Afterwards

Exhaustion, relief, release…

Here I am lying in a “Datak” (jet-fighter storage/hangar) reviewing the day and night that were…

The late-afternoon sun showers the deep blue sky with a fluorescent tint, making the horizon slightly hazy. An amalgam of mattresses, sleeping bags and equipment lies strewn over the concrete surface, lending the place a hodgepodge post-Hurricane-Katrina kinda’ feel. The after effects of various drugs still afflict my recovering body, giving me this strange tired-yet-awake sensation, wherein I’m unable to fall asleep or take a shit. My quads still ache, and my back is yearning for some affection, yet I feel strangely lucid. My phone hooked up to a charger periodically receives a new text, briefly distracting me. But my thoughts slowly return to last night…

The beauty of the landscape. Indescribable rock formations. Pink stones that gave off a strawberry-banana-milkshake hue. Jagged knife-like mountains sheltering us from the cool wisp of wind that blew above our heads. Shadows that danced off two towering cliff walls, as we silently trudged through the night.

There was no excitement. No pride. No ostentatious historic musings. The specifically tailored training had turned us into rote-learned robotic beings, executing every hand movement, every step, indeed – every breath, as planned. Given our over-preparedness, it was easy to mistake last night for just another exercise.

I think that it’s very simple to glorify a particular act from the outside – or with hindsight, as a historian. When you’re in the moment however, you think of little more than where you will place your foot as you take the next step. Or what awaits you next according to plan. Or running all kinds of dire nightmarish scenarios in your head, such as suddenly waking up and finding yourself here (there) alone, and without the team…

Upon our return, I was hit with a palpable sense of tranquillity, a sense of safety. It was the closest I got to sentimentality the entire night. I had come from chaos and anarchy to a place where law and order reigned. I had come home. I joked with Gilly if I needed to present any documents for a stamp. No nationalistic fervour. No over excitement. Just home. Serene.

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Leaving Melbourne

I’m sitting at the terminal at Melbourne airport, awaiting to board a flight to LA, listening to some forgettable, B-grade remix of a song whose name I don’t remember. I’ve got no wi-fi and no phone connection. My wired-up, unnaturally short attention span has not been trained to deal with empty moments like these. I look to the landing strip for inspiration. Melbourne’s ubiquitous cloudy sky drools past the grey, ceiling-high windows – punctuated by a shimmer of cloud-shine, and the occasional take off…

I stoically scan the runway, imagining myself in earlier years when I would lend such a quasi-significant moment some forced sense of higher meaning. The people surrounding me – dull, gadgeted-up and in various stages of alleviated their boredom – blend in with the bland, un-inspired architecture of the boarding gate.

One woman tends to her wrapped-up baby, whilst searching the room with bird-like glances – perhaps for a tissue? Others immerse themselves in their phones – taking short breaks to stare around – as if suddenly reminded that they are still located in the terminal. An elderly couple sit side-by-side, gazing into oblivion whilst engulfed by years of silence – a heavy, tense silence that can be seen but not understood.

The boarding call has been announced; predictably late and kindly explained away by the staff at the counter. The passengers leave their seats and march to the boarding gate with a quaint air of entitlement – as if claiming an inheritance or a birthright. Each of them finds themselves in different stages of life: The impatient businessman flying to some important job conference. The apathetic student lazily rolling her thumb across her ‘Facebook news feed.’ A surly father lecturing his seemingly annoyed 20-something son – doubtless dispensing some unwarranted travel advice. Two tanned surfer girls on their way to catch some California sun, dreadlocks and blonde hair. All random strangers united by a common need to get somewhere …

My number is called. I look to the dwindling line and get up to join the chorus – my earphone cable nonchalantly dangling from one ear like a fashion statement. As I shuffle toward the flight attendant with the red-lipsticked plastic grin, I realize uncannily that I too, blend in with the architecture. Am I any different?

“Welcome aboard flight 840 sir. Have a pleasant journey.” I robotically nod a polite ‘thank-you’ and quickly disappear into the passageway.

I board the half-empty plane and recline into my economy-class aisle seat. I check to see if the complimentary magazine and laminated safety instructions are safely tucked away into their seat-pouch. They are. They will remain unopened and unread for the remainder of the flight. My tray however will be opened and closed no less than 14 times. The person sitting beside me affirms that he wants nothing to do with anybody and feigns sleep. His headphones convincingly mask his ear-drums, even though they are currently disconnected from his mp3 player. Across the aisle within reaching space, sits the nervous mother with her no longer wrapped-up-baby – a lucky baby who is given permission to take in whiffs of fresh airplane air and the sight of me – curiously staring back.

The pre-flight safety demonstration begins at the far end of the aisle. I sink further into my seat and play with the currently-inert remote control. Why can’t I fast forward myself ‘till after take-off, like I do with boring bits in a movie?

After a brief interlude I find myself soaring above the clouds. A wealth of rhetorical flourishes race through my mind and invite me to partake in this visual feast.

Goodbye Melbourne. The sun winks back at me.

Intertwined fingers

For Liya

Inspired by the Negev desert at night

Intertwined fingers painted in the sky,

A perfection constellation of stars floating by.

The pale moon now holds its ghostly gaze,

As the lifeless as the desert terrain denuded in the haze.

 

I breathe in the icy-invisible air that extends into space,

My heart skips a beat and then increases pace.

The stars seem to realign with my fingers as I trace,

Into the night sky your kind and familiar face

 

You may not be here, but I feel you close,

Another beating heart, the one I feel for most,

A soft hum, I imagine you roll over to your side

The quiet panter of your sleeping breath throws me into a glide

 

Distant snow-capped mountains bring an abrupt end to the moonlight plateau

As I observe the beauty of the night, my only wish is to be here with you.

The sound of footsteps returns me to reality – to this place

But when I return my eyes to the twinkling stars,

I only feel your warm embrace

Coping and succeeding in high pressure situations

Note: The following piece was written over a year-and-a-half ago and may or may not reflect the author’s current view

So I have a problem, probably the longest lasting most serious personality related problem that affects me in the army. When I find myself in a high-pressure or stressful situation, everything seems to break down. I lose control of my ‘excitement/anxiety gauge’. I become reckless. My mind races at a million miles an hour, and I find it difficult to focus. I become irrational. The initial excitement turns into dread, as I come to the realization the ‘this is real’, I’m to blame, and its only up to me to salvage the situation.

My mind speeds and works overtime. My body slow down, my responses less-sharp. I broadcast stress and anxiety, and give off the feeling that ‘everything is lost’, the situation is doomed and other extreme and unhelpful comments. Time seems to fly – indeed loses all meaning – and I feel stuck in motion like a swimmer battling against the stream without progress.

So why am I like this and what can I do to improve?

First of all, most of the time I do feel as if I’m calm, in control and rational. Indeed I try, in public, to give off a cool, suave impression – as if playing some James-bond style alter ego. But in truth I’m anything but, and that all has to change.

I think my problem stems from lack of “personal-framework,” a clear order in my mind of what needs to be done, and an inability to see the bigger picture. I find that many times I find myself in these situations when I’m in a leadership position, or when others are dependent on the performance and ultimate success of my actions. Exhibited emotions include anxiety, stress, a feeling of being overwhelmed and hyper-excitement. It’s as if a valve shuts off in my brain and prevents me from thinking rationally. The worst part is that most of the time I am unaware that I’ve descend into this self-destructive cycle, and as a result it only worsens – with the beating tick of the seconds handle.

So what practical steps do I take to alleviate and prevent such situations in the future? What do I do to minimize and even eradicate this flaw in my personality?

The first step of course, is awareness of the problem, and acknowledgment that it is harming me in the army, and even in the long term. If I do not battle this problem now with all my might, who knows how it will develop in the future?

The next step is to realize that during the ‘high-pressure situation’ that I’m in a ‘high-pressure situation.’ When I find that things are getting out of control, I need to mentally tell myself that now of all times I have to slow down a notch and acquire clarity. This is the most difficult of all, because it requires me – under severe constrains – to stop everything, whilst the clock is ticking and make sense of it all in my head.

Even if it holds everybody up.

Even if there is ‘no time.’

Even if stopping now means that I broadcast that I have lost control of the situation.

This is the most critical stage. I must learn to stop everything – pause time. Ignore the chaos around me, and take a breath.

Ask myself gently like a father asks his young son:

“What’s the problem my dear boy?”

“Well is it really such a big problem, or are you blowing it out of proportion?”

“Can you fix it? Or is there another way?”

“What about the importance of the issue> i.e. the biiger picture?

Problem -> solution(s) -> course of action.

It’s simple really. And it makes a lot of sense. All I have to do is to force myself to stop, and to analyse the situation rationally from the outside.

And of course, as mentioned earlier – to take, a, breath……