Thursday, January 10, 2008

Life's Recalculations

Part of Elie's training as a commander involves being able to navigate for himself and for his unit. This means not only being able to find his way using the latest electronic equipment, but even, perhaps, learning things that would enable him to survive without the more obvious aids.

Even before Elie joined the Commanders Course, there were signs that his commanding officers had chosen this path for him. At one point, his commanding officer's commanding officer took Elie and another soldier out into the desert in a Humvee and tested them on their ability to pinpoint their location. They were tested with GPS (Global Positioning System) points and even without.

Last week, I got a new car. It's not something that happens often (somewhere around once in a blue moon) and I've been enjoying the car quite a bit. Unlike my last car, this one is new, clean, strong (and won't break down every week...and no, you shouldn't ask me what kind of car I last drove). So, with my new car, I decided to give myself a treat. Last week, Elie called to say that while they were letting him out for the weekend, they had arranged to take those in his course to an old age home to have the soldiers spend time with the elderly. It's a very common occurrence in Israel - often high schools (and apparently army units) volunteer to spend some time with those who enjoy sitting, talking, and seeing these young men in their uniforms.

So, instead of leaving his army base and coming straight home, Elie and his group were taken by bus to Kfar Sava (about an hour from here), where they spent time sitting and talking with the residents of the nursing center. By the rules of the army, Elie had to be released in time to get back to his house at least two hours before Shabbat set in. I decided to drive and pick him up, so that he was home several hours before that.

Elie was suitably impressed with the car, recognizing that it is indeed high on the "cool" level. And then I showed him the GPS. I have no idea how to use a GPS - and wasn't anxious to read the user manual (something a technical writer should not be admitting). But Elie uses a GPS quite a bit - and began clicking away at the touch screen (I'm not sure I even realized there was a touch screen, but never mind).

Soon Elie had Jason (that's the narrator of the GPS unit) explaining how we should get home. Jason told us to go left - we decided to go right. "Route recalculation. Route recalculation," Jason said and proceeded to tell us to continue as we were going. All was going well, until we decided to take a new road that has recently connected the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to a northern Jerusalem road. It saves at least 15 minutes of driving and avoids the often crowded main entrance. But Jason didn't know about this new road, "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

Suddenly, Jason went wild. The image on the touch screen began to shake and then it whirled around. It seemed, according to Jason, that we were driving through a field (which is exactly what was there before they put in this new road). "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

The part I enjoyed the most was sharing this moment with Elie - his laughing about how inaccurate it was. "Civilian GPS units are 20-100 meters off," he explained. Military ones are obviously much more accurate. We also laughed at how upset Jason was getting each time we didn't listen to his instructions.

After finally joining up with a road he recognized, Jason was once again calm and in command. "Prepare to turn right in 600 meters." Not one to relax after clearly having his instructions obeyed, Jason continued to instruct us to turn right at 300 meters, 200 meters, 100 meters. "Turn right," he insisted, and so we did.

He led us out of Jerusalem by the new tunnel roads, avoiding the older road. He led us up the hill and through the city of Maaleh Adumim quite professionally, until we decided to detour and get the mail. Once again, Jason was upset, "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

"Enter roundabout and take the fourth exit," he instructed us, and again we ignored him. "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

We finally made it home, almost as happy to be home as Jason was. From there, Elie went into his usual routine of finding food, doing his laundry, and ordering his brother and sister around.

Over the weekend, we talked about what was to be in the next few months and Elie explained that there really was no way to know what the army had in mind for him after he finishes the course in 2 months. He accepts this not knowing with a calmness that bewilders me. I want to know, but he is fine. "Ima, everything changes in the army every 4 months. It's known."

Ok, I know. But I've always been a planner. It's my nature to know what I'll be doing. I keep lists of days and plans and meetings and things I need to do. Life is complicated and busy and full of endless responsibilities. But all of these lists and requirements help make my life predictable and planned. Elie's life, by comparison, is not predictable (at least not for any great length of time) and yet he faces it with an amazing sense of acceptance. The army ordered him to go to an old age home and volunteer, and so he went. The army ordered him to take the Commanders course and he did.

But at the same time, while the army may have taken away his ability to choose his path, they have given him a tremendous amount. A sense of confidence in himself and his physical abilities. He can run farther than ever before; he is stronger than he was, leaner, thinner.

Elie was always the one who stayed awake on long drives. I would look into the rear view mirror while the others were sleeping, and see him looking at me, almost daring me to get lost. I thought of his eyes in the mirror as I heard him clicking away at the GPS.

Now, a week later, I still have no clue as to what buttons to press. Half the time, I get the thing working and half the time I don't.

But Elie found his way with confidence and with ease - as he's handled much of what the army has thrown his way. No matter where he goes, no matter what he learns, may he always find his path in life, whether it is known to him in advance or not. May he chart his way with confidence and ease...and may all the route recalculations he makes in life...lead him back home to us safely.

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