Sunday, December 21, 2008

Preparing for Change

It was another weekend to cherish with Elie home. The whole family wasn't together, as my daughter and her husband were visiting friends and my middle son was at his yeshiva, but still, it was nice, it was quiet, and it was fun. Elie was in a great mood most of the time, talkative, laughing, teasing. Pure Elie.

There were times where we all laughed hysterically, and serious times mixed together. Fun, when he started to explain that we are nearing the end of this latest rotation. Apparently, the efficiency of the army is a much overrated concept and as Elie started to explain, he looked at his shirt, realized which one he was wearing and turned around to show me the design on the back. It showed a tank and the route it had taken to get to where it was on the back of his shirt, but the route bounced all over back and forth many times in an illogical path.

It is so common as to become an accepted and comfortable joke. There will be, in the next few weeks, a "shake up." The army will shuffle its pieces, throwing it all into a mix and settling it all back down, some in the same place, some in other places. To get there, many units will be ordered to one place, ordered to another, returned to a base, moved forward, backwards and more. One could argue that it is accidental; one could argue it is on purpose to teach the soldier something. Be ready, always to move at a whim. Forget logic, forget plans, sometimes, you are ordered to move and you move, only to get there and move back again.

We talked long and hard about the situation in Gaza - everyone knows it can't go on. "The government can't send in the artillery without the court giving them permission," Elie said in disgust.

I felt older and wiser and infinitely more cynical. The government is in the midst of an election, I explained to my son. They can't be seen as weak, and only a weak government will sit by and do nothing while its citizens are hit with mortars and rockets (15 rockets, 26 mortars yesterday alone). Houses are damaged, cars, buildings - how long will it go on? Each day a rocket hits, thinks the government, a voter decides to try someone else, someone less weak, someone not willing to sit back and do nothing.

The government will have two options - to defy the court (and who was the idiot who asked the court in the first place?) or to go in without artillery. Much can be accomplished without the artillery - bombs can still be dropped, missiles launched. And if there are more ground troop casualties, the government can blame the courts...or perhaps the courts will realize the idiocy themselves and release the government. If our enemies are free to act without caring about innocent casualties, shouldn't our own government and courts at least seek to minimize our losses?

There is nothing that Elie can do about this situation with the rockets except wait until the government or army decides that artillery is a necessary component of whatever operation they will launch.

Meanwhile, we talked about his work at the checkpoint. He told me that during the recent Islamic holiday, Israel allowed free flow of traffic into and out of Kalkilye as a show of good faith. What went in that shouldn't have, will try to come out again later, and the army will catch it then. What came out that shouldn't have, will try to go back in, and the army will catch it then.

During our conversation, Elie mentioned that he stopped one Israeli Arab driver who, as it turned out, didn't have a driver's license, was in an area he should not have been in, and had someone else's car.

"Why did you stop him?" I asked.

"Because I didn't recognize him," Elie answered. He's been at this checkpoint for several weeks and knows almost all of the Arabs that pass through on their way to wherever they are going. This statement of his was very telling and very important. It is very easy in this world not to recognize others, not to pay attention to who they are as individuals. Too often, I find myself entering a mall and only after do I realize that I didn't look AT the guard. I opened my bag, perhaps I greeted them, I usually do, but I didn't look at them and copy their faces to my mind. A few minutes later, I could pass them in the street and never remember having seen them.

This could easily be true at a checkpoint, where so many pass each hour, each day. The fact that Elie notices an individual as a person says much about him, and his training.

In the meantime, winter has settled back into Israel, at least for a few days. It's getting colder, the skies are much grayer than before. Last winter, the thought of Elie being in the desert at night, cold and in the dark, was almost enough to bring me to my knees. I was scared, even though I knew it was irrational. Elie thought it was a bit funny, but he tried to reassure me. He told me that he was the one with an M16 and that I had nothing to fear. It didn't help much.

The picture of him wandering in the desert, alone, cold, was so strong even though my rational brain knew it was not a true image. He was never alone, he was never wandering, and thanks to the thermal undershirts, extra layer of pants, the exertion, and the warm tea waiting for him around the bend, he was more exhilarated than cold.

I can laugh now, but then I was worried about wild animals and thieves in the night. I was scared he would get lost, scared he would fall and get hurt. A year later, as I knew winter was settling back in this week, I asked him if he had enough thermal undershirts and that was the end of the discussion. Many months ago, after Elie ran off into the darkness to help with a traffic accident, leaving me stuck in traffic and worried, he asked me, "Ima, don't you trust me?"

At the time, I thought his question was wrong, that he didn't understand. My fear was an expression of my love, not my lack of trust. Now, while I still believe that fear was born out of love, I think, in hindsight, that I hadn't yet learned to trust this man that has emerged from the son I brought into this world.

I loved the baby, I loved the boy and now I am learning that beyond loving the man, I am learning to trust him. With that trust, I am so much more at peace with those things that surround him. I am slower to fear, slower to worry. Of course, this great sense of calm is working today and I am not foolish enough to assume it will be here tomorrow.

What still holds true is that with the setting of the sun each day Elie is in the army, it is another day I be grateful for, another day I can pack away. Change is again around the corner, but we've been this route before. Elie goes off the checkpoint and back into training as an artillery soldier. I'll find new things to worry about, new fears to conquer, but I'm liking this feeling of trust and calm I have inside me too, so maybe I'll hold on to that as well.

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