Elie called yesterday to coordinate my picking him up from his base. Because he’d canceled a doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago, he was scheduled for an appointment this morning at 9:20 a.m. to get a new referral for inserts for his boots. The first step is an appointment with a specialist to receive the referral and then the referral and mold are transferred to a store where Elie must go pick them up in a few weeks. So it was agreed. I'd drive early to the base, pick up Elie and take him to the medical clinic and then see what the plans were. Best case scenario (which is what happened), Elie would even be home to start his vacation before the other soldiers in his group had even gotten off base!
As I was driving, cruising along before the morning traffic even had a chance to build, Elie called.
“Ima, there are two others who need to go to the military clinic. Can we take them?”
It’s a formality, his asking, but a nice one. Common sense would tell him that having left the house at 6:00 a.m., with the school year having started already and his middle brother beginning his pre-military academy (Hesder) today, I would be coming alone to get him. That leaves four empty seats and no reason why I would refuse to take the other soldiers.
“No problem,” I told him as we coordinated my arrival time.
A few minutes later, Elie called again. “Ima, one of the boys overslept and needs to catch a plane to Eilat. Can we give him a ride somewhere or he’ll miss the flight.”
“No problem,” I answered again.
So here I sit, outside the military clinic on a huge base in the center of Israel, while Elie gets the needed referral. It’s 8:30 in the morning. We’ve arrived an hour before his appointment so I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait, and yet, it’s one of those peaceful moments in life. The air is clean, the parking lot shaded by large Eucalyptus trees. My children are safe, each in their own place.
As we dropped off the soldier...to catch the bus...to the plane...to get home, Elie opened the window and told him to check his gun. It’s a precaution I have seen Elie take when he arrives home. You point the gun in the air and make sure there is no bullet in the chamber. Three loud clicks later (and hopefully no bullet shot in the air), there is safety in carrying the gun into crowded areas.
Once we entered a store. Elie had his gun with him and took out his identification card to show the guard. The older man looked at Elie, looked at the gun, and then told Elie to go and check it. As I’d seen him do many time, Elie walked to the side of the store as the guard watched him, pointed the gun in the air, in the opposite direction, and checked it. The nice part of it all was that as Elie walked back to enter the store, the man smiled and said, "thank you."
As for today, there is something so amazing in hearing your son command another to do something for safety’s sake. How many times have I, as a mother, told my children something that I knew really didn’t need to be done, just to be sure, just to be safe?
I parked outside the base - civilians are not routinely given admittance. I watched as Elie approached the gate, moved to the right and pointed his gun in the air as the others had done. The clicks were loud and then he disappeared inside.
As I sit here in the parking lot waiting for him, several times I’ve heard the sound of guns clicking, as they are checked before entering the base. It’s a reassuring sound because it means that nothing is taken for granted. Bullets don’t enter gun chambers accidentally (or at least I don’t think they do), but the army teaches caution and safety. This is a weapon, something that can kill. Use it to defend – your life, your brothers, your country. But practice caution - be careful.
And finally, the surprise! Yesterday, when Elie called to make the final arrangements for today, he told me something else. He’s home not just for 5 days, as we thought, but for 7 full days.
“Wow, why?” I asked.
“Regila,” he told me and as often happens, I can hear the smile, feel the happiness. Regila is a seven day break - one of four mandatory vacation periods they give to soldiers – often, it seems, with little notice. That means he has seven days to do what he wants, when he wants. That means I have seven days to sleep and not think of where he is, what he is doing. Seven days.