It’s a warm sunny morning in Jerusalem, a slight breeze blows as people file past, paying their respects to Shimon Peres. The ubiquitous phones are out and people are taking pictures of the casket laying in front of the Knesset, capturing a moment in history so they can say, “I was there”. One guy stops and asks a woman to take a picture of him with the casket in the background – taking the selfie just a little bit too far, one even better prepared brought his own selfie stick.
Perhaps I am a little old fashioned, but it didn’t seem that respectful at all. I wonder what Shimon Peres would have thought of it all? Certainly he was a man who changed with the times, and since he had only recently joined Snapchat just after his 93rd birthday, maybe he would be delighted.
There was something quite eerie about the scene, his casket, draped in the Israeli flag sat in complete shade, and where the mourners filed past it was lit by brilliant sunshine, the chatter of their voices echoed across the Knesset Plaza. There was a divide, a clear line, sun and shade, chatter and silence, life and death.
There has been much written about Peres’ life in the press in the past 24 hours or so. Depending on which media outlet or opinion peace you read, he was a man of peace, or he wasn’t a man of peace. He was a dreamer, or he was a pragmatist. He was a dove or a hawk.
To limit him to any one of these aspects, is to present a two dimensional character. He was all of these things. He dreamt large, he got things done, he wanted peace but recognized the need for a strong defense force, hoping for the best, preparing for the worst.
Did he do great service to the State of Israel? Yes. Did he always make good decisions? No. Did he have some regrets about the things he believed in but wasn’t able to achieve? Certainly.
There is plenty to thank him for. For me, building a strong defense force is something that stands out among his many achievements. But also I thank him for the things he did that we don’t know about, that we may never know about, that may well have been more important than the achievements we are aware of.
In relation to decisions he made, there have been plenty of views bandied about of the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” ilk, mostly by people who were not even born when the events he was involved in took place, guess hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Commentators have spoken about his selfless service to the State of Israel, but his wife Sonia did not want him to run for the presidency in 2007, perhaps she wanted to spend their golden years quietly together, but run he did, and eventually they went their separate ways. Peres said of his wife Sonia, “She was the love of my life and has remained the love of my life.” Despite that he became President, so was that selfless to his country, or him being selfish to his wife? Maybe a little from column A and a little from column B.
His daughter, Tsvia Walden, described him as “complicated”, but aren’t we all? Life is complicated, people are complicated, we aren’t just black and white personalities, we are the many shades of grey between those two points, and it is impossible to sum up the multi-faceted nature of a human being in a single headline or sound bite.
Shimon Peres lived a long rich life, he was an immigrant, a freedom fighter, a husband, a father, a politician, a diplomat, a statesman, Prime Minister, President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, a poet, a song writer, an author.
He was a founding father of a young nation and a first-hand witness in every moment of Israel’s history. His life, was filled with ups and downs, successes and failures, and a long list of well documented achievements.
As I thought about the rich tapestry of his life, I was trying to distill what his legacy was, and suddenly realized I had been looking in all the wrong places. His legacy was right in front of me. It was all the people queuing in the brilliant sunshine, their voices loudly echoing in Hebrew across the Knesset Plaza, each free to say goodbye in their own way, to the man who had helped build a place every single one of them could call home. And that brought tears to my eyes.
My favorite Peres quote is: “If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact – not to be solved, but to be coped with.” And this applies to his passing, it’s a sad fact we must cope with. May his memory be for a blessing.