My Son the Soldier
Well, the day has finally come – arriving with a mixture of so many emotions and unspoken fears. Elie packed his bag last night – as ready to go as he has been for some time now. Perhaps over the weekend, he was a little more playful, a little more “around” us than usual, but this morning, it was all business.
He woke me up at 6:30 a.m. (I’d been up long before, but I wasn’t going to tell him that). We got in the car, found the place a short 20 minutes later. There were a few other cars parked in front of the building, each with a young man sitting in the front beside a parent. No one got out to talk to anyone else, each holding those last few minutes. You don’t want to speak any great words of wisdom – there aren’t any left to be said. You can tell him that you love him, but really, he knows it already. This isn’t like school, where he can call if he needs me to come and pick him up. His experiences are now his own and we are left behind in real life, as much symbolized by his walking alone into the building after a few quick words and a refusal to give me a kiss (typical of a teenager boy). I sat outside with nothing to do but go back home. Other parents still sat in their cars with their children, but I’m glad we did it the “quick” way.
There is no ceremony, no great moment, just a gentle slide into a new world. He went in his direction without hesitation; I reluctantly went in mine and I tried all day not to think of where he was. Or, more importantly, I tried not to think of where he wasn’t. From the time my children were born, almost without exception, I have known where they are. Perhaps not to an exact location, but close enough to know that they are within reach, within a short drive or call away. Now enters a time when more often than not, I won’t know where he is, what he is doing. I will have to trust that no news is good news, that he is ok.
Elie called me around 6:30 p.m. – not quite as good as him walking through the door, but still a wonderful gift. He’s fine. He’s wearing a uniform. He complained about the heat of Tel Aviv after the cool and wonderful air of Jerusalem’s hills. They gave him boots and they are more comfortable than he expected them to be. They didn’t have any undershirts, but he’s got the 3 or 4 that he packed from home. They fed him lunch and dinner and there’s a place to get snacks. He has a place to sleep, some boys he knows from school and one from a neighboring town. Tomorrow he’ll go to the base. No, they didn’t give him a gun (I didn’t expect them to). No, he doesn’t know the rest of the schedule. All normal talk – so many questions I could ask, but won’t. I’ll take it one day at a time…for the next three years. Today is over. He’s safe. He’s fine. Tomorrow is another day.
And the irony – of all things, I was counting on seeing him this coming weekend. I’ve always been a firm believer that we, as human beings, can survive almost anything, if we know when it will end. That was what got me through each birth – I didn’t know exactly when, but soon enough, it would be over. I was counting on him being home this weekend – hadn’t even realized that I had talked myself into surviving until I saw him on Friday.
But after all the expectations – the army isn’t releasing them for this first weekend. It seems silly, given the Pesach (Passover) holiday will begin on Monday night and they have decided to release them for that. So, he won’t be home for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), but he will be home for the Seder just two days later. We don’t know if he’ll be home for the whole week or only the Seder night and first day. In short, we know only what the army is ready to tell us – and this is how it begins and how it will likely continue for the next 3 years.
My son is a soldier in the army of Israel. Why that makes me want to cry, I can’t explain when it is something that I have accepted, something in which I feel pride. For now, the fear and worry that threatens to push the pride aside will be my personal battle in the next day and week and year. My son is where I have always wanted him to be, doing what he must do. It is something that Jews have been unable to do for thousands of years – to defend their land and their right to live here. My son is a soldier in the army of Israel.