So here’s a silly thing about having a child go to the army. This past weekend, Elie was home. After the weekend, comes Sunday and that means back to the army. He had to get up very early to catch the 6:00 bus for a 40 minute right that would take him to Jerusalem – from there, he’d catch another bus to Beersheva, about 2 hours away. From there, another bus to a meeting point, where the army runs a shuttle back and forth to the base some 45 minutes to an hour away. All this, by 10:00 in the morning.
He set his radio to go off and as he was leaving, apparently moved the dial to the “Alarm” position, rather than to the “Off” position. So, each morning, I walk down the steps and hear Elie’s radio playing, as the alarm/radio continues to go off each morning. It continues for about an hour and I can’t bring myself to close it. For me, it’s a bit of his presence each day, a few moments to imagine that he’s safe in his bed, not already awake for many hours and taking part in some military exercise somewhere far away.
Friends who have been in the army are quick to share their experiences and what knowledge they have of what Elie is experiencing now, basic training for all units, things particular to the artillery division. What the base was like many years ago and how much it has changed and developed.
We’ve passed a bit of a milestone – Elie is in the second half of basic training and now begins the harder stuff. The army has, almost gently, moved them through the “shock” of being inducted on a course to becoming a unified, cohesive, fighting force. They have learned to shoot, learned that time is not their own and won’t be for the next few years. They have learned that discipline is absolute, that a few minutes late has immediate consequences. They’ve learned about their responsibilities and obligations while carrying a gun and they’ve learned the land around them.
On many nights, they sleep in the desert. The dark becomes something known to them, the desert wind, the cold air. They’ve learned to maneuver in the dark, to shoot at night, to march and move quietly.
While he was home, Elie filled up a bottle of water to the very top before bringing it to the table. It was so full, to the brim, that it was guaranteed that the first person who tried to pour water would spill it. When I asked him why he put so much water in the bottle, we realized it was an automatic reaction to what he had been taught. A full bottle won’t make noise when you walk, but the water in a bottle that is partially empty will slosh around. It’s a new concept for me – but in the army, the need to be quiet can be an issue of life and death. Second nature to a soldier, even one only a few weeks in the army.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll walk down the steps and hear Elie’s radio. It’s a silly thing to leave it playing, a waste of electricity, of course. Elie won’t be coming home this weekend, so the radio will play, day after day, as a reminder that this is his home and we are waiting for him. And the water bottles in the refrigerator – they aren’t full anymore. Like our home, something is missing – and when Elie comes home to fill the bottles, he’ll fill our home with light as well.
Of course, to be honest, he’ll probably also argue with his brothers and sisters. He’ll agree to do the chores he likes (he loves to help with the cooking – but hates doing dishes; he loves to drive and shop – but hates to take out the garbage) and argue about the ones he doesn’t want to do.
And, like the radio each morning, that will be a signal that Elie’s here…first in spirit, and soon, in body.