In about a week, it will be 2 months since Elie entered the army. If you ask a 19 year old if he is a man, whatever that is, he would clearly answer in the positive. The boy is long gone by the age of 19, but I'm not sure that the man has arrived. It is a nebulous time, filled with uncertainties for the boy within the man, the man within the boy, and the family who watches the transition. At this age, the boy is still dependent on the parents, still asking permission when at home as he did when he was young and yet yearning to make his own choices. The man resents the boy's asking, believes in his own decisions and his right to make choices. He is ready to test the boundaries, physical and mental, ahead of him.
Almost two months into the army and several visits back, and each time, I see a difference in the person who returns. He is more confident in himself, quicker to take charge, faster to order the younger children around and more insistent that they listen to him. He's slower to anger, I believe and quieter and calmer overall. He's more definite in his plans during and after the army and the boy who hated to study now plans for things he wants to learn after he finishes his service.
I asked him if he felt that all the exercising and training had made him physically stronger and he answered that he could feel a difference. The army, he explained, starts slowly. The first was a run of 500 meters. "Even I can do that," I responded (though I'd prefer no one ask me to actually do it).
Then it was a run of a kilometer, then 1500 meters, and this week, they will run 3 kilometers (and no, I can't do that). Each week brings new challenges, new knowledge, new tests and, in its way, new triumphs.
I remember the minutes after my children were born. The sheer awe of holding this tiny human being and understanding that God had given us an amazing gift, a beautiful, perfectly formed little body. Well, I'm in a new stage of awe as I watch Elie developing so quickly into the man he will be one day.
On the funnier side of the army, he told us more about the balloon he shot the other day. As before, the unit was taken out of the base to another training area. First they practiced maneuvering in a small unit, advancing on a target. They learned how to shoot in such a way as to prevent harming their fellow soldiers. Who shoots, who advances - in what order.
After that training, the unit practiced a hostage situation, where the red balloon was the head of the hostage and the cardboard to which it was attached was the terrorist. They had to shoot the terrorist and not the hostage. Elie and many others succeeded, but a few popped their balloons.
Apparently, there was a shortage of balloons that day, so if you killed your balloon in this round, you sat the next round out. One young soldier had a problem. His balloon had a tiny hole in it and as the commander was explaining what he expected of the shooters, the soldier's balloon was slowly getting smaller and smaller before their eyes. "I'll try to talk faster," the commanding officer said - and they all laughed.
After the hostage situation practice, the surviving "hostages" became the target and the balloons were tied to sticks with a long string and allowed to blow in the wind. Now the goal was to shoot the balloon. You had 5 shots to take out the balloon. This is what Elie got on the first try.
The soldier who had the shrinking balloon had been able to shoot the terrorist and not the balloon in the first exercise (little wonder since the balloon kept shrinking), but by the time the second round came about, the balloon had shrunk to an impossible size. Trying not to laugh too hard, the commander ordered the soldier to wait and then, when a few of the soldiers did not succeed in shooting their moving balloons in the second round, he ordered the soldier to try to shoot one of their balloons.
I was thinking of donating a case of balloons to the army so they'd have more balloons.