Three days. Rumors of my friend's passing have come to rest by a quiet grave outside Beit Shemesh. The last mourners file away, leaving me standing with a small pile of dirt by the valley of Ella, a green swathe of nature cutting across the brown hills like a mystical weapon of old.
Spring is about eternal hope. Wild greens emerging from a worn out winter. Long days encouraging us to step outside. Persephone returning from the underworld. The young lovers of Solomon's Song of Songs dreaming up ever more fruitful metaphors to describe their beloved.
Hope springs eternal. In our minds, at least. In the dreamworld where the rules of time have no sway. Not in the world I know, not in the world where a few months of sunny skies and green lawns are as transient as any work of man. Where winter is coming. Hades awaits. And even the Song of Songs, read according to Jewish tradition every spring, is in fact a heartrending tale of unfulfilled love.
Greek myth and Jewish texts were not on my mind as I paid respect at my friend's final resting place. I simply felt humbled, overwhelmed by the unexplainable loss and the verdant panorama my friend never again will savor. Ella Valley is where David felled Goliath and the legend of a messianic savior was born. The same valley where my friend first cultivated his dream of founding a vineyard in the land of Israel. Ella is a valley of visions birthed beyond easy fulfillment, a magical jade sword just out of reach from the gravestones that surround my friend.
I arrived at the funeral straight from my own field of battle. My unit was in the midst of an extended exercise, conquering hillsides and urban dens over the course of two sleepless nights. The late night fog of war masks more than the surroundings; emotions are set aside, fatigue brushed away while the world sleeps. Only the dawn of day reminds us where we are, waging war in a verdant wonderland, every charge risking the loss of soldiers whose green uniforms will be swallowed by the omnipresence nature.
The mother of my friend shared a memory at the funeral service of one day finding her young son with a small bird in his hands. When questioned, my friend admitted he was not quite sure how to heal the bird's broken wing. But he had no doubt that sheltering the wounded bird in his small hands, sharing a tangible sense of warmth and care, was the right thing to do. Not because he could grant the bird its dearest wish. Simply because in the near time, in the here and now between two souls, tuning in and lending a hand is what we can do in the face of the racing seasons and our humbled dreams.
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