This is not so much a review of the book “The Rage Less Traveled: A Memoir of Surviving a Machete Attack,” it’s more a summary of my experience reading it and why I believe this is a must read for everyone, including those not specifically interested in Israel.
Choosing to read the book
I didn’t want to read “The Rage Less Travelled.” My friend Kay Wilson is one of the best story tellers I have ever met and few stories are more dramatic than that of being brutally attacked and surviving but who wants to read about a gruesome terror attack?
And this isn’t a “horror story,” something fun to scare your friends with around a campfire. This story is real and it happened to someone I care about… Just the thought of immersing myself in this deeply painful story made my stomach churn.
Strangely the feeling I had about reading the book was very different than the feeling I had hearing it directly from Kay. I felt honored when she told me about the day she and her friend Kristine Luken were brutally attacked by machete wielding terrorists, what it is like to feel your life running out of you, to know that your friend was murdered and you survived. Kay was there, in front of me – I could reach out and give her a hug. I could share a sliver of the pain and feel stronger as a result.
Life is sacred thus the moment of death or almost-death, is also a kind of holy moment. Kay made me part of that and, I think she unconsciously shielded me from some of the horror. She made sharing the story a gift, not a burden.
While she was struggling to write the book, I repeatedly told Kay that if she wrote the way she talks, the book will be incredible. I knew it would be hard for her to write but I also knew she would succeed and that the result would be very powerful.
And that is why I was afraid.
I knew the story. I watched “Black Forest,” the documentary about the attack – but compelling as it may be, a movie keeps the viewer on the outside, watching the events unfold. Well written and told in first person, a book puts the reader inside the event, granting the reader an experience not their own.
I didn’t have the guts to deliberately walk into the Black Forest. I was afraid to feel my friend’s pain and not be able to reach out to her. Somehow, with Kay there, the story is one I can ingest. The tangible evidence that she is still here, that she survived, makes the evil that occurred something my heart can somehow take.
I had to read the book, for myself. For Kay. For Kristine who was murdered because the terrorists thought she was a Jew.
“We Remember” is more than a slogan to be said in reference to the Holocaust, it’s a directive that teaches that every life is precious and we must understand the events that steal members of our tribe from us and, whenever possible, we must remember their lives so that at least in memory they can live on. Kristine wasn’t born into our tribe but she chose to be a friend and she suffered as a result. In my mind, that means we owe her.
In a few succinct descriptions, Kay brings Kristine’s spirit to life on the pages. This is yet another way of battling the evil of her murder. The terrorists wanted to stamp her out of existence (because they thought she was a Jew). In the physical struggle, the terrorists achieved their goal but in the spiritual realm, Kay’s words ensure their defeat.
The terrorists defined Kristine’s death but they do not have the power to define what her life was or what it meant to the people who knew and loved her.
Through Kay’s words, the readers are introduced to a very special woman. One who allowed herself to be enchanted by things most of us would take for granted or maybe not even notice. A woman who drank in experiences through wide eyes. A woman who marveled at the wonders of Israel and by example reminds others to see the magic of this special land.
Kristine’s memory is no longer a statistic of violence or a silent photo but rather a vibrant woman, exuberant and full of faith. Who wouldn’t want a friend like that?
The lies PTSD tells and the miracle that is Israel
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition most people don’t understand. It’s a term often used inappropriately and too lightly. The problem is that when someone is suffering from PTSD what they need most of all is understanding.
In the USA the statistics for military veteran suicides are 22 (and possibly more) EVERY SINGLE DAY. These numbers are shocking and truly beyond comprehension but they highlight a very important path – it is necessary to learn. To understand as much as possible. Not just for survivors of terrorism and war. PTSD can occur in all types of trauma survivors – following violent crime, abuse and even car accidents.
Kay provides a glimpse into PTSD which can clarify a lot of issues, help sufferers understand that they are not alone and teach others how to address friends or family who may need help, to be more tolerant and patient with others who may be physically with us in the same room but at the same time are mentally trapped in their own black forest.
“Survivors’ guilt” is a bland term that does not address the lies PTSD tells the survivor. Over and over Kay felt that “She watched Kristine die so that she could live.” This not the feeling of “I’m sorry that person died” it’s a feeling of being a terrible, selfish, callous person who remained silent in the face of evil for personal gain. It is also an utter lie.
Screaming, trying to act (more than she did) would have gotten Kay killed and would not have saved Kristine. It is beyond comprehension how Kay managed to survive. By all logic she too should have died – but she did not. Would Kristine have wanted them both to die or would she have been proud of Kay for surviving?
Logical analysis of the situation provides clear answers but the problem is that PTSD is not based in logic or cognitive awareness, it is a poisonous loop that the spirit/mind gets trapped inside. Being able to recognize the lies is the first step to addressing them and release the stranglehold they have on the sufferer.
The descriptions of Kay’s thoughts and emotions and the lengths friends went to in order to support her provide insight into the miracle that is Israel. All Israelis have experienced trauma, if not first-hand than second hand. At the same time, an amazingly low proportion of Israelis actually suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is incomprehensible how the people of Israel, instead of being angry and bitter are hopeful and willing to invest enormous energy into making the world a better place.
Kay shines light on these special qualities of Israeli society, our unique mixture of the mundane and the sublime, harshly honest and deeply caring.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Kay’s book isn’t about a gruesome attack. It’s about hope and survival. It’s about love and healing.
The evil of the attack puts the beauty of the people who took care of Kay afterwards in stark contrast. The pain of what occurred is a motivator to try to bring change and make the world a less dark place.
Kay herself is an example of what it is to be a Maccabee. Like Natan Alterman’s poem The Silver Platter: “Broken, yet still standing, we are the silver platter on which the Jewish State was given to you.”
Stabbed and beaten, her life running out of her body, my warrior friend Kay managed to stand and walk to her own rescue. Tortured by Arabs, she repaid evil with good by helping protect other young Arabs and set them on the path of positive personal development. Kristine’s life stolen, Kay makes sure others remember the vibrant life, not just the ugly death. She also works tirelessly to put an end to the Pay-for-Slay culture of the Palestinian Authority.
Broken, yet still standing.
Kay is like Israel. This is our beauty and our strength. Broken, yet still standing. Wounded physically and in spirit. Together we survive and we love and we infuse good into the world to counter-balance the evil.
Kay’s story is an inspiration for anyone who is suffering in their own life, an example of what is possible. Kay’s story is Israel’s story.
If Kay can do what she has accomplished, who are we to say that there is something we can’t do?
The Portnoy Brothers created this beautiful clip in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday. I dedicate this to my friend Kay who makes the world better by being alive.