In the deaths of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali in Israel, people have seen what they’ve wanted to see. They have seen their hatred for Hamas, Obama, the U.N. and anyone else they want to throw their poison daggers into. I only see mothers.
Three women cried in joy as each of these boys were placed in their arms for the first time. These mothers sent them off to school, helped with their homework and sat for family meals with them. And now they bury them.
When I see them, I see another mother. I remember talking to her for a few seconds at the funeral, her face red with tears, but she will always haunt my dreams. Her body shaking in a light pink dress as they laid her boy’s body into the ground in Simi Valley. Her sobs echo in my mind. And the screaming, like a dying animal, yelling at the world in fruitless anguish to not take her baby away, is seared into my soul.
His name was Jason Todd Schneider. We called him JT for short. I met him shortly after I started community college at Pierce. His smile was friendly, his hair already beginning to thin up top. His eyes would crinkle when he smiled, and his hugs were tight yet tender. His flannel shirts had a hint of musk in them. We would talk for hours and hours about anything and everything. He was one of my closest friends.
Until his demons got in the way. I was angry and cut him out of my life. And before I could apologize, he was gone. We didn’t lose him to terror, but he was ripped from all of us anyway. At 23 years old. I was only 19.
My parents were at a loss for words; they never knew anyone who died so young when they were my age. I screamed and seethed at people who made his death more about themselves and not about him. And I blamed myself for his death for years until I had to force myself to realize it wasn’t my fault.
But just as much as I lived with him, I lived with the memory of his mother. She was my nightmare, the image of standing behind her and watching her shaking body in that pink dress, her screams tearing into me like knives. If I met her, I wouldn’t know her; I can barely remember her face. But she is in me, always.
I am no longer a 19-year-old. I have had to face other real-world problems and challenges to my life, things he never got to do. I went through major milestones in my life without JT: A move to university. A college degree. Hirings and layoffs. Multiple subsequent moves. A marriage. The deaths of my beloved grandparents, followed by another earth-shattering death, this time the sudden death of my aunt. Then, six months after her death, a heartbreaking divorce and total upending of my life. There were things that I did that I always sensed were against the natural order of what the universe was supposed to be. But they pale in comparison to watching a mother bury her child.
Sometimes in the quiet I sense JT. It’s like the flit of an eye, and then he’s gone just as quickly. Although there are lingering moments: one night, as I was on my tour bus of Israel and everyone else was chatting in the front. Sleepily, I curled up in my chair and rested my head. In my mind’s eye, I saw him as he put his arm around me and rested his head on mine in the orange fluorescent lights as I cried, in joy of being in Israel and sadness because he wasn’t with me. Yet all I can think about is no matter how deep my pain goes with him, there is a woman out there who was once dressed in pink who haunts me with her screams just as much as her son does. And she will never go away.
I don’t know where JT’s mother is now, but I know there are three mothers joining her struggle in Israel of having to cope with losing a child. There is a country haunted now by three boys that were ripped from them, and they stand behind these women because they see their own mothers. The plight of women is the plight of us all. When she suffers, we will all go down with her. It’s up to us to lift her up when she needs the help, no matter what, because only when women can be strong can the rest of the world gather strength.
We can be angry, but that can always be tapped later with a more collected head. If we don’t choose love first, that’s when we make bad decisions. So instead of rallying in hatred against easy targets halfway across the world, go hug your loved ones first and make up for past wrongdoings. Don’t see what you want to see, but rather look harder and notice the love right in front of you.