It’s been over three years since I drafted into the IDF. Even today, I struggle to fully understand the scope of my experience; its effect was indubitably defining, but I can’t fully process it all. I don’t believe there is a soldier, especially a Chayal Boded, who can survive IDF service and not be profoundly affected. I miss it immensely. Two years since release and my army memories are the most powerful memories I have. Far more than with any other experience, I can still remember the sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions of every significant moment in the army, as well as the not so important. To this day I dream of them, waking up in my bed not entirely sure where I am. I remember draft day, lining up outside the dining halls—the half hour in the air-conditioned room our only respite from the oppressive heat outside; long hours during the night on guard duty, the intoxicating quiet of the Negev Desert as the sky and earth seemed to form one large impenetrable blanket of darkness, settling over the sand and rock and bullet casings; the masaot with the inevitable chafing and bloody feet, the mediative states of pain and exhaustion that distorted time and blurred my thoughts and transported me to far away places; the weeks in the field, thousands of bullets, the hourly challenges, my tent, my vest, my gun, the smell of sweat and gunpowder and dirt, my machlaka. The many people who impacted me and who opened their homes to me, cooked for me and cared for me. The family I discovered.
I still feel the guilt of having left behind it all. Friends who endured it all with me. Friends who stood by me in my darkest, most depressing times—times of tears and shvizut, homesickness and longing. But also during the greatest times of my life. Times of laughter and honesty, excitement and boredom. The guilt is not something I can rationalize away, try as I might, but rather something that dulls slowly with time, not because I find forgiveness for myself, but simply because the guilt is simply buried beneath the realities of day to day life.
I want one more week. One more week with my unit–with the 30 men who defined my eight month training. One more week sleeping under the stars in a fox hole, cradling my Negev, dirty, smelly, exhausted. I want to again stand before the battlefield and feel the weight of a grenade in my hand, the press of my body armor, the sweat dripping from my helmet, the tired eyes of my friends around me, waiting for the first thump of a mortar before we charge forward, knees struggling under our immense load. Another chance to navigate in the desert, climbing hills and traversing rivers that to this day I can still visualize. One more week to appreciate that which I sometimes think I failed to appreciate in the moment. But it can’t be.
I know today that I would be so better prepared for the challenges of the army. But that’s the ultimate paradox. Because of my hardships, because of all I experienced, I would excel in the very thing that conditioned me. I’m always better prepared for that which I have just finished.
I try to practice Buddhist practices of non-attachment; attempting to rid myself of my desire for experiences lost. It’s easier said than done but I understand that every second I spend in the past is time not in the present—ultimately increasing the likelihood that I again don’t appreciate the moment I’m in.
In civilian life I can’t find again that feeling of deep, visceral exhaustion, seeping into my bones, collapsing me into sleep at a moments notice. But with this came the knowledge that something tremendous was being accomplished. I was living for something greater than myself. Every second of it was earned. Every day was unlike any other. It meant something. It was purposeful. I kill myself at the gym chasing it, pursue it in the mountains of Alaska. But it so far remains elusive.
During his most recent trip to Alaska, Ron and I spend hours reminiscing. I love when I suddenly am able to remember specifics. How it felt during war week. How after hours of wandering around in the night, full gear, aching bones, we might receive a lucky 15 minute break as the captain would check the maps or receive transmissions. Dropping into mazav shkiva (laying down position), we would aim in a defensive ring, promptly falling asleep, happily disregarding the hard, cold ground with its jagged rocks and numerous scorpions. We would awake in an instant, roused by the whisper of a friend or the sudden intuition that the bodies around were moving, and begin again our perpetual marching. I remember at times being content even when movement began and the blood began to again flow, simply for the returning warmth. For moments I am back, in the middle of a masa as I leaned heavily against the water truck, a momentary rest before the walk resumed. Chugging water and barely conscious, a sort of half state of awake and asleep that dominated that period of my life. All these feelings arise, and I am suddenly lost in thought.
I wish I could take the people I love on a trip through the past. I want them to feel these memories as vividly as I feel them. I want them to smell the gunpowder and feel the ground. It feels to me still so real, dominating, integral, that it’s some hidden away secret. A kind of integral part of who I am that is virtually impossible to fully convey; impossible for anyone to comprehend.
I told Ron once that it’s interesting that we, being so young, have something to reminisce about. Most, when they do, are older, unable to return to the memory. Yet I can return. Which is why I struggle with being away from Israel. The draw to return is always strong.
Where my path will lead I still am not sure. However, I know that my time with Israel is not over. With my friends and family there, I will again drink beer on the herzilya coast, play sheshbesh and settlers, and eat challah on shabbat.