“How’s the army?”
“That’s so amazing”
“So how’d you do it?
“Can you give me some tips?”
Not for the first time in recent months, I found myself once again in the position of ‘the guy who’s gone through it’, or the ‘chayal-boded in the army’. A young, new garin from Miami had just arrived on my kibbutz to begin their journey of making Aliyah and joining the Israeli army, and I found myself mingling with them at the kibbutz pub in a ‘big brother’ position of sorts, answering questions about the enlistment process and deflecting unwanted admiration. Whilst they were very sweet and ‘full of life’ – by talking to them, I felt as if I had been transported back in time – giving advice to my 18-year-old self a couple of years earlier. I saw myself in them – exuberant and giddy, resolving to learn Hebrew and to live my life according to the routine of a Rocky-style train-every-day ‘no-pain-no-game’ cliché. So what more of a good cliché can I ask for, than to peruse my inner thoughts with a little sarcasm and come to some inexorable life-changing conclusion?
It’s interesting how drastically our life goals and dreams can change in a short period of time. For some, ambitions and desires take a change of turn due to an unexpected life event. For others, motivation simply withers with time as part of the ageing process. In other words, as I see it, changes in destiny are simply an inevitable part of growing up. The more you gather life experiences, the more mature you become, and consequentially, the less naïve and innocent you are. As a result, 18-year-old wet dreams of ‘changing the world’, ‘becoming an astronaut’ and fairytale endings, take fateful, irreversible knocks to their believability (believable in the sense that we cease to believe in them.)
I’d like to illustrate this with an analogy: Until recently, history has always been written by the victors, and the populist myths that accompany it have remained accepted and unquestioned for centuries – nicely fitting in with our story-book, Band-Aid world-view of how things were. With the onset of revisionism, many histories have been repackaged – politically or rightly so – to suit the context of the historian or the vanquished. Coupled with today’s internet, conspiracy-soaked, doubt-everything society – where the veracity of events that happen live, before-your-eyes are questioned – it’s easy to see where all the skepticism comes from. How can one believe history to be genuine, if one can’t even trust the facts coming out of today’s real-life dramas and war-zones? Much as our perception of history and it’s stories and legends have undergone a reframing process over the past generation, so too our worldview and desires undergo massive changes as a result of ‘growing up’.
For me, this change has been potently felt over the past 2 and a half years. I made Aliyah and arrived in Israel at 18 –young and idealistic –with a vigour that effused: “I’m ready to change the world”. Now at 20, and after 2 years of serving in the IDF, I look back on those first months with a nostalgic smile. Back then I lived in a world where history was accepted, and there was only one truth. Everything seemed harmonious and even if it didn’t – it probably had an explanation. I fitted in neatly with my worldview. The grass was greener back then. People smiled more often, and everybody went about their daily lives with a sense of purpose, as part of a bigger project ‘bigger than they’ – or ‘Zionism’ as I called it. You know? That word that once expressed the hopes of the Jewish people to establish their state in Israel – that has today been reframed as a loaded, controversial and even racist term.
But was the grass really greener? Were the people really friendlier? Or was that just my naïve, hopeful perception of things? If I ask myself today, then the answer is obvious – 18 and fresh out of high school. What does he possibly know? But then again – back then I was so sure (so sure!), and the excitement was so palpable. Today, this 20-year-old post-revisionist diplomatically-correct writer is so skeptical that he is sure of nothing. (Ok perhaps that’s a little exaggeration, but it’s there to bring my point across).
Nothing seems noteworthy to me anymore – expect what I feel – and even then, after months of rigorous, emotionally exhausting training, my feelings are like an empty bottle of wine: you can smell the residue, but there’s nothing left to taste. If my commanders tried to shape me into an unsentimental and unfazed soldier, then they’ve nearly succeeded.
So where do my ambitions and fantasies lie with this realization? They’re still there – and my motivation to succeed is still stronger than ever. But my goals and dreams have simply become more opaque – more ‘realistic’ have you will, in our “revisionist-history” scheme-of-things.
More than once, I have come across the analogy of “life as a novel” – with chapters and paragraphs. When I was 18, I could read my imaginary book and skip freely between the chapters – with everything so clearly laid out before me: High school-Aliyah-Ulpan-army-Uni-career-marriage-save-the-world. Today as I read my book, I don’t progress pass the current chapter, as all the rest are hidden from view. In some ways it’s comforting to be 18 and sure of where you’re taking your life, because the uncertainty of not being able to read the next chapter can be frustrating. On the other hand, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps I’m not supposed to know, and with hard work and motivation – my goals – whatever they may be – will fall into place, one way or another. Isn’t that exciting? Not being able to know what awaits you – today, tomorrow, in a year or 10?
For now though, I can only wax poetic and describe the majesty of the rising sun outside my kibbutz window – heralding the entrance of a beautiful new summer day. Oh wait! I’ve been through so many of these in the army, that every spectacular sunrise happens to be just as ubiquitous as the last. Oh well…