A camping store in Jerusalem’s largest mall called me this afternoon to tell me that the business-card sized “invention” that I’d bought Elie has just come back repaired. It contains all sorts of things – a flashlight, a screwdriver, scissors, pen, ruler, and I’m not even sure what else. Well, one of these attachments broke almost immediately after we bought it.
To add to the information, every soldier needs a very strong backpack. With this backpack he travels to and from his home carrying all his clothes (smelly and dirty on the way home; nice and clean on the way back). He carries many other things as well, such that the backpack is always filled to capacity, straining at the edges to contain so many things.
Elie typically carries home made cakes, brownies, and/or cookies back to base, further stuffing his backpack. The last time he came home from the course, he returned with the extra blanket he had taken to get him through the winter, a small bottle of laundry detergent that he likes to refill so he can wash his close on the Fridays that he isn’t coming home, etc. and even the 7th volume of Harry Potter (in Hebrew) that he has yet to finish reading.
About a month ago, he returned home to tell me that his backpack was in very bad shape. The zippers were ripping, half the plastic fasteners were broken and some of the straps were unraveling. I figured that we had to buy another one. At over 300 NIS (about $75 ), cheap it is not but there’s no option, so I began gearing myself up for having to buy one…perhaps once a year. No way, Elie said. It’s guaranteed. Not for what you do to it, I thought to myself, but Elie insisted, and so we went back to the camping store, which actually offers a guarantee.
Not only did they take his backpack for repair (without even asking for the receipt), but they gave him a replacement to use while they got it repaired. I had been prepared to buy another one of these massive backpacks, rationalizing that my next son (or the one after that) would need it anyway. No problem, they explained with a smile as they quickly filled out a form. “Who should we call when it comes back?” they asked Elie.
Elie looked at me. It isn’t always easy to reach a soldier during work hours so I quickly gave them my number. “Once it’s ready, it might be a week or two before we can come in and get it,” I explained quite needlessly. Even as I was talking, I realized it was so silly. All of these young people had served in the army and knew better than I do that nothing is certain in the army, least of all when you’ll get out. They smiled and let me explain. They know mothers too, it seems.
Elie also told them that the screwdriver of the small “invention” I had bought him previously was broken. No problem, once again. The camping store filled out another form, took the little pieces and promised to call when this came back as well.
They called this afternoon to say the small pieces were back. They’d already called to say the backpack was ready and Elie had made the exchange last time he was home. “Elie should be home this weekend,” I told the sweet young woman who called to tell me it was there. “But maybe he won’t have time to come get it.”
“No problem – it’ll be here waiting,” she said and something in the way she said it just got to me.
“It’s so good you understand,” I said. “That you hold it for the soldiers.”
“It’s the least we can do for them,” she said. I thanked her again and quickly got off the phone before I embarrassed us both. But my eyes still filled just a little and I knew it would be better if I didn’t talk to anyone for a few minutes while I gained back the perspective I force upon myself regularly. Silly tears, or perhaps not.
Another day is passing into night. Elie is safe on a base, this time way up north; a commander working with his troops. Training; watching; listening; guarding. I thought about Elie after I finished the conversation with the young woman from the store. Yes, it is the least we can do…and sometimes the most. I love that about this country. Everything and anything for our soldiers.
I recently purchased a wonderful new computer monitor and one of the first things I did was tape a small picture of each of my children to the top. The one of Elie is there in the middle, second child…second place. He’s got this twinkle in his eye and this great smile – perspective, Ima [mother in Hebrew], he is telling me.
With his picture there, I can always see him grinning. When someone says something silly; when something is just too serious. He’s grinning at my constantly worrying, constantly over-reacting, constantly fearing when he really is having the time of his life. There’s that grin of his. Telling me to just calm down and deal. Some days that is easy; some days it is harder. Today was a harder day.
Today a soldier died. He’d been wounded last Thursday when a mine was set off under his jeep. Another soldier was immediately killed last week and this one, 20-year-old Liran Banai, was very seriously wounded.
Today, he lost his battle and Israel lost another son.