Friday, May 21, 2010

A Birthday Release

The day after tomorrow I will be twenty-five. This is a good age, the "prime of life." It is once again a time of decision for me, I have decided I would like to be a company commander (mem"pei). The problems are how, where, when, under what conditions...I don’t feel like I am aging, the fact that I will finish my next position at age 26 or 27 is not worrisome. I am pleased that-
From the unfinished, final letter, dated 13 September 1987, of Alex Singer, an American lone soldier who was killed in Lebanon shortly after his 25th birthday.

I cried on my birthday. Cried like I have not cried in years. Cried as if every emotion that has been locked up inside of me for the last year and then some had been converted to water and was pouring down my cheeks like Niagara Falls. And after all that crying? I was horribly dehydrated. But first, some back-story.

Before the back-story, at the end of this post I added the ode a wonderful friend sent me for my birthday. So skip down below if you'd like to read his trippy lyrics and avoid my birthday melodrama.

My twenty-fifth birthday was to occur in my kibbutz home in the company of my garin. Friday May 14 marked a Garin Shabbat, the twice a year event when every member of my garin is released from the army in order to allow us to share a rare shabbat together on kibbutz. The day before the expected release, my commander asked me if I really wished to attend the garin event, bearing in mind I would miss military activities scheduled for Friday morning and Saturday night. Before reminding me that the decision was mine to make, he added that in his opinion it would be a pity for me to miss the training. Inwardly I was torn between not wanting to miss out on the garin or military activities. While one internal voice reminded me that the military should always take priority over my garin (after all, I joined Garin Tzabar largely for what it could add, not detract, from my military service), my decision had in fact already been made. There was no way I would act contrary to the implied directive of my commander that I stay. And so I assured him I wished to follow what he thought was in my best interest and remain in the army for the weekend.

My decision made, Friday May 14 passed very quickly. Beyond hoping my commander would grant the religious soldiers ample time to use our cellphones before shabbat, I was at ease with spending the dawn of my 25th year in uniform. At ease, that is, until my commander ripped into me shortly before shabbat. For five minutes he personally criticized me for failing to live up to standards in the inspection he had just concluded of our team's gear. I was willing to accept his decision to single me out for criticism, despite the public disappointment he had just voiced with nearly everyone. What really got to me, however, was that he allowed me no space to respond as he tore me apart. As fair as most of his criticisms were, the inability to voice what I thought set off a domino impact within me. When he was finished with me, I turned away filled with anger. The anger was largely irrational, yet it was pure anger all the same.

Following the regular end of the week group discussion, time was finally granted for the religious guys to use their phones. A dozen minutes, yippee ki yay. I slipped a call to my garin coordinator, ending the mournful conversation by confessing how disappointed I was that my officer had not granted me enough time to speak with my parents on my birthday.

And that is when they came. The tears. By the hundreds. Every tear bringing their entire extended family of tears along for the ride. It was as if the irrational anger I had felt earlier had kicked in a door I have kept locked within me through my service. A room where I keep all the frustration that comes with not being understood and being unable to communicate as I would like to with my officers and peers. A room that has never seen the light of day. Until today. Until now.

Minutes before shabbat, my parents suddenly called. I forced myself to get it together and managed a few sentences before telling them I needed a moment. Putting the phone aside, the tears came rushing back. Clearly, they were not done with me, nor was I done with them. When I got back on the phone, my parents could tell something very strange was going on. But time had run out and I had to hang-up, running off to the start of what I hoped would be a restful and reflective shabbat. The ironic coda to the weekend is that I was horribly dehydrated all shabbat afternoon, burdened by a painful headache and general lethargy the likes of which I only remember from the very worst of hangovers. Whether the tears were the release I secretly needed, I cannot say for sure. But they provided me with a link to my quarter-century birthday I will not soon forget.

The following week my commander, per his custom, gave me a book as birthday present. Per my own custom to give gifts to others on my birthday, I had asked a friend to buy a book I intended to give to my fellow soldiers. Ironically, the very book I had intended to give was what I found waiting on my bed from my commander: Alex Singer: Building A Life in the new Hebrew translation! The gift was all the more timely considering what Alex wrote in his final letter (excerpted above), providing an unexpected link between our twenty-fifth birthdays.

A friend's Birthday Ode

Yes, he's the man we all know best,
With Chinese books clutched to his chest,
Now passing yet another test
Of quite a different kind...

This story starts a year ago,
At a marathon, we watched him go
Back and forth until, you know,
He only came in third...

He spent six weeks in Syr-ia,
Eluding capture, this Kshatriya!
Now he rocks the cafeter-ia -
Which has the better hummus?

Undaunted, our man bravely rose
Between the bird and cat he chose,
Neither would give him much repose,
Or even a weekend off...

Far gone is that day, I mutter,
When Sammy lay down in the gutter
His lips gushing wine like water
To Avital's delight...

Yes, now he has gone off to fight
Carrying stretchers late at night;
Unto the nations, he's a light
And to those he left behind...

Like a Swedish heart that sings sad songs
And with the northern lights belongs;
No worries, though, he's still a Chong!
(i.e. he's still got time...)

A man appearances cannot rile:
His Facebook pic - oh, it's been a while!
Marching to his own tough style,
He'll never wash his kippa.

So I suggest we all call out,
On behalf of he that we here tout,
For a mighty, cross-border shout
Of shēngrì kuàilè!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Sammy,

    That was a beautifully written post.
    Happy belated birthday!