What I See at the Secret Hour

I can tell you that this morning in Beersheva, before it even started to get light, birds were singing in the dark. From my open, fourth-story kitchen window I saw the utter calm, felt the remarkably mild air, made out the forms of the buildings without a single window lit by a light.

Remarkably mild, because we’ve been having an intrusion of summer into what should be — at best — spring.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come….

The Song of Songs remains a detailed and reliable guide to spring in this land — or at least its more rural parts. Where I live — as could be made out as the light slowly grew — a hodgepodge of older, smaller houses and more recent apartment buildings that were thrown up hastily for immigrants makes for a grim, cluttered effect. But it is the land; as birds start to wheel in the sky against a dull silvery color.

Thomas Sowell: “One of the infirmities of age is omniscience.” I’m far from aged, and I’m not omniscient. But that line — from a writer who comes up with a lot of them — has special resonance. If I’ve achieved any knowledge, it’s what I feel now in this hushed, almost secret hour.

I first make out a couple of cats, going along on the sidewalk below. For them, that “the winter is past” is good tidings indeed. There’s a plague of stray cats in this land; so it was when I moved here 28 years ago, and there’s been no progress. I’ve stood at this window in winter, in dawns no less compelling in their way — and just gone back to bed, not wanting to have pleasant thoughts while they’re roaming out there exposed to the cruel cold.

And now “The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell….” Now the dull silver is giving way to something more like shy blue, and I start to make out greenery. More birds are singing; there’s a sense of bounty and mercy out there. It’s not the whole story, but it’s part of it.

When we first came here, in September 1984, it was to an absorption center for immigrants outside the town of Hadera in the coastal plain. For the first time, I heard Hebrew all around me. Hadera in those days still had some of the character of a lazy farming town — crates for oranges lying by the side of the road, storks riding on the backs of cows in lush fields. Sitting in a park at night, I’d think of the ancient Hebrews who were here two thousand years ago; their language being spoken around me, the selfsame holidays being celebrated, the selfsame vegetation blooming. I would simply sit and try to take it in.

Now, out there, I can make out the tawny stone and red roofs of the nearby houses. Birds, as they do before the sun, careening in the sky with what looks like enthusiasm. Not that sunrise is imminent; it’s time now for that long wait, a kind of stasis, as “another day / Prepares for heat and silence.” Another day of doing things I love — writing, playing the piano, playing with my cat, seeing Tami in the evening. A sense of blessings and bounty.

Soon I’ll go to the computer, turn it on and read:

Six people were injured, one critically, after stones thrown by Palestinians caused a car to collide with a truck near the West Bank settlement of Ariel….

Adva Bitton and her 3 daughters, aged 3, 4, and 6, were injured in the crash. The 3-year-old’s condition was described as critical….

“A land that devours its inhabitants….” So it was then, so it is now. That phrase was spoken by one of the ten timid scouts who reported back to Moses, warning against trying to enter a land populated by fearsome giants. Only two of the scouts expressed confidence that the Hebrews could manage. It remains a rough part of the world and it has always been a triumph of faith.

Maybe someday we’ll do something about the stray cats; but first the order of priorities, with security problems at the top, will have to be relaxed. Meanwhile there will be moments like these, watching the gentle dawn at the window.

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