When I look back on the past 9 months of army service, I find it difficult to believe that I have really achieved, accomplished and succeeded the many acts and events that I have undergone over the course of my training. Things like jumping out of a plane and parachuting safely to the ground. Marching 90 km up Israel’s coastal plane to the base. Unleashing my ‘inner animal’ and going insane on the punching bag. Crawling for endless hours on some abandoned desert hill. Or just fitting into a stressful framework without the language or communication skills of my peers.
It feels as if I do not have my self to owe for completing these “acts”. It’s like I wasn’t really there – rather that I somehow vicariously watched a movie of myself doing all these things without really having done them myself. After all, a year and a half ago I was sitting at my desk late into the night preparing VCE exams, waking up late, cycling to school and jumping the fence to make it to class on time! How things have changed eh? It’ seems unreal that this once-nerdy kid could be capable of such incredible things.
Could it be that I am really the same person? Could it be that the tall guy bursting into a room with an assault rifle, roaring “everybody down” in Hebrew ad searching for imaginary cardboard terrorists is the same geeky bespectacled high school kid, making himself a dolmades and yellow cheese sandwich and then sneaking upstairs to watch The Simpsons whilst Mum teaches a piano lesson?
Sometimes I regret that I don’t ‘live in the moment’ – that I’m not fully 100% concentrated in the present: Completely immersed in the task at hand for it to leave an indelible memory on my mind. There are simply too many distractions: The pain of the blisters on my feet, the weight on my shoulders and the constant dread and anticipation of ‘what’s going to happen next’.
I often connect the memories of the past 9 months in the army to emotions and feelings. I will remember how I felt when … – maybe not the act itself, but the feeling when X occurred. If an event didn’t inject me with enough dread/fear/worry/anxiety/excitement or enjoyment, then it’s as if it never happened. Every single day and every single week is so jam packed with stressful situations, that when I finally have the time to catch my breath and recount the week that was, I almost don’t remember anything.
I remember every moment of Yom Hazikaron this year (Israel’s memorial day) because of the emotional impression it left on me. I hardly remember what I did for Hannukah because there was nothing emotionally extreme enough for my mind to justify keeping that memory.
Funny how the mind works.
I had a dream last Thursday night that I was back in Year 12, and Andy and I were making a funny assembly video for the school. I rang him up that Friday and remarked how strange it was for me that (relatively) so little time had passed between then and now – yet these events are worlds apart. Now I am surrounded by completely different people, a different environment, culture, language, climate, country, land and history. I’m serving with guys that I never would have met my entire life had I not left Australia!
A few weeks ago, Ronny saw a video we made in the Garin (3 month pre-army preparation course for new immigrants) shortly before we enlisted. She said that she felt a slight pang of regret to see the contrast between who I am now, and the kid I was in the video. It’s not that she doesn’t like what I’ve become – on the contrary – she’s proud of me like a mother is of her son. It’s just that what she saw was ‘the passing of youth’, and that gave her pause to reflect. She saw the transition in me from an energetic young teenager who believes he has the solutions to all the worlds problems – to a slightly more calculated, reserved and sceptical young man who is starting to accumulate earthly experiences. I haven’t “lost my innocence” so to speak – I’ve just grown up. Perhaps slightly less naive. Slightly more mature. Slightly more responsible, and slightly more confident.
On the eve of my 20th birthday I feel like I’m not quite a kid, but I’m not quite an adult either. I’m sure that once my army experience is over, the transition will be complete and I will have the tools to cope and succeed in the multitude of challenges that life has to offer. Until then I’m still learning – about myself, about the world and about my place in the world.
Until that day comes, I’m trying to concentrate on enjoying the journey as much as possible, and not the heavy backpack weighing down on my shoulders. To quote fallen lone soldier Alex Singer, whose excerpts inspired me to sit down and write this brief anecdote:
I don’t want to lecture anymore about Zionism and decisionmaking. I’d rather tell you about walking through a wadi in the middle of the night with a million stars over my head, and singing as I walk because I’m so content and so enjoying myself, and climbing mountains and looking over the desert, and seeing eagles and a huge waddling porcupine, and the goodness of the rest which always comes after a night of trekking with so much weight on my shoulders. There are nights which make the weight disappear, and I love those nights.