Resolving on Resolutions

9th January 2016

I am sitting in the giant central concourse of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, a coffee in hand, and looking up at the Departures Board. It is displayed in Hebrew and receives my special attention, as my five days of language tuition are still bouncing in my head. I survey the letters from right to left, seeking out my immediate destination: Eee-stan-bu-l. Istanbul. Fundamental things are not simple, when you try them for the first time.

I am distracted by a family of finches which scuttle behind the Departures Board to find their nest.  Those airports  – and they are surprisingly numerous – which tolerate birds in their terminal interiors are mentally downgraded in my mind: if the airport authorities can’t control the birds inside, how good will they be at controlling the flocks of starlings outside, on the airfield?

My brother once worked with Aer Rianta, the organisation which runs Irish airports, and explained to me how every bird found dead on the airfield at Dublin meticulously undergoes a postmortem, in order to determine its cause of death. I have clung to this reassuring proof point of safety, which I only half understand, ever since. 

Birds, those avatars of our inner-most dreams, are the enemy of modern aviation. Jet engines swallow them whole, but a diet like this can lead to catastrophic indigestion. Everything feathered is strictly off the menu, because one bird can make a plane fall from the sky. 

Here, in Tel Aviv’s international departure zone, one is also in the presence of a flock of Ben Gurions. The Prime Minister’s likeness is dotted around the terminal, in bronze sculpture forms of varying size. 

These Ben Gurions have wavy ageing hair, bestowing on him an avuncular, intelligent mien. In bronze, the father of modern Israel recalls the spirit of Einstein. It seems that wavy hair is becoming a code of welcome which wizened public intellectuals adopt, in order to better connect with their audiences. I have noticed, for instance, that MIT’s famous linguist, dissenter, and all-round know-it-all Noam Chomsky, has been cultivating his own silver locks of late. Perhaps he has resolved to be more endearingly thoughtful in 2016?

Being the start of a new year, I have been thinking about what I personally might do differently, and what new habits I might try to take on board. Good living, I believe, is found when we engage in change. Change is the wellspring of our creativity, our progress and our learning.

And yet, parts of my life feel like a bicycle chain which constantly slips gear, resulting in my working way too hard to make way too little progress.  

I had an enjoyable chat with a good friend on the topic of failed resolutions. He is, let me assure you, decidedly more disciplined than me. I explained my frustration at revisiting the same things I want to change every damned year (for example, to lose weight; but also more weighty things, like to become more of an artist). It’s as if something inside of me is daring me not to do it – daring me to fail. I can easily become the bird in my own jet engine. 

The feeling of constantly doubting one’s own resolve is echoed in one of my favourite Shakespeare lines. What more evidence do I need that it is part of the human condition, I ask? 

Macbeth is set upon dethroning Duncan, but he finds himself simultaneously ashamed of his own ambition in wanting to do so: 

‘Stars, hide your fires!

Let not light see 

My black and deep desires’

My friend listened carefully to what I was saying about my failed resolutions, and the source of my frustrations. 

‘You have to want to want it’, he said, getting to the nub of the problem in seven words. ‘If you always break your own resolution, it just means you don’t actually want it enough’. 

His words stayed with me. Especially here, in this place where, as my crass taxi driver describes it, ‘all of our neighbours want us in the fucking sea‘. 

Israel is a country which has come to life principally because of a strong and unique volition. It wanted it. Badly. It couldn’t have wanted a homeland more. 

Just a few days back, I came across a book featuring some of Ben Gurion’s diary entries from that day in May 1948 when the State of Israel was signed into being. He was its leader, one of the eleven signatories to Israel’s declaration of nationhood. That evening, in his diary, he described his deep sense of anxiety and resolve having received intelligence that numerous columns of Arab forces were assembling around the country’s borders, with the sole intent of throttling the infant state. There was no time to celebrate. David Ben Gurion got to work. 

Whatever one’s views on Israel (for me, I believe it has the right to exist, even if I don’t agree with many of its behaviours) it is apparent that this is a country which wants to exist. Indeed, it may be that all of those Arab states, in the early days, faltered in part because they did not want Israel’s destruction quite as much as Israel wanted to exist. 

One of the things l retain from my years working in the Arab world is the deep gentleness at the heart of that culture. They are remarkable and endearing for their warmth. For example, when I look at the Arab script, I see a beautiful and joyful expression of their artistry. My friend describes it as a dance. One can be in no doubt that, within that amazing language system, lies exceptional humanity.

There has been little political leadership in the Arab world which lives up to the great beauty of the culture it oversees. I sometimes feel the same thing when thinking about the political leadership in my own country. It is as if we, the people, fall short in wanting to want something better. 

Lady Macbeth detected a gentleness in her husband when the going got rough. His resolve wavered. She knew it would lead to his downfall. 

‘Screw your courage to the sticking post!’, she declared, ‘and we’ll not fail’.

At length, I have deciphered the Gate number for Istanbul, written high and in Hebrew, on Ben Gurion’s Departure Board.

I get ready for flight, fully resolved for change. 

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