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  October 20, 2001



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Far-away lands

Inspired by a young wrestling fan from the streets of Tel Aviv



By BRET HART -- SLAM! Wrestling
 During my wrestling career I was fortunate to see more of the world than most people but it felt like I was trapped on a fast-moving train that rarely stopped at a station.

 Too often, all I could do was look out the window as the blur of people and places, breathtaking landmarks, bleak poverty -- the minutiae that comprise ordinary days in extraordinary lands, whizzed by me.

 Tantalized by these fleeting images and countless times, I'd often tell myself, "I'll have to come back here someday ..." half knowing I'd probably never pass that way again.

 One of the most vivid images that flits through my mind is of a poor, young boy in Tel Aviv. He appeared to be about nine years old and was hanging around, without supervision, by the front door of the hotel where the wrestlers were staying. I got the impression from his rag-tag appearance he might be living in the street.

 Yet he wore a wrestling costume like mine, crafted from pink sweat pants with some ribbon making stripes down the legs. It certainly wasn't the best replica of my gear I'd ever seen but it was perhaps the most beautiful when you consider he'd painstakingly made it by hand from whatever scraps of material he could find.

 I gave him my Hitman sunglasses as we got off the bus on the first day we pulled into town. His amazement was obvious. He never ventured inside the hotel but over the next few days was there every time I came and went. He didn't ask for anything and I tried more than once to give him wrestling souvenirs but he refused to accept anything, too proud to take charity. He just wanted to watch me, wide eyed with a big smile.

 During my time in Israel, the promoter appointed three armed bodyguards to follow me. It was explained as necessary for celebrities as a precaution against terrorist assassination attempts.

 So at sunrise one morning, the guards, a guide and I went off to see Jerusalem. Shortly after we arrived at the Wailing Wall, a mob of about 60 Muslim children charged toward me, across an open plaza. Hearing their screams and seeing them run, Israeli soldiers on guard to protect the wall from terrorist attacks instinctively drew their machine guns. It wasn't until they figured out who I was and what the commotion was about that they withdrew their arms.

 The children kneeled at my feet and reached with outstretched fingers to touch me while others kissed my hands. I felt more than a bit awkward being heralded as their hero, especially in such a holy place and the thought crossed my mind to look skyward and try to explain ... but a few minutes later when I found myself posing for pictures with the Israeli soldiers I was astounded when it occurred to me my wrestling character somehow served as sort of a conduit of commonality in a land filled with violent discord.

 At the end of the wrestlers' stay in Tel Aviv, when the bus pulled away from the hotel for the last time, I felt a tinge of sadness at having to wave goodbye, for the last time, to the the young boy in his Hitman gear.

 As the bus pulled away, he rode along side on an old bicycle, still smiling and wearing the glasses I'd given him, popping wheelies and pumping his fist into the air.

 A decade earlier. New Japan wrestling had booked me and Dynamite to work some big shows in Dubai and put us on a seemingly endless flight that made many stops along the way. One of them was in Cairo, where nobody was allowed to get off the plane, which sat on the runway for six hours with 50 soldiers pointing machine guns at us the whole time. I remembered that the other day, when the guy in front of me in the metal detector line at the airport started grumbling about the new heightened security.

 It also brought to mind a flight I took to Orlando where one entire side of the plane was filled with a tour group from Pakistan and the other with a tour group of Israelis. They were all going to Disney World. There I was, in baggage claim, signing autographs for the Pakistanis and Israelis, all polite to each other waiting their turn.

 It struck me my wrestling character has the same international appeal as Mickey Mouse and I laughed at the thought while at the same time making a mental note, still too heady for me to decipher, about the irony in how as a fighter I'd somehow, for that moment, become a peace sign of sorts.

 Maybe it has to do with honour and always trying your hardest to win or maybe it's just that a smile is understood in any language but it seems to me that deep down inside, people are much more alike than their differences too often allow them to acknowledge. I suspect the people I met in the Middle East have left a far greater impression on me than any I might have left on them.

 I often think about the little boy in the Hitman sweats in Israel and wonder what became of him, such a young warrior in a country always on alert.

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