Post 33: Sentiments

Pat Tillman, the late NFL free safety turned U.S. Army Ranger, wrote in his diary upon his decision to join the military (and turn down a 3.6 million dollar contract) that,

“Somewhere inside, we hear a voice, and intuitively know the answer to any problem or situation we encounter. Our voice leads us in the direction of the person we wish to become, but it is up to us whether or not to follow. More times than not we are pointed in a predictable, straightforward, and seemingly positive direction. However, occasionally we are directed down a different path entirely. Not necessarily a bad path, but a more difficult one. In my case, a path that many will disagree with, and more significantly, one that may cause a great deal of inconvenience to those I love.”

I could not agree more with his sentiments. I too heard that voice, and I too took a path that has challenged me in ways I never imagined. In the course of a typical day in the army, I experience more emotional swings than I experienced in a week of civilian life. My passion for israel is what brought me here, and it is passion that continues to drive me when the going gets rough. It’s passion that makes life interesting. It’s what inspires the artist to paint, the teacher to teach, the professional football player to leave his life of comfort and join the U.S. Army rangers. While all take different roads, all are fueled by the same thing. As the teacher, the painter, and the soldier will all tell you, passion makes the highs higher, but it also makes the lows lower. For the teacher, the high comes when the struggling student finally gets it. For the painter, its the finished product that he’s touched up a thousand times that’s finally completed and is sitting in the gallery. For me, it comes every time I reach a new milestone. When I was sworn in as a paratrooper at the Western wall. When my wings were pinned onto my uniform after jump school. When my insignia was pinned into my arm after basic training (yes, I actually enjoyed that). But in between those highs are lows. I’m not unhappy, but like everyone. I struggle. Times have been easy recently, and during periods such as these my spirits are elevated. But sooner than I care to think about, it will get hard again. Very hard. And being a passionate individual, I have no doubt that during those times my thoughts will turn again to the friends and family (both in America and israel) that the army keeps me from being with, and it will sadden me.  As I wrote earlier, passion isn’t all highs. She is a demanding mistress, and sometimes she makes us suffer.  Recently I’ve begun to lose touch with some of the people that mean the most to me, and it troubles me.

And yet, in a quiet moment, as I lie in my bed on base and reflect on what I’ve been through so far, I see that suffering and growth go hand in hand. The good doesn’t feel as good if you haven’t felt the bad. The taste of food in a restaurant is never so good as it is after eating field rations for a week. Seeing my family in December after half a year, I appreciated them more than ever before. I find pleasure now in every moment of unscheduled time. In every sip of cold beer on a weekend off. Every scent of the ocean breeze I catch walking down the Tel Aviv boardwalk. Its all sweeter. Our understanding and appreciation for life’s highs can only truly come after intimate experiences with life’s lows.

I closed Shabbat (spent the weekend on base) during jump school as a punishment during basic training. I was called into a dark room on thursday afternoon after two weeks of planning my two day vacation. In that dark room, sitting across the table from my solemn commander, I was told that I would not be going home. Anyone who has experienced this before can attest to the fact that It’s like showing up to the airport in December to depart on a vacation to a tropical location only to be told the flight has been canceled. Shortly after I got the news, we were put on a bus and began the trip to jump-school, where would be spending the next two weeks. The bus was abuzz with talk of weekend plans. As I sat there quietly and looked out the window, I was reminded of a time half a year earlier when I sat on a similar bus and looked out a similar window at israel’s splendid landscape, and wondered what it would be like to look out those windows as an Israeli soldier. I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. While this is just the beginning, finishing the first four months of training has been the most physically and emotionally challenging period of my life.

So during the hard times, I have tried, quite simply, to get by. I have learned to capture the beauty in moments and use it to sustain me for minutes, hours, and sometimes days. The sight of the f-16 streaking across the sky as the flag of israel waves in the foreground. The pink hue of the sunset as the sun retreats over the desert landscape on its way towards the Mediterranean in the midst of an evening workout. A simple “thank you” from a stranger returning from Temple as I stand on guard duty in Hebron on a six hour shift with a heavy vest on a Saturday morning. In those moments, my spirit soars despite the weight of army life threatening to hold it down. I only hope that I can continue to hold onto those moments to pull me forward as the days get harder and longer.

April 25th, 2011

3 Responses to “Post 33: Sentiments”

  1. Perle Says:

    I find your post to be one of the most honest and accurate description of what it means to be a lone soldier. Good luck!

  2. Debbe Feldman Says:

    Although I watch and listen to what your cousins go through as they mature in front of my eyes, it is quite amazing to be able to actually read something that attests to the maturation of my nephew. Your writing is beautiful and, in some very limited sense, allows all of us to all share in your experience. I really treasure getting your posts. We all speak about you often and missed you very much on Passover when I think we sang extra loud perhaps thinking that you could hear us! I am hopeful that you will get to see Sam, Zach and/or Jessie when they come to Israel in the next few months. Lots of love, Aunt Debbie

  3. Steve Oster Says:

    Good to hear that you are well achi.
    Life is very good and most of it is gray, made of specks of white and black …good times and tough times. You’ve got it. Savor the good stuff and learn from the bad stuff. G-d only puts challenges before us that we can overcome!
    You sound mentally strong, morally sound and physically alert.
    Your familly (and extended family) love you and are praying for you, your wellfare and for all Yidden everyday. I understand a little about your Nobel service to our people “kol yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh.”

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