In Public Administration graduate school, I took a class called “Management Decision Making.” We learned a bunch of systems for making strategic, transparent, data-informed decisions: critical path, cost/benefit, SWOT analysis, etc. It was fun, in a certain geeky way. As I studied and wrote my papers, I remember thinking: if only this were how my mind and heart worked.
Sometimes Terence and I give the illusion of being thoughtful, systematic decision makers. When people ask us, “why Jerusalem?” we recount a conversation back in 2006 in which we each presented our “non-negotiables.” Terence wanted to go as far from home as possible, ideally to the Middle East. And I wanted a place with good pediatric health care and school options for the girls, some English speakers, and the possibility of interesting projects for me to do. Mix together, shake three times, and you get Jerusalem.
In reality though it wasn’t quite so clear. There wasn’t any chart paper involved. We spent long months frozen, unable to commit to a destination, hemming and hawing, irritating those around us who, understandably, weren’t that sympathetic that our biggest problem was where to spend our funded, year-long sabbatical. Other options presented themselves: Istanbul. Rome. Every time we tried to tally the pros and cons, something new would enter the equation. Months ticked by until finally we decided Terence just had to come here for some reconaissance.
In the end, it came down to a nose stud and Scrabble. One concern about Jerusalem was the sense that “everyone like us” had fled the city. When Terence came for his visit to the school we ultimately chose for the girls, the principal (a Jewish-American from California) had many ear rings and a pierced nose. Not that she was “like us,” but still this gave us hope. The principal was lovely and encouraging. And just like that the decision was made. If she can be happy here, we can be as well.
My second concern was what Terence dubbed “Is/Pal” all the time — that life here would only, could only, be about a conflict I didn’t fully understand and about which I didn’t have strong views. And then I discovered the Jerusalem Scrabble Club, the largest such organization in the world. I’m a pretty serious Scrabble player, but I’ve never had the guts to show up to the Jerusalem club. But its mere existence beckoned to me that there was more to life here than politics.
Most big life decisions have a tipping point like those. It was a gorgeous day when you visited the campus. The tour guide was cute. The interviewer’s favorite author is the same as yours. Something insignificant, idiosyncratic, beyond the scope of the models I learned in grad school, showed you what to do, what could be.
I’m thinking about decisions since we have another set nipping at our heels. Where to send the girls for pre-K and first grade. What to do for the summer. Where and how much I should work next year (if this is even a decision I get to make). I’m feeling just as stuck and torn as I did last fall, trying to plan this year. Some days I’m desperate to nail things down, and I spend nap time trawling job sites and updating my resume. Other days I want to forget all about those unknowns, that blank slate awaiting me. When people used to ask what I would do after Jerusalem, I’d hedge: “I’m not sure — maybe the experiences of sabbatical will make me want to switch careers, or move abroad, or have another baby. No clue!” Now it’s time to get a clue, but I’m still waiting for it, trying to trust that just as things came together for us this year, they can and will again.