I was so excited to blog about our trip to Israel. I was so excited to get a full nights sleep. It’s hard to do either right now. I woke hourly encompassed by thoughts of the few days my life was intertwined with Taylor Force, the U.S. citizen and Vanderbilt University MBA student who was senselessly murdered in Tel Aviv, Israel yesterday.
I feel a plethora of emotions that cover a broad range. I feel extreme sadness for Taylor and those who knew him best. I feel empathy for the new friends I made on this trip who witnessed first hand the horrific acts that stole their friend away from them. My heart breaks for them knowing their lives will never ever be the same. I feel relief that it wasn’t Patrick instead, and I feel extreme joy that he wasn’t walking with them when it happened. I feel anxious for his and the entire groups safe return, and I feel confused as to why this act of violence even happened to begin with. I’m angry that God allowed this to happen in His Holy Land, but I haven’t lost faith in knowing that Jeremiah 29 says that God knows the plans He has for our lives. Contradictory, that verse finishes with the words “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I can’t wrap my head around why God did allow harm to come to Taylor, but I do know that the future Taylor has before him is in is the place we all want to be.
I admittedly don’t know Taylor well. I knew him for only a few short days. He was one of the 13 of us who traveled together to Petra and Wadi Rum. I’m trying to recall each encounter with this man, and each spoken word suddenly means so much more. I don’t know much about him, but the little that I do know I know others who knew him better than I do will know as well, and I just felt the need to share the impact one can make in just a few short days.
HE WAS FEARLESS AND FRIENDLY
The first impression I got of Taylor was at our first rest stop. Our driver nearly drove off without him! While speaking with him for the first time as we walked across the border into Jordan, I asked if he was scared that we nearly left him and he said “Nah, I would have just made friends with the people in the store and had a good time there.” I would not have had a similar response! I think this simple response speaks measures of the man he was.
HE WAS A WAR HERO
At another rest stop, this time in Jordan, Taylor asked if we would be having Maqluba at lunch. Maqluba is a traditional Middle Eastern meal of meat, rice and vegetables that is placed in a dish then served upside down he explained. I can’t speak for others, but I was hungry and my mouth was watering! I asked how he knew of this dish and he explained that he did a tour of Iraq and Afghanistan and this was his favorite dish they would serve. It’s hard to think how a man could make two trips to the Middle East selflessly putting himself in harms way, and survive, yet go to the Middle East for the enjoyment of a class trip and not come home to share it.
HE WAS TOUGH AND BLAMELESS
After exploring Petra, we saw Taylor ride by us on a very fast moving horse! We were impressed with his riding skills! Let’s just say he was going so fast that I didn’t even get the chance to take a photo! As he passed Patrick yelled “Lift your hand!” and to my surprise he did! Once we made it to the top of Petra, we saw Taylor limping around. Turns out after his wild ride he was chatting with one of the horse attendants and he got kicked extremely hard in his thigh by the horse! It was such a tough kick that the attendant wanted to call an ambulance, but Taylor assured him he was okay and even took blame for the incident citing that being a Texas boy growing up around horses he should have known not to stand where he was standing. His response was “It was worth it.” As we mourn Taylor today, I’m pretty sure he would say the same. This guy enjoyed his last few days on earth, no matter how difficult they were, and I have faith that if he could, he would say, “It was worth it.”
HE WAS KIND AND GENEROUS
By the time we got to the Bedouin Tents, we were all exhausted. It was later than we had expected, it was colder than we expected, but none of us except for Taylor had been kicked by a horse that day. Patrick and I got in line for dinner with Taylor who was walking with one leg completely straight by this point. We sat down to eat together and noticed there were no drinks. Patrick and Taylor went up to grab them but came back empty handed when they realized you had to buy them. Taylor said “The smallest bill I had was a $20 and I really didn’t want $18 back in Jordanian money.” Understandable, and Patrick and I were in the same boat of only having bigger bills on us. Taylor then got up and said “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, I’ll just get drinks for everyone.” It was a small act, but a kind gesture that stuck with me enough to bring to the attention of Patrick a few days later. I told him that he should think to do the same on this trip if that type of situation ever came up again. The next day at lunch in Aqaba, Taylor took the bill upon himself and paid for it on his card so we wouldn’t have to do separate checks. Again, another small act, but a kind one. He always seemed to be thinking of ways to make life a little easier for the group no matter the cost it was to him.
HE WASN’T MARRIED
Many reports are stating that Taylor’s wife was critically injured in the attack, but he wasn’t married. This untrue fact makes me sad knowing that he won’t ever be married, and that’s a shame and loss for all unmarried women. During the trip he commented on how he enjoyed watching the videos that Patrick posted of our kids. He will never have his own kids one day, which makes me so sad. A good person was taken away way too soon.
I’m sure that the few people we met on our flights and excursions could probably think that Patrick and I were the victims. Aside from both being MBA students at Vanderbilt, Patrick and Taylor shared similar features of brown hair and killer beards. I wish I could somehow let them know that it wasn’t us.
Now that I’ve shared the little I know about Taylor, I’ll share the very little I know about the tragedy. The students were given a choice, they could either go to the hotel and pack their bags for the next location they would be heading to, or they could go to the restaurant early. Patrick chose to go to the restaurant early, which I am so thankful for. Of the students who chose to go to the hotel, half took a taxi to dinner, and the others decided to walk. I know my husband, and I know he would have chose to walk had he chose to go to the hotel. If he had, he would have either been a victim himself or witnessed this act of violence first hand, both of which are life altering events. It’s numbing to think of how easily it could have been him had he made one choice differently.
As I’ve scoured the internet looking for more information, I’ve seen posts stating that if one knows how unsafe it is to go to Israel, why would you go? Valid point. We did know that Israel isn’t the safest place to visit right now, but we had not one reason to feel unsafe, not one – especially in Tel Aviv. Sure you know anything can happen, but you tell yourself that anything can happen anywhere. There are terrorist attacks everywhere, but you never think it will happen to you or someone that you know. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself, I didn’t feel unsafe in Israel. They have armed police officers who patrol the streets with their rifles in their hands. While this can be unnerving to see firsthand, it does give off the sense that you are protected. One driver told us that you can’t even see many of the police as they are out of sight but always keeping watch. I felt completely safe, but I also now realize that I wasn’t as aware as I probably should have been. I’ve grown up a lot from this trip, as I’m sure the others have as well. I will never travel the same again, I will never live life the same again – there will always be this new sense of fear that I will continually battle, but I will battle it because I refuse to live my life in fear. What happened in Israel could easily happen here, which is a scary thought, but I won’t let it paralyze me.
Life is fragile, and if I learned one thing from this experience it is to enjoy it for all it is worth. One walk down an unsuspecting road can lead to your death, but you can’t live life worried that each road you travel will be the one that will bring your demise. I’ll end this post with the photos I collected of Taylor from this trip together. My wish is that if his family or friends find this post that they will find comfort in seeing and believing that Taylor had an amazing final few days full of this worlds beauty and the laughter of close friendships. He ended his life with an experience that really was once in his lifetime, but a pleasurable one at that.