While Elie was home, he told me about shooting practice that they had last week. Sometimes, when someone explains something, the picture becomes so real that you can see it, hear it, feel it. I can’t explain why it happened this time, but it is an image I hold dear because of the smile Elie had when he spoke, and the pride he felt.
The thing is, boys love to boast – their car is faster, their computer stronger. My sons, even the 13-year-old who is ever so quickly gaining my height and preparing to go beyond, enjoy showing they are stronger. They smile this patronizing smile when I struggle with a jar and even though, given just one more second, I could probably open the darn thing, they will step in and twist. Yes, of course, I loosened it. Duh...but no, they will smile because THEY opened it and clearly, before they gained this great strength, I must have never succeeded in opening a jar in all the years of their childhood.
They are faster than I am, stronger physically. My two oldest sons will now lift things that I cannot lift, carry what I can't. They love picking up their little sister and throwing her over their shoulder as she squeals in terror. Just this past Shabbat, she appeared to be upset - a game she plays so well with them. She too is learning to "use" her talents. She can't out-lift them, but she can make them feel bad if they accidentally hurt her...and even if they don't actually hurt her.
Her older sister stepped in on her behalf, explaining to Elie that their little sister did not LIKE to be treated this way, she's a person, not a toy. Elie smiled his most wicked grin and claimed, as only older brothers can, that she actually likes it. I was about to agree with my oldest daughter when a suspicious giggle escaped from my youngest. Elie took that for the confirmation it was. Yes, she loves his strength as much as he does.
It is the way of a 21-year-old - that mix of man and boy that I find so overwhelmingly charming. Whatever the challenge of the moment, they have to be the best; they imagine themselves the best and strive to prove it. Elie takes tremendous pride in his army and can easily explain why it is so clearly superior to all other armies in the region. He can explain the strength of the Syrian army - especially their artillery, and show how our army - especially our artillery, is better. He can tell you about Egypt and Lebanon and Gaza and with each explanation, always Israel is stronger, better, smarter - it is the way of the age. He is, as his army is, the one who has learned discipline and conquered each challenge. He has learned, grown and now, as he enters his last year in the army, he feels he can show others, as they follow along the same paths.
Each soldier was given a magazine of bullets that they had to shoot in 30 seconds at a target, many meters away. The goal was speed and accuracy. They are using M16s, set on semi-automatic – meaning they have to manually pull the trigger each time. A magazine has something like 29 bullets in it (that’s what he said, I think). So – you have to pull the trigger 29 times in 30 seconds – I’m not sure if that includes loading the magazine in place or not.
When it was Elie’s turn – he moved into place and apparently the other soldiers understood what he was going to do. Elie's gun had a double magazine attached to it, not just one. Those that weren't shooting - turned to watch him. I can see it - all eyes on my son as he raised the gun and took aim. They all watched Elie for 30 seconds. He shot his first magazine of 29 bullets, reloaded and shot the full next magazine – all within those 30 seconds. Almost sixty bullets in 30 seconds – 2/3 hitting the target right on – the rest hitting relatively close – close enough to do damage and stop the enemy.
“You could have lit a match off the barrel of the gun,” Elie explained.
“Everyone was watching,” he told me.
I could see it, hear it, feel it. The pride he felt came from the show of admiration he received. Imagine moving your finger so fast, so many times, without hesitation. The gun never jammed – Elie keeps it clean and ready.
And there is surprise that I take pride in this achievement too. I have always told my children that I didn’t care what grades they got on a test – so long as at the end of the day, when they brought the test to me, they could honestly say they had tried their hardest, done their best. I will (and have) welcomed a 75 with more grace and happiness than a 90.
This wasn’t a test, certainly no grade will be written for this day, but there is pride in knowing he tried his hardest, did his best – and excelled.