Our Soldiers, Our Sons
Moving to Israel forces us to confront a new reality: our sons in uniform.
The Mediterranean Sea stretched before me, sparkling in the setting sun. Two boats sat majestically in the distance. The sky darkened; the breeze quickened.
Between me and the water stood 200 boys. To the staccato orders of the commanding officer, 400 boots stamped apart, 400 boots stamped together, and a swell of voices resounded in unison. The Israeli flag was raised and verses from the Torah were read, amid the rumbling of thunder. An officer led the swearing-in ceremony, reciting a phrase, pausing for the resounding echo of the soldiers before him. Each boy pledged to give his heart, his soul, and if necessary, his life, to protect the country. Bolts of light zagged across the horizon. Rain fell. One by one, each soldier was called up for his pledge.
“Ani nishba!” (I pledge). Boom. Thunder.
“Ani matzhir!” (I declare).
Families frantically opened umbrellas and thrust cameras into cases. The boys stood at attention, motionless.
I looked at my son. A month ago, he had refused to be told what to do. My pleas to clean his room and take out the trash were respectfully received and conveniently forgotten. Now, an order to merely move a certain way, or not move at all, was honored immediately and completely.
The boys stood at attention, strong, sturdy, soaked. If the faces had been an unidentifiable blur, I would have simply been awed. Young men and women, committed to their country, willing to confront surrounding powerful nations calling for its annihilation. But my awe was laced with personal fear, because I knew one face. I knew its shape, its dimple, its stubble, its scar.
Our pride is shrouded in anxiety. We try to ignore it, deny it, subdue it, but it lives like a tenacious weed, breathing toxicity into our lives.
Aliyah forces us to confront a new reality: our sons in uniform. Our pride is shrouded in anxiety. We try to ignore it, deny it, subdue it, but it lives like a tenacious weed, breathing toxicity into our lives, like an unexplained illness.
How can we delight in the inspiration and hope that brought us here, instead of shrink from the dangerous realities we are forced to face?
One strong response to fear is to acknowledge it. It’s there. I get to know it. How big is it? How dark? Does it stalk me by day, or does it cast a shadow in the quiet of the night? I try not to analyze, criticize, or judge. Just observe. Merely noticing fear disarms and diffuses its power over me.
Another way I deal with fear is to stay present. Fear is always about something that might happen, not something that is happening now. As Mark Twain said, “I have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Since many of us expend so much energy compulsively revisiting the past or worrying about the future, living in the present moment dispels worry and brings about a sense of calm and joy. I can harness the power of now at any moment by drawing my awareness to my immediate experience. What’s happening at this instant? What do I hear? Smell? What sensations am I aware of in my body? What does the seat I’m sitting on, the floor I’m standing on, feel like right now?
Finally I find the polar opposite of fear: faith. Fear involves contraction and tightening of the senses, whereas faith involves letting go, leaning into, and trusting the unknown. For me, fear and faith cannot co-exist. This resembles the myth of multitasking, where it appears we are performing two tasks simultaneously while in reality we are actually shifting at lightning speed between those tasks. I find myself fearful in one moment and faithful in the next. I explore ways to strengthen my belief in an omniscient, compassionate Higher Being. Faith is powerful. Nestled in this cloak of conviction, I am able to choose the way in which I respond to life.
In three years (or five, or seven, or ten), our child’s military service will end. Like a roller coaster ride, the years will pass regardless of how tightly we close our eyes or how desperately we grip the seat. We can go through this period anxious and tense. Or we can experience it with equanimity, tapping into the original pride and sense of belonging that brought us here.
I look across at my son, and sense the smile beneath the solemnity. I coax my thoughts away from the future – from imagined horror and feared tragedy. The cool Mediterranean breeze touches my face. The water drips off my neighbor’s umbrella onto my arm. I breathe. I trust that all this fits into a Master Plan. Right now, I accept, and I am calm.