A million questions run through my head. Will I stay in this country or will I return – descend to use the Hebrew translation – back to the US? If I descend, will I be a hollow shell of a man, knowing my heart and soul are forever in this land called Israel? Will I be able to adjust back to the American lifestyle? If I stay, is it here on this kibbutz? Or this region? Do I stay on the southern frontier and help fulfill Ben-Gurion’s dream of making the desert bloom? Or do I move to the frontier of the north with its lush green climate and all four seasons but with the unease of less than friendly neighbors? And these are just the questions I’m willing to share! My mind races morning, noon, and night with the more personal issues afflicting my troubled soul.
But then, as the regional bus I’m on waits for the school children to board (no separate school bus system here), I’m taken from my thoughts. One of the older boys needs a seat and it seems all the rows behind me have filled. I move my bag with a bit of agitation. Can’t he see I’m planning what seems like my whole life, right here on this bus? Must I be interrupted? I try to continue with the “what ifs”. But within a minute, I am put in my place. He has received his tzav rishon, his first letter from the military. A right of passage in my new country that is both beautiful (it creates a strong sense of country and also exposes different groups to each other) and terrifyingly necessary (we are, after all, surrounded by countries that have attacked us on multiple occasions).
The girl across the aisle, a friend from his class no doubt, congratulates him. Her eyes are wide and I’m not sure if she is taking the conversation as a chance to admire a long-held crush or if she is imagining her own first letter and the experiences that military service offers the children of this outlying border community. He thanks her and they trade a few brief lines of conversation. But the bus is on the move now and with the way Israelis drive, the only way to sit on any bus is forward. Staying free of motion sickness and your general welfare depend on it. So she settles in, facing forward and turns the chatter off as if it were a light switch.
He settles in too, reading his tzav rishon intently. The letter is filled with so much information. Details on his next 6-10 months before being officially drafted: the dates and times of testing, the general outline of the next 3 and a half years of his life. On one hand, I envy him. He has very little decisions to make himself. But on the other, it is no light matter. Most Israelis understand that the status quo brings about a “military action” every 2 years. And even then, the status quo can only last so long. Will it end in peace or a terrible bloodshed? We can only pray it will be peace.
As he moves from his individual letter to the colorful, generic pamphlet of questions and answers, I notice his mood isn’t that of his female friend across the aisle. He is worried and can’t really hide it.
How strange. Two strangers who were 100% aware of what the road they were travelling held before them. And yet, when he and I each came to our own troubled spots in our respective roads, it takes us off guard.
It is comforting, in a way, to see others around me just as unsure, just as worried about the future we thought we were so prepared for. But the comfort is fleeting. Nothing else to do but to put one step forward. Then repeat. Then repeat. And repeat. Maybe we will be comfortable with were we end up once we get there. And if not? Then repeat. And repeat.