls’ entanglement.
The tree, or trees in the back of our house separate between this property and the neighbors. They give lots of shade. It’s about two feet between the trees and the back of our landlady’s house. Little space. Big play.
I’m watching the kids create worlds in that tiny space. I watch them shape the memories of their childhood. I listen to them play and fight and make peace. In the small world of isolation from the rest of the world, I hear the big one reading to the little one. And the little one asking the big one everything he wants to know about life. I feel their bond growing deeper as their bones stretch taller. Accents of Mediterranean/Californian scents, with hidden fig trees in the back of the house, and Jakarandas painting the street purple with Spring. The flavor of their childhood influenced by this time.
I won’t lie – I worry sometimes. What does quarantine do to our young ones? How does it affect their brains? What does the smallness of our current world do to them? And as we walk – mask on and blindfolded – into the unknown future, with health concerns, and the uncertainty of financial stability grimly hovering over the heads of their generation, what will this time leave etched in their connective tissue?
Then I see them climb. And I hear them laugh. And it’s not that there aren’t tough moments, you know? It’s fucking hard sometimes. But I feel their joy – a bubbly stream washing through me. Their eyes filled with adventure. Their days are filled with creativity. The simplicity that this complex situation enforces, and the slower pace that it dictates – maybe it’s not all bad?
We don’t know what world they are growing into. Naturally, we’re worried. There’s a lot of suffering and a lot of uncertainty all around. Poverty is rising. Inequality is heightened. The sickness of the healthcare system in this country. And the racism. Right wing is growing in power all over the world. And the planet. Our beautiful planet.
Is it possible that right now, through this threshold of unpredictability, we can make big leap changes?
Moments of crisis destroy and reshape us.
Maybe I’m seeing possibility because I’m viewing the world’s collapse from the angle of my lucky ass. My kids and I are privileged. I know this. And it’s important to acknowledge. Scratch the maybe. I’m sure that’s the case.
Still… Moments of crisis destroy and reshape us.
Will my kids laugh and rejoice when they think of their fig tree when they grow up? Will they remind each other of all the stories, and all the games, and all the outdoor improvised play? My children, unlike other children in the world, might think back on this time with big smiles and a hint of longing for the profound experience that we are having as a family.
Everyone’s situation is different. The struggle is real. Some struggles are more devastating than others. So much is at stake. Physical health. Mental health. More hungry children. And we’re all in this together. And so we must not forsake those of us with weaker immunity, those of us with financial distress, those of us unable to care for our children, those of us hit by depression.
Crisis dissolves who we were. As individuals. As a collective. It burns us. It leaves us naked and raw. In the heat of it, we might hear the call to transform. We might see clearly what we must shift. Or our vision might be clouded with smoke. Still, we might feel the urge to reshape our destiny. We might feel the responsibility to recreate the world for more than ourselves.
Those of us who are able to see the opportunity – we have to seize it. Those of us who find this time transformative have to dive into it wholeheartedly. We have to take steps and carve new paths. We must do it for ourselves. We gotta do it for our loved ones. We need to do it for those who can’t.
Crisis destroys and reshapes us.
The network of our roots is complex. We are interconnected. And it’s sometimes hard to see where one tree ends and another begins. Your actions determine much of my life. My actions directly and indirectly affect yours.
We may not get figs. Yet. But this tree of change awaits our climb. It can provide shade, a fresh outlook as we climb up high, and branches of playfulness and childhood memories – some sweet, some painful, some complicated. We may witness big battles. We may be in the midst of big battles ourselves. We may feel scared. It may feel sacred. This tree of transformation will take us into new territories. And that is not an easy process.
Crisis destroys. As we move back into the world, what we find in it is going to be different from what it used to be. As it reshapes us, it asks us to to remake ourselves for the sake of more than just ourselves.
Crisis destroys and reshapes us.
Who are you becoming?