I'm not sure if that was at the top of my "Questions I don't want to know the answers to" list...but having had this discussion the other day with Elie, I'm thinking about revamping the list. We were talking about Gilad Shalit, past deals Israel has made to free terrorists, Hezbollah, and several other related topics. Elie remains interested in the news and is often more aware of local events than I am.
It's been a difficult week for me - a lot of work, a lot of juggling. In the midst of it was the realization that Gilad Shalit has been held for four years and his family is slowly walking to Jerusalem, asking for solidarity and all Israel can do to get him released from Hamas. I spoke to Shmulik all of twice...another thing that bothered me. I don't want to call him too much...but it is hard not knowing how he is doing. They've finished basic training and spent much of the last week cleaning and moving bases. He's finally in the advanced training, though I have little knowledge of what that means as of yet. It has been, in the Jordan valley, unbearably hot. He's been lucky that much or all of his guard duty has been at night.
I don't remember being so out of touch with Elie, but then, Elie didn't have as wide a network of friends outside his unit as Shmulik does, and then there is Facebook! So, much of what Shmulik is experiencing comes through Elie, as a reflection of a comparison between Shmulik and his own experiences.
This week, we had another long drive together - something we have less often than while he was in the army. We talked of Palestinian prisoners and how they are held in conditions far better than Gilad could even imagine. We talked of the kidnapping.
"It's the worst thing for a soldier," Elie said, "it would be better if he had died."
What a horrible thing to say, I said to Elie. I was speaking, of course, as a parent. But from a soldier's point of view, he may not be wrong. It weakens the nation, the parents and family. The end of this matter is not known. If Gilad comes home alive and well, Elie will have been wrong. If, God forbid he doesn't...
We talked about the Tannenbaum fiasco - when Israel released hundreds of terrorists for 3 dead bodies...and Tannenbaum - a drug-dealer and traitor. He betrayed Israel and told Hezbollah so many military secrets, and we rescued him because we had little choice. That was when Elie told me of a recent spy case Israeli intelligence had uncovered, and the information they had likely given to our enemies. He talked of conditions on the border with Lebanon, and that is when he asked, "do you know how close I was to Lebanon?"
Closer than I like to have thought of; more than I wanted to know. He explained about the border, of how they react if there is an alarm and how the system is so sensitive, it will pick up anything...even innocent movement. These and more continue to come out as Elie adjusts to civilian life. Again and again, I find myself asking if he misses the army and wishes he had stayed on.
He says he doesn't. He is looking into going to study next year; he keeps contact with some of his friends. He has gotten back involved with the ambulance squad, is called for emergencies and volunteers at least once a week, if not more, for the overnight shifts. In short, he is adjusting well.
Do I know how close he was to Lebanon? I have joined the rank of mother's of soldiers in Israel who only after the army begin to learn what they did not know, what they did not tell us. They think that now that we know they are safe, it no longer matters. How do I explain that even months and perhaps years later, our hearts can still cry, still feel that moment of fear? It is not logical, they would argue and, of course, we would answer that a mother's love has little to do with logic.
It's been four months since Elie left the army. He knows where his unit is now, where they are stationed, where they will soon go. There is a connection there that will remain and some day in the future, the border of Lebanon...or Syria...or Gaza...will call to him and he will go. I may know; I may not.
There are so many facets to being a soldier's mother and chief among them, I think, is that it is as permanent a change in your life as the one your son experiences. He will, forever, be a soldier. I will, forever, be a soldier's mother.