The problem with it being 3:50 a.m. and not being able to sleep, is that the mind can race in all directions. Today, or I should say yesterday, we celebrated Israel’s Independence Day. We commemorated the day, as we often do, in two parts. During the evening, I attending the local ceremonies and enjoying the fireworks display with my two youngest children. Cuddling on a blanket in the midst of some 15,000 or more people, we watched the fireworks soar into the sky.
As I always do at that moment, I wish my country a happy birthday, a good year, a safe one. May God continue to bless my beautiful land and help it go from strength to strength. May He finally grant it peace and may it continue to prosper and truly be a light unto the nations.
My youngest son used his new camera to videotape the fireworks but there is no comparison to watching them live, sitting under them as they explode in glorious colors, accompanied by music and cheers. Guest singers were there, including one of Israel’s longstanding star singers, Boaz Sharabi. Before singing one song, he dedicated it to Gilad Shalit, a 22 year old Israeli soldier kidnapped and being held in Gaza for three years now. Another singer also dedicated his songs to Israel’s soldiers and prayed for their safety.
Sitting there and watching, I thought of Elie. He has attended these celebrations in the past, always volunteering for the local ambulance squad and therefore roving around through the crowd rather than sitting with us. He would help treat the kids who fell or got sprayed with the foamy cream that delights the children, until they get it in their eyes. And somewhere, late in the evening, he would meander his way back to us, once to carry his sleeping sister to the car, or bags of blankets and food.
I tried to call him earlier in the day, and then again as we were leaving for the celebrations. I haven’t succeeded in talking to him in the last few days, though I’ve tried. As I sat listening to the music, I sent him a message instead, “Happy holidays, cutie.” It doesn’t translate well, but Israeli kids accept the endearment as inevitable. Elie’s young sister asked if she could send him a message too. She slowly typed it into my phone, “Shalom, Elie. I miss you very much. Love,” and signed her name.
During the day, we joined friends for a barbecue and came home with hearts and stomachs full. While driving home, I tried calling Elie again, and again he didn’t answer. His sister again asked if she could send him a message. “Shalom, Elie.”
“Can I still wish him chag samayah (happy holidays)?” she asked.
Technically, as it was after dark, the holiday had already ended, but I told her she could, and so she continued. “Shalom, Elie. Chag samayah.”
As she was typing away on my phone in the back seat of the car, I noticed that there were a few raindrops on the front window. It is very unusual for it to rain in Israel from late March/early April through into October in Israel. “Tell Elie, it’s raining,” I told my daughter.
“Shalom, Elie. Chag samayah. Ima told me to tell you it’s raining here. Love,” and again signed her name.
Elie didn’t answer any of the messages and I haven’t spoken to him. He’s supposed to come home tomorrow for the weekend. On the scale of things that Israeli soldiers are called upon to do, Elie isn’t really in a dangerous area now, nor is he tasked with the really dangerous jobs.
The day before our Independence Day is our Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror. Each year, the airwaves are filled with loved ones telling about the lives, and deaths, of their sons, husbands, brothers and yes, daughters and even wives. Every year, there is always at least one mother who says she didn’t know her son was doing such dangerous things, that he was involved in that sort of operation. Israeli sons love to keep this from their mothers and mothers honestly want to believe it. It works well, unless the son gets injured, or worse.
Years later, the sons will laugh that they fooled their mothers; their mothers will either admit to never knowing, say they really knew but didn’t want their sons to know they knew, or just surrender and accept that they couldn’t have handled the truth anyway.
I honestly don’t think Elie is involved in anything more than what he has told me and no, I don’t believe that statement either. I don’t know where he is or what he’s been doing. It’s unusual that he didn’t answer our messages or my phone calls. But there are so many explanations – he could have broken his phone (again); the battery could have died and he didn’t have time to recharge it. He might have set it to silent while he was sleeping or on patrol and forgotten to change the setting.
He might simply not feel like talking, or might not have noticed the missed calls. Chances are very good that he’ll just come home tomorrow and never know that it’s 4:12 a.m. and I’m just a bit nervous or worried. Years from now, he will probably not have anything scary to tell me about what he did while in the army, and no, I’m not dumb enough to believe that either.
I do believe that bad news travels with the speed of lightning and I would hear if something had happened (not to mention the fact that it would be on the news). So, no, I don’t imagine even for a moment that he is hurt. But I do imagine him being somewhere, doing something, where the potential is there. It’s a bit chilly outside, but then again, I’m in the hills of Jerusalem and it’s a lot warmer where he is, without this desert wind. And no, I don’t even know that he’s outside now.
Of course, using my standard reasoning, having now gotten that scary picture in my head, I have little doubt Elie is fast asleep, nice and warm, and that he will call in the morning, or just show up at home, hungry and wondering what there is to eat. And while a bunch of friends have sons who have just gone into the army, I have been taking pride in the fact that I, like Elie, am now a senior in my position. I’ve made it through 2/3 of this process. Sure, there are mothers who have survived having several sons pass through their army service – they are the real “old-timers” and they too have had their share of nights like this one when it is so dark outside and the mind so awake with ideas and thoughts.
4:17 a.m. I need to try to go to sleep; to let the worries go and know that tomorrow he’ll be home so, I’ll end this with the hope that some day, some 20 something years from now, Elie will read these thoughts, find comfort, and go to sleep, knowing his son is safe. But of course, Elie will never be a soldier’s mother. No, there’s a much greater chance, God willing, that Elie will be asleep in his bed oblivious to it all, while Elie’s wife will be sitting at her dining room table reading and worrying.
So – to Elie’s future wife, go to sleep. I’ll take the worry this evening and tomorrow your son will be home as handsome, as wonderful, as dirty and tired and hungry as he is each time he comes home. Tomorrow you’ll have a sack full of dirty laundry and wonder why you allowed those silly thoughts to go into your head and keep you awake at night.
Go to sleep and trust that God never sleeps and that He watches over your son and all the soldiers of Israel this night and every night. Go to sleep.