When Elie was in basic training, there were nights that I could hear something in his voice, something that said he was lonely and just needed to reach home. When Shmulik went into the army, I was prepared to hear the same. But there were two critical differences I had not taken into account. The first was that Shmulik went in as part of a Hesder group. A unit that spends 15 months learning together, then 18 months in the army, then another 2 years learning.
There is no being lonely when you go in with friends, serve with them, eat, sleep, pray, learn and talk with them. The second difference was that Shmulik had a girlfriend, now a fiancée. If he is lonely, he will more likely call her, as it should be. And so, I have had very few of those calls where I felt Shmulik NEEDED to talk, needed that connection.
Until today. There are rotation bases where the people on the base are not enough to staff the base for various needs. When Elie was in the army, part of his unit was rotated out to a base that was staffed by non-combat soldiers and in various rotations, combat units came and guarded the base perimeter. There are also other needs – non-combat needs such as cleaning, kitchen duty, etc.
This week, Shmulik got “rotated” to one of these bases for a few days and for the first time in months, is spending three nights on base in the south. He called during the day and I quickly realized he didn’t have much to say, and yet, he kept the conversation going.
There was that something in his voice that told me he was lonely. I told him about things happening at home, a few things about work. I talked and can’t really tell you what I said because mostly I was concentrating on just putting out words.
It was different than it was with Elie. Shmulik will be home tomorrow night and he’ll be home the whole weekend. Likely, he’ll sleep at home at least four or five days next week, as he has for the last few months. With Elie, those lonely calls often came when he was gone for a week or two and had still more to go until he would be home again.
But Shmulik is used to being home and one of the reasons he loves being S.’s driver is because he can be home so often. It is another difference that time has brought to me. When I spoke to Elie and heard that tone, my heart hurt for him and I wished there was something I could say or do to make it all better. With Shmulik, my heart felt content. Yes, that’s the word. I didn’t feel sad. He’ll be home tomorrow.
I didn’t feel anxious and worried. Mostly, I felt that I was happy that he missed home enough to call. I may not be explaining this right. I’m not happy he was lonely…but there is a wonderful sense of fulfillment when you realize you have raised children who love the home you have created for them and who want to come home.
Elie told me once that the worst punishment you can give a soldier is to deny him home. I didn’t say anything about doubting him but I’m sure he is wrong. I’m sure there are many worse punishments, but the fact that he said it and believed it gave me a similar feeling to the one I had today.
As a parent, you spend your life building a home for your children – what an amazing sense of accomplishment it is to realize that the home you built, is the home they need, yearn for, return to, and love.