"So what now?"
The elderly man standing in the elevator with me did not explain what he was referring to; he didn't need to do it. There are these periods in Israel where everyone walks around fatigued and keeps on asking other people: "What now?"
It's not even a question. Merely an expression uttered in a quiet voice, more concerned than usual, just like someone who is waiting for the results of his medical examination.
Do you really need a list? Well, take a deep breath first: The train to Jerusalem, the evacuation of illegal outposts, the raising of teacher salaries, national service for haredim and Arabs, shorter waits at the courts, the establishment desalination plants, reinforcing the police, the Bedouins in the Negev, changing the government system…
The "What now?" does not comprise the things we argue over, that stir passionate reactions, or that people are willing to kill for, or at least put on a warm sweater for and headed to a protest at the square. The "What now?" is about the things we all agree on, but nobody happens to understand why they are not happening.
There are no explanations. They're simply there, waiting for the High Court of Justice or for something to explode; a silent memorial for our inability to do the essential things that would make our lives better.
Once in a while, somebody takes the stage, fixes his tie, and says into the microphone that this is crucial, that we can no longer continue this way, and that the time has come to do something. When he looks up he sees that the audience, mostly made up of pensioners wearing sandals, is busy with the question of whether they'll be getting some cake at the end of the lecture.
Later he gets off the stage, steps into his government-issued car, and turns to his parliamentary aide, who sits in the front seat. "How did I do?" He asks. The aide looks just like him; all worn out at 26 years of age already, with a boring bluish shirt stained by a leaking pen. "You were fantastic," he says. The senior official is silent for a moment, and then sighs at length. Suddenly, he to tells his aide: "What now?", even though he meant to say something else entirely.
We are sitting under a cloud; a cloud of inaction, futility, and a failure to understand. "Good things will come now," Yehonatan Gefen once wrote, but toady nobody can commit to anything happening now, either bad or good. It appears that we've simply become less of the same.
How did this "What now?" get here? Where did it come from? It probably has something to do with the endless Gilad Shalit saga, or the Iranian threat, which for 10 years now has been promised to us next year in a North Korean gift box, or the peace process, or all those other things – the more important they are, the clearer it becomes that we have no intention to do something about them. And we can't even blame Bibi.
Last week he took the stage at an education convention at the David Intercontinental. He uttered various words, such as "growth," "investment," "crisis," "infrastructure," and others, until they eventually lost any meaning, turning into that noise you hear when someone walks up a long corridor in wet socks. When I stopped daydreaming, it appeared that he was speaking to the point, but one still got the sense that later the PM will return to his office, sit at his swivel chair, and ask himself: "What now?"
Whatever you may have to say about Ariel Sharon, at least there was a feeling that he knew something we didn't. That he has some kind of secret information from the Mossad, or that Hillary Clinton leaked something to him in the middle of the night, but he decided not to tell us, because we are not yet prepared to absorb all this information.
However, Sharon sank into a stupor, and that same "What now?" is applicable to him too at this time; because we too, just like him, aren't sure whether we missed our own funeral by mistake.
It's possible that it doesn't work anymore. That this country stopped functioning the same way old cars die: In the first few times you still take it to the mechanic, later you learn to look under the hood yourself and get your hands dirty, and then comes the moment where you just leave it in the street, realizing that there must be someone out there whose job is to take it away; remove it to some kind of junkyard for rusty cars just like it, all packed together, keeping warm in the fading memories of young people who once upon a time made love in the backseat.
On the way out I meet Nava, who once upon a time worked with me at some non-profit group. She looks at me with an exhausted glance. "What now?" she asks. "I don't know," I tell her. "You're the third person today to ask me that."