For the last 60 years, tens of thousands of mothers in Israel (and around the world), did what I did today. They sent their sons off to join the army of their nation. Twenty-something years ago, my sister-in-law was rocking my infant daughter who slept sweetly on her shoulder. She was only a few weeks old and my sister-in-law asked if she was doing it correctly.
“Does it hurt right here?” I said as I pointed to a location in the middle of my back.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Then you are doing it right,” I responded.
If you can think of what it feels like to send a son to the army, if you can just imagine the feeling…your stomach hurts just a bit, the lump in your throat seems greater today and your sense of time that much stronger…then you are doing it right and understanding. Your brain just doesn’t quite function as it should…you are a bit distracted and you keep looking at the clock. Where is he now? What is he doing? Where will he go?
Shmulik called me about two hours ago – he’s on his way to his base “somewhere” in Israel. I asked him as many questions as my mind could process. Did they give you all your supplies? Yes, he said – two towels, the socks, undershirts, the bag…and more.
How are the boots? “Not as comfortable as I thought they would be,” he answered…and I remembered Elie answering that it was more comfortable than he expected. I doubt the boots have changed, but I guess the expectations of the person are different. I mentioned this to Elie and he explained – before he went into the army, he favored hi-top heavy hiking boots and so the combat boots were in some ways lighter and softer…more comfortable. Shmulik is a sneakers and sandals kid and so the boots are more restrictive.
He told me that he was dressed in uniform, with two of his friends…and then I thought of all the mothers who for generations couldn’t ask what I was about to ask.
“Can you take a picture and send it to me by phone?”
He did – of him sitting there on the bus, staring at the camera. You can tell he is thinking…wondering if he knows how to attach the picture he just took. It isn’t his phone – we sent his younger brother’s phone because it is more durable and so Shmulik has to learn the menu options all over again.
A few minutes after I asked, my phone beeped with an incoming message…I have seen my second son in the uniform of Israel. It is real. The uniform is brand new, almost shiny. He doesn’t wear it naturally yet; it’s just too starched and formal. He was so busy concentrating on taking the picture and wondering if he’d figure out how to send it…he forgot to smile. When I got it, I sent him back a note, “Great. Now take another and smile this time,” I wrote.
A generation and two and three ago, mothers sent their sons off and didn’t know when they’d be back, didn’t hear about that first day until the first time they came home. Today, mere hours after he left, I was able to talk to him, know where he is and where he is going…and even see a picture of him.
By now, he is on base…his life as a soldier has begun.