January 17, 2013

Crossing The Matrix

My son the soldier is crossing realities today. It’s not as drastic as The Bourne Identity, but maybe something like the Matrix.  And he does this with some 170,000 young men and women who are also serving in the Israeli army. He’s coming home for two days.

His new world is the desert; sleeping bags on rusty cots atop the rocky ground and meals quickly eaten squatting on the sand. It is a world of timed drills, of moving fast and being alert.  There is an allotted time for everything: to chew, to smoke, to make phone calls and to sleep. And it is a place where bellies growl from constant hunger, muscles ache and exhausted bodies smell.

He does not take his boots off all week long, preferring to sleep in those heavy leather boots than be woken up in the middle of the night and have to hurriedly dress, lace them up and run outside into formation. As for keeping clean, why bother when you start the day crawling through a bed of freshly made mud; tailor fit army camouflage.

One evening, as they assembled in the middle of the desert, their commander told them to take out their shovels and dig. They had ten minutes to find a spot to dig and when their time was up, he yelled, “Now sleep.” My son’s sand bed was hardly long enough for his tall frame so he slept partly upright that night, cocooned in the sand, his face turned towards a frozen, black, starry night. When he told me, my mind filled with visions of stinging scorpions and creeping spiders. He laughed and said he loved that night with its infinite space, splash of stars and deafening silence.

And when the army gives him a leave, he ‘teleports’ back to another reality.

When he gets back home, his boots practically march through the front door themselves. He walks in with a sack full of very dirty laundry, tired limbs, a big appetite and a huge smile. He has entered an alternate reality and has a new-found appreciation of home: a room of one’s own; long, hot, solitary showers; and home-cooked meals.

What must he think when he peels off that uniform, unties those big boots and changes back into jeans and running shoes? And how does he feel when he finds a table in the sun at his favorite café, cradles a steamy cappuccino and bites into a chocolate croissant?

And when we celebrate Shabbat, he surely has a new, deeper meaning of a day that was established to celebrate timelessness. For now he can sink into a day stripped of pressure, time constraints and plans, yet filled with family, friends, comfort food, song and sleep.

He has crossed the matrix.

And then he will return.

Come Sunday morning, he will wake early after sleeping tranquilly in his own room. Tucked under a warm, feather duvet, he will wake up, jump into a hot shower, throw on a clean uniform and morph back into a soldier.

And then, when we drop him off at the train station, he will dissolve into a thick mass of khaki, grey and blue, soldiers returning to different bases across the country. As he crosses the Matrix, we will, once again, lose touch with our son’s new reality. 

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