There’s this feeling – I don’t know how to describe it. It’s sort of a twinge in the stomach…a sick little feeling that in a better world, this wouldn’t be necessary. One of those things, for me, has always been dog tags (and WHERE did they get the name “dog tags” from?). When Elie first showed me his tags and told me where they are kept, I felt sick.
Tags aren’t needed when a man can say, “this is my name”, right? No, they are for when the unimaginable happens, when your world comes crashing down around you. I went to pay a condolence call to a family that had lost a soldier a few weeks ago. While I was sitting there with his parents, some of his friends came over and handed a set of dog tags to the soldier’s mother. Suddenly, the air felt so thick – and I finally understood that strange phrase. It means – when you suddenly can’t breathe, when your mind freezes and you can’t think of a word to say.
Logically, it made no sense that this friend was handing the soldier’s mother his dog tags. He was wearing them when he was killed in action; clearly, the army would have them, not some friends. But that logic didn’t penetrate that awful moment of silence and hesitation.
Almost as if they realized what they’d inadvertently caused, the friends quickly clarified that even though the string and holder were “authentic” (and can be bought in numerous places), the tags inside were a joke. Someone had given it to the soldier as a joke and the friends were now giving it to his mother, as many often bring letters, pictures, and stories to the families of the fallen. As soon as it was clear that the dog tags weren’t the real ones, everyone relaxed, Noam’s mother took the dog tags, and the frozen moment passed.
Those twinges, those moments, come and go throughout your life as a soldier’s mother. They are there in the news when you hear the name of a place where your son is, or was, or will be. It comes when there is yet another of those “it could have been” moments, that you know will come without warning.
Yesterday, Elie called to tell me that he was called back to the army for a drill, then he told me as part of the drill, they were being moved up north (they got up north, turned around and came home…go figure that one out)…and there came that twinge.
“Elie, is something happening?” I asked, trying to hide the sudden worry/terror I was feeling. No, nothing happened – this is part of the army; a lesson they teach them from the start. In this, it is not for you to ask, not for you to know. Get here fast, and then we will tell you what is happening, if anything is happening. In this, you do not think. If we really need you, we won’t have time to explain. Move now, come, you’ll know soon.
And today, as Shmulik was leaving, I asked him how yesterday went. I wasn’t able to speak to him last night because while I was at a wedding, Elie called and told me he was on his way south…but they were taking him back to his base. Since I was close by, I was able to wait (longer than I expected) to bring him home around 2:00 in the morning. So, today I asked and got my answer.
“Fine,” explained son/soldier number two. He’s never been one to share openly, without prompting.
“What did they do?” I asked.
What they did was make him officially a soldier, give him a military ID that allows him certain privileges, and, what they did was give him dog tags. And there goes that mother’s twinge again – that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, that here-we -go-again and oh-God feeling.
So, I’ll go back and follow my own advice and take this day as it comes. Elie is asleep in his bed. Shmulik has gone to take a test in one of his courses. Two kids are in camp and my daughter is at home in her apartment. My husband is far away, but coming home soon.
I’ll take the blessings God has given me this day with gratitude and love. I’ll accept the twinge and pray it is all I ever get, and maybe, maybe I’ll go take a nap.