31 ~ Omri and LIFE

I live in the LAND of astounding archaeological discoveries.  Yet, on the other side of the globe is another of the 20th century’s significant archaeological excavations  –  the Terra Cotta Warriors – “guarding” China’s First Emperor’s tomb in Xi’an.

Terra Cotta WarriorsAt the age of 13, in the year 208, Ying Zheng assumed China’s throne, and at the same time began planning his own tomb.  After reigning 25 years, he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms, hence is considered China’s first Emperor, assuming the name Qin Shi Huang Di.

Throughout his 36-year reign, workers continued toiling to prepare his tomb as well as the entire mausoleum.  This included as many as 8,000 lifesize terra cotta warrior figures.

vast army

Each was painstakingly crafted with unique facial expressions(!)  Traces of paint suggest they were once brilliantly colored to accompany the Emperor during his final rest.  Excavations of portions of the 1974 discovery ultimately unearthed three huge pits filled with terra-cotta soldiers, cavalry, archers, their weapons, horses and chariots.

This warrior survived with more detail and color than most, so received a place of acclaim in the museum.


Note the tread on his shoe!!


The Emperor’s concubines who had not borne him sons were immolated (killed or burned as a sacrifice) at the time of his death and buried in small pits within his vast mausoleum.  Additional nearby digs revealed other kinds of figures such as acrobats, dancers, and musicians.  The guides leading my tour explained that for scientific/technical and political reasons, excavations are currently on-hold indefinitely.


However absurd to our 21st century ears, the entire story  – planning and funding laborers from the age of 13 to take countless terracotta soldiers with him into death – lends a new twist to cuddling a favorite teddybear during sleep.

I’ve attended funerals that were filled with joy over the life lived, and I envy that. I absolutely want those who love me to celebrate the life I lived, the person I became. I’m doing my very best towards that goal.

While I don’t particularly care about the event – except no “viewings” or open casket  (I prefer a nice photo, if one were ever to be taken).

How would you like people to remember you after you pass?  Some sadness, as well as happier reflections?  How about gathering for a special event to celebrate your life?  Once? Every year?

A new friend invited me to join her remembering Omri, a young Israeli, who died tragically 7 years ago, just months after completing his military service.  As usual, I had no idea what the event, or the experience, would be, but I most often go where I’m invited.

After High School graduation, Israel youth spend a year preparing to enter the military: a combination of physical training for the rigors ahead, volunteer work, and employment. I’ve been told by many Israeli’s that military service is the question following introductions. “Where/in what unit did you serve?” launches a series of connections and comparisons, instant bonding.


As an aside, certain Ultra-Orthodox groups are exempted from military service, and most Orthodox gals and very few boys opt for non-military service entailing assignments in an extensive variety of community projects.  These are real “jobs” and earn the benefits of army service. Both military and community service require boys serve 3, while girls 2 years.

The women’s unit in the following video had gathered on the campus of Ben Gurion University in the Negev.  In an early morning walk, I happened upon their voices, laughter, and the breathtaking dessert view of their outdoor classroom.

Here’s where we pick up Omri’s story  After completion of military service, many Israeli youth spend their savings on the trip of a lifetime: 3 – 6 months overseas. India or South America are the regions I hear of most often, and Omri went to South America.

It’s a time of transition and unwinding from the intensity of military experience before beginning university.  Easy to see why these Israeli young adults are far more mature and settled for the discipline of serious studies and career-prep focus than most fresh-out-of-high school 18-year-olds elsewhere.

Two days before Omri was to return from his post-military 3-month backpacking trek in South America, solo, he stopped calling home.  Family members flew immediately to search, but his body wasn’t found for many, many months.

He was 23.  The cause of death was a poisonous snake bite.  Someone buried him, so perhaps he was not alone when he passed.

The (7th Memorial) event was held on a beautiful autumn day in Omri’s home town, at a rented theater.  Approximately 150 guests gathered for an early lunch picnic-buffet-potluck that felt like a wedding reception, not a funeral.  Ages clustered mostly around 30, the age he would be now, and what I guessed to be his parents’ generation (and teachers?).  They mingled with genuine warmth, happy to see dear friends or heartily welcoming guests like myself to “meet” this amazing young man.  And meet him, I did, in the 3-hours ahead.  Time well spent.

After eating and meeting and greeting, we entered the theater for a professional-caliber presentation of family photos/videos of Omri’s life.  It seems each year a new “production” brings in different photos and memories.  Funny, happy, touching, heartbreaking, not morbid.

Then his father and sister and brother spoke about him, some tears and a lot of laughter.  I felt honored to be allowed into the intimacy of their loss, their joy of having had him, and they did well comforting each other with remembrances of the child/man they had known and still love.

A movie followed. A French film that translates loosely into “Funny Gods”.  I struggled to NOT try to match what I heard – French! –  with the Hebrew subtitles.  High school Spanish doesn’t help listening to French, and I can’t read Hebrew fast enough to benefit from subtitles beyond the few words I catch in the mere seconds they’re on the screen.  It’s a movie I’d like to see again with the benefit of dialogue.  I felt the audience’s engagement, serene nods, and laughter.  If you happen upon a U-tube showing of it with English subtitles…

Meeting Omri this way and seeing his family and friends loving him well wasn’t overwhelming or sappy, but a clean, clear MemoryStream that refreshed me.  The pure love of others for each other – how could it but invigorate?

Omri was obviously a leader, charismatic, well-loved, and seems to have loved well.  Fearless with character, not foolhardy. I like to imagine he was more about LIVING than being stopped by fears. I like the young man I met that day.  Perhaps more so now than ever before, I’m particularly tuned-in to what I hope is character-infused, wise, risk-taking,

His face and build and personality tore at my heart because he reminded me of 2 men I knew well: smart, charismatic, leadership potential, but for whom “wild” was a better description than “courageous”, perhaps because their choices were more about their drives and compulsions.  Neither seemed to reach their potential.  Why?  Shame. Addictions and unresolved “issues.”  Self-centeredness.  Secrets.

Omri’s death, as with all deaths of the young, leaves the “what would have been’s” unknown, so we imagine the best, most amazing future — missed.

Meanwhile, so many others who “survive” take few risks, but miss much of life.  For too many years I shied away from opportunities and pursuits because of fear. Reasons?  Of course.  But still I know I gave too much to fear. It seems that Omri LIVED well his 23 years.  Some might say he died young because of recklessness, but where is living safe? Each day I hope to succeed at the balance between LIVING fully and the wisdom to not be reckless.

How can I spend this day, oh Lord, as the precious gift it that is, from You?

I remind myself when disappointment finds me questioning my choices, that I’ll never know the outcome had I taken another route.  Better? or Worse?

I spent the first day of 2017 with a first “real” hike in the Negev, map in hand, water, sunblock, and hat.

However I found myself in a situation that required climbing with arms and legs up and down rocky hillsides, without the strength I needed.  The trail was extremely difficult to follow and I was seriously frightened over and over again – hoping each steep, slippery incline/decline was the last one that required hanging-on to…something (that I couldn’t reach, or grasp confidently).  I fought visions of lying disabled or unconscious after a fall or being rescued by the Israeli Army helicopter-rope…like a movie.  I had no recourse except to press on with hope that what lay ahead would be better than the overwhelming passages I’d survived.

Retreat was impossible.  I knew better than to re-attempt the terrain behind me.

I asked God for the help I needed.  For strength.  Direction.  Courage.

My left arm had been injured the week before and I had only a fraction of normal strength; had I been at full strength, I would still have been frightened and concerned at the situation.  The pain and swelling of my arm increased with each effort, but I had to use my hand for the little it was worth.

The silence of the desert is deep.  Peaceful, really, not barren. And I was alone the entire time, except at 4 distinct points, when other hikers appeared, helping perfectly.

The first literally pulled me up an incline that I simply could not have managed otherwise.  The family in the above video as well as a group of teen boys who came along later, each helped me re-access the trail I’d entirely lost on two separate occasions. The last approached as I stood at a fork, thinking of Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz at a similar fork enroute to their Enchanted City.  He directed me to the easiest route to the parking lot, to avoid further climbing.  Need I paint how relieved I was to climb into my rented (Enchanted) Kia Picanto?!

Upon my much delayed return, the woman who had recommended and carefully detailed the hike on the map said I’d gone left instead of right at one critical point.

How could I not be reminded of the many aspects of my life that were so difficult because of one wrong turn – mine or others’.  Some cost me years, untold sorrows and confusion.

This roadsign tells you I’m no longer on Lebanon or Syria’s border.

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