Yup, that’s what Elie just said on the phone. He went with his commanding officer to help prepare for some exercises over the next few days. He mentioned the place; I have no idea where he is.
They went in an air conditioned vehicle, deep into the Judean Desert where the temperatures at the best of times hovers around…really hot. It is one of the lowest places on earth and the temperatures soar in the summer months.
“Can you just stay in the car?” I joked.
“That’s not going to work,” he answered and I could hear the grin.
He’s coming home Wednesday again. A month ago, he had a doctor’s appointment that was deferred because of the switch from being a commander of new troops to the checkpoint and it was rescheduled for this Wednesday. I was planning on going to a client on Wednesday and once again, I’m going to steal time and get Elie, take him to his appointment, and then return to take my second son to his Hesder.
On Wednesday, our family reaches another milestone and another of my children leaves home. The going is easier this time, as it was when Elie moved out to go first to a pre-military academy before his actual military service begins. I’m not sure that it will make a difference in how empty the house will feel, but there is no sense of panic in the pit of my stomach, no sense of danger and unknown.
He goes a few short miles away to learn in a yeshiva; I can likely call him any time. Certainly, he can call me. He’ll be home every other weekend and probably the holidays as well. If there is something special in the family, I have but to tell him and the yeshiva will likely have no problem with his coming home. I can even drive over there and meet him. He’ll learn what it’s like to be away from home, but not yet what it is really like in the army. But it’s a stepping stone; a gentle one that helps us slide into the future more easily.
This time, I go as an “experienced” mother of a soldier, waiting only to hear what division he might go into or what task he might be given. Nothing to worry about until that comes through. Last time, I didn’t know that “artillery” means you should be able to worry a little less or that they joke that those who go into tanks never get to go home (they do, but less frequently than those in other divisions).
This time, I know what socks to buy, what shirts, what extras. This time, I know that they’ll make sure he has time to call me and that they know how to train him, when to train him. I’ll know the milestones and the support he will receive from his fellow soldiers and his commanders. I won’t worry about his being alone nearly so much as I worried about Elie because I understand more and accept more that the army sees that the success of the soldier is a key factor in the success of the army. Yes, the army will roll over the individual for the good of the army, but only if it has to and more times than not, “rolling” over the person will do more harm.
Where once I thought the army would break the boy to build the man, now I understand that the army focuses on building the man, the soldier. They may break the boy, but if they do, there are people there to watch him, help him, and the building is done, for the most part, in a way that overshadows so much more. It isn’t automatic, the breaking. It isn’t the goal nor is the goal to build the man – I’m not so naive that I believe that. But the army has tried and tested its training and because it is an army of the people, where fathers served where sons now stand, it is an army that is humane. Not just to our enemies, not just on the battlefield, but to its sons as they train.
So, today, as Elie is “in the middle of nowhere,” I don’t panic anymore because wherever he is, he wouldn’t be there if the army didn’t believe he could handle the challenges they present to him. And as much as he may feel that he’s somewhere in the area of nowhere, I know that the army has walked him…and me…to this point along a path as safe as they can make it.
In two days, my second son will take his first few steps towards that path. In another year or so, he’ll enter that path, as Elie has, but for now, I’ll think about Elie “in the middle of nowhere” and laugh and smile that it tickled him enough to call me in the middle of the day to tell me and once again as he says, “Ima, I’m in the middle of nowhere,” I’ll think to myself, “Darling son, there’s no where else I’d want you to be.”