You know how sometimes your mind wanders and thoughts become a pathway to a much deeper idea? That’s what has been cooking in my head for the last few days. I was on Facebook and found a connection back to my junior high school days and a special friend I’d had then, the first real male friend of my memory at a time when there was still an innocence to the concept.
I looked at the photos of his young family – they seem to be the perfect American family. And that was what struck me. He has two children. His wife is blonde. A boy and a girl, and if the picture was taken at his home, a big car in the suburbs. I know nothing of his life save the pictures; a glimpse through a window into a stranger’s life. I have not spoken to him in 20 years.
Few subtitles in Facebook tell me what holds importance in his life. I know through the grapevine that his mother passed away; I know nothing of his father. There are notes from his brother to suggest they are still close; little more.
But the scenes strike me. So far removed from my life here, I thought to myself, such different paths. I have five children – a huge number by the standards of my friend who was shocked to hear I was expecting my third so long ago. He probably doesn’t even know I have two more.
He married much later in life than I did – I saw on Facebok that he’s just celebrated his 11th wedding anniversary recently; I just celebrated my 27th. I have a married daughter and a son who is engaged – a period in his life he likely can’t even contemplate. My youngest is probably the same age or older than his oldest.
But what really got to me was seeing that he wrote something about his babies growing up…and then my mind took a right turn. His reference to his babies made me think about mine…
My baby just started babysitting. She’s only 10…well, almost 11, but she’s begun helping out with the family next door. She’s enthralled by their two small boys. She simply adores them…and they adore her. And their kind mother has been paying my daughter to babysit. Aliza takes it all very responsibly. My baby.
Another of my babies, like his brothers, has grown taller and stronger than me, and he isn’t even 15. He is the first of my boys to choose to go away to school and so sleeps 4-5 nights a week in Jerusalem. It is the first time in his life that hours, even days, can go by when I don’t know exactly where he is and what he is doing. He takes buses, goes to malls – but he was much younger the last time a bus exploded or a mall was targeted. He sees the guards and without question, submits to being quickly checked and asked if he has a gun with him. He is three years away from the army, but already he hears and knows this is in his future.
And more thoughts. Another of my babies just bought an engagement ring this week, and two wedding bands. The wedding is in another four months or so. Our talks are filled with apartment issues, wedding details and for the first time, I imagine my table with another sitting here. Only this time, she has a name, a face. My baby is a soldier, wearing a uniform and spending his days on army bases amid talk of defense and plans and exercises. Most of his days involve assisting his commanding officer or driving, but there is the knowledge that if there is a terrorist attack in our area, he will be racing towards it.
This is what happened when a pregnant woman was shot recently and when Arabs are throwing stones at cars passing on roads. This will likely happen again. Shmulik has trained to use an M16, and he’s a good shot. He’s thrown a hand grenade – these are things my friend’s son will likely never do because he lives in a world so different from my world.
Another of my babies is married for almost four years. She lives close by with her husband and comes often. This is the normal side of life and a part of the normal flow of how things go. It’s a strange reminder that our lives are so much the same as all others, with that twist that never stops.
And the thought that nearly broke me was that another of my babies has been to war, has fired artillery into Gaza, has raised a gun to defend his land. He’s been stationed on check points and gone on operations, into villages to arrest terrorists. My son, who wore a uniform for three years and who will wear one again…in the not so distant future. The clock keeps ticking. In just over four months, Shmulik will marry; even before that day, Elie’s reserve status changes. They will call him, and he will go. Sometimes it will be for training exercises; sometimes it may be for real. He lives in a world that my friend’s son will never know; seen things that few Americans have seen.
It amazes me what paths our lives take, how two can grow up in one place and yet end up with a life so different. As a young teenager, I told my friends that Israel would be my future. I don’t know if they believed me; I don’t know if I believed myself. Despite being here a long time, my eyes still see the Hebrew signs on the roads and feel such happiness. I work in Jerusalem. Jerusalem – a name of a city so beautiful, so far from those early years when it was always “next year in Jerusalem” and now it is “tomorrow” or even today. If you have never lived here, you cannot imagine the simple joy of placing one foot in front of the other – in Jerusalem.
I can decide this very moment to go there and be in the center of Jerusalem in just 15 minutes. I can drive an hour and sit on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, or drive just 20 minutes from here and soak in the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is two hours away. I can walk this land for all the days of my life and still feel such incredible gratitude that my life is here.
And that’s when I realize again that the cost of this gift I have been given is that my babies must serve this land. They must wear a uniform, learn to carry a gun and yes, go to war if called. I’m not sorry about the path I have taken because who my children are, is a reflection of the land in which we live. The values they have are tied to serving our people and land.
I live by the word and yet words fail me now. I look at my friend’s family and I feel a tightness in my heart. It is not jealousy; I would not trade my life with anyone’s. It is….perhaps the nearest word is anger. I am angry. Not at my friend. Not at the images he posts on Facebook, and perhaps anger is too strong a word. There must be another and yet it slips away.
It bothers me that to live in this land, my children must know the uniform and the gun. My daughters may not serve in the army, but their husband or brother or nephew will at some point in the future. My sons will serve, as will their sons. To serve, if life remains as it has been for more than 60 years, means war.
I have lived through two wars in this land, not to mention the ongoing warfare of rockets being fired almost daily and the terror attacks that still scar us. I hear an ambulance and listen to see if it is one helping a sick person, or three racing to the latest attack.
My youngest child remembers the terror of a siren and the fear of not seeing her brother. My son wondered if his brother would be there for his bar mitzvah and will forever remember that a day, a single day separated Elie’s return from war and the celebration of his bar mitzvah.
There is anger because I want my children to be as innocent and carefree as the pictures of my friends children and I know, already, that my children never will be. They have learned that pregnant women can be murdered, children made orphans. One had a teacher shot and helped babysit his son in the hospital – the son who’s skull was broken by another of the bullets shot into the car. Two have friends who have lost brothers in war.
My sons have been the blood of victims of terrorist attacks and know, wherever they are, if there is an attack, they must call me to tell me they are safe, that I will panic until I know where they are. My children know to look around them on the bus; that an abandoned backpack is a threat, not to be touched.
They will hike and play and laugh; but there is that green uniform that goes in my laundry every week and talk of army and guns more often than can be imagined.
A few hours ago Shmulik and Davidi went into our backyard and played basketball – there is the innocence I crave for them. Their laughter as they ran brought us to the window to watch. Tomorrow, it is back to that other life, the one where innocence has been taken away as the cost of living in this land.
It is a price I pay gladly but it is a bitter price, nonetheless.