As much as I’ve tried to learn to cope with missing Elie on a day-to-day basis, I realize that there are levels of missing that are weaved into our family now. Elie called me last week when he had a break between the training course and dinner. He didn’t really have anything particular to say – maybe he was just missing us. We talked about nothing in particular and I understood that he just needed to reach out.
He’s done this a few times and I’ve worried that he sounded a little down or lonely. This time, he didn’t sound upset in any way, just that he felt like talking to “home.” It was a nice conversation, relaxed, easy and it accomplished its goal, making both of us feel a little more connected.
I asked him how things are going and he told me that he and the other members of the course had eaten the marble cake I’d sent along, and it was good. Elie even sounded a bit surprised. So far, he’s taken brownies and cookies – so the marble cake was a consolation prize when I didn’t have any time to send something else.
So I asked him if he wanted me to send him some more, and…surprisingly…he said yes. That meant another round of baking, which I did the next day. More marble cake, brownies and cookies, and then I shipped off two large canisters of homemade stuff along with the requisite snacks in a box with his name, army number, course name, base, etc. all marked clearly.
Elie asked me to send him tuna as well. The last time he was home, Elie explained that he’d learned that in the moments after you exercise, your body craves nourishment and is ready to absorb food. What food you give your body at that time, therefore, is especially important. So, protein, like tuna (and in olive oil or canola oil, even more so), was what he wanted (and what he got). Despite the fact that we discussed his snack situation, the call wasn’t about food. It was about his feeling a little distant and using that time to close the gap.
This week, Elie’s brother got his driver’s license. Shmulik looks up to Elie in many ways and believes Elie is a good driver. Elie passed his driver’s test the first time (when the vast majority of kids in Israel do not). It’s actually a good thing, a humbling thing which teenagers need, to fail once. To realize it is something you have to work for, not something you automatically get. Both Elie’s older sister and his brother didn’t pass the first time, so this test was very important and the buildup to it made him more nervous.
For, Shmulik passing this test was a major moment in his life. To share his relief and happiness with his brother, he had to wait until a time we thought we could reach him, and then he called. This was another moment in our family life that Elie missed, and in which we missed him but the call helped and they spoke in rapid fire Hebrew about cars and driving and the test. It was all so ordinary. Normally, it would have taken place in Elie’s room or Shmuli’s room with one sitting on a bed tapping away on a computer, while the other stood nearby. But Elie’s not here and the news couldn’t wait, so it took place long distance by phone. The event shared and the missing avoided because we were able to reach Elie.
And finally, I was downloading some pictures from my camera to my computer and as my youngest daughter often does, she asked to see them. I opened the directory and she saw the pictures of her dancing by the sea and asked me to print her a copy of one. After I printed it, she asked me to print a picture of Elie as well. As I was setting it up, Elie’s youngest brother asked me for one too.
And, in the morning, as she was preparing for school, I noticed that she had put his picture in her backpack to take to school. When Aliza was done carefully putting it in the backpack, she turned and tried to say something in English. She was missing the word.
A few weeks ago, the cellular phone company sent along a set of magnets that contain words and my kids have been playing with them on the refrigerator, leaving notes for people written out by placing individual words in a line. She walked over to the refrigerator and pulled off one small magnet and brought it to me. It was the Hebrew word for “missing.” She was missing Elie, she explained sadly.
I asked if she wanted to quickly call him and she said yes. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to reach him (and in fact interrupted him during his morning prayers – as a religious soldier, he is given time three times a day to pray), but he quickly agreed to speak to his sister for a brief moment and that seemed to be enough for her.
All in all, it was a strange week, filled with our awareness of missing Elie and knowing that Elie misses us. He called last night to tell me that he’d received the package and I could hear the smile in his voice as he teased me about the contents (and the chocolate treats I put in without telling him). He won’t be home for Shabbat this week, but he will have our love (in the cookies, the cakes and the words we speak) and we will have his love (in the picture, the time he took to speak to his sister, the mazel tov he gave his brother and in the smile I could hear but not see).
The army teaches you that there are levels of missing, from the acute, almost painful feeling because a person isn’t with you, to the dull ache knowing that another family milestone has gone by that he wasn’t here to see. But modern technology also enables you to reach out to your son in the army in a way unheard of a generation ago.
Then, mothers didn’t know exactly where their sons were, when they would be home. They couldn’t call just to hear their voices, to know they’d received the packages of homemade cakes and all the love they could stuff into the box.
It’s another level of blessing – not just to have a son in the army, but to be able to reach out and cover the distance so that the missing doesn’t overshadow the importance of what he is doing and the service he is giving to his people and his country.
Starting towards the end of each week, as we leave work, friends, shopping, Israelis often wish each other a good weekend. We do this by wishing them a “Shabbat shalom” – a peaceful sabbath. As the Shabbat approaches and I can feel it beginning to settle over our country, I also feel peace in my family. Elie isn’t here, my oldest daughter is spending Shabbat in her own apartment miles away, but there is peace in knowing that we share in missing each other because we are a family.
Next week, God willing, Elie will be home and my daughter will come too. For now, Elie’s youngest sister has her picture and Elie’s brother has his driving license and Elie’s words of praise and I have the memory of Elie’s smile in my mind to tuck away and pull into my heart. My son, my Elie, my soldier – shabbat shalom.