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A Shot in the Air

By Paula Stern
9/22/2009, 12:00 AM
Sometimes, you measure your progress in milestones, ones you knew would come but forgot you were expecting. Actually, in all likelihood, this latest milestone has come and gone (I'll have to ask), but this is the first time I'm hearing about it, so it is new to me.

I drove Elie to my office today, there to wait an hour until he could catch a bus to his base. He surfed the Internet and played games at the table in my office; I sat behind my desk answering emails and planning my week. It was quiet, but pleasant as the moments ticked away. We'd talked quite a bit over the long holiday weekend; sometimes the quiet is a comfort.

Too often on this winding street where my offices have been for the last few years, we hear a screech of brakes and wait. Sometimes we hear a thud; sometimes we don't.

Today we heard a thud, both going quickly to the windows that overlook the street. We saw a woman with her hands held to her head, obviously distressed, run around the car. She got into the driver's seat and sat there. She was fine. No injuries; but clearly she was upset and from all that we could see, it was her fault.

We looked to the second car and at the people around the street. No one seemed concerned; no one was racing to help; I could tell that Elie was trying to determine whether there was anyone injured. The other car door opened and a man stepped out. No injuries, a fender bender.

Elie stayed with me as we watched. The woman got out of the car, walked across the street...and put on her shoes that were on the sidewalk. Huh?

So, the best we could figure was that the woman had pulled up to the curb to buy something in the coffee shop on the ground floor of our building. She must have forgotten to put the car in park (did I mention that my street is a hill, gently sloped?). We assume her car began to roll backwards; she watched in horror as it slammed into the back of a car that had just passed in the opposite lane. In her haste to get to her car, she must have kicked off her open sandals. A mystery solved - not even 9:00 in the morning.

They exchanged information; the excitement was over, thankfully, no one was injured. Back to the computers for a few more minutes. All too soon, it was time for Elie to leave.

He picked up his heavy backpack and swung it onto his back. Without thought, I leaned over and picked up his gun to hand to him. It seemed silly for him to bend with the heavy backpack on his back.

"You aren't scared to hold it anymore?", he asked, clearly amused.

"Well, it's not like I'm firing it," I answered back.

"Not like me last week, huh?"

Okay, this was new. We'd just spent the last four days together and I hadn't heard anything. As calmly as I could, I asked him to explain. No big deal, an ordinary event, Elie said. Too ordinary, too common. An Arab approached the checkpoint and was asked for his identification. He handed it over and it was clear that it wasn't his; he'd stolen it and was trying to cross into Israel illegally for purposes unknown. It could have been to work...it could have been to steal, to harm, to kill. At that moment, it was anyone's guess...and you don't risk people's lives on a guess.

When the soldiers began to question him, the Arab took off. There are clear instructions on what to do in this instance...and who is to do it. Elie was the senior commanding officer at the checkpoint. He raised his gun, cocked it loudly, called out demanding the Arab stop, and then fired in the air. In the split second before the Arab stopped, Elie had already taken aim at the man's legs.

Thankfully for all sides, the man stopped and was arrested. My son shot in the air; as he was trained. That he was prepared to fire goes without saying. After two years in the army, my son is a soldier.

For a while now, I've viewed this soldier's parenting business much as a roller coaster. I can feel the times when I know I am climbing up this big hill, certain there is a fall ahead of me. I didn't know about the fall that comes after the climb at the beginning; the fall is that plunging fear that steals your sleep and leaves you wanting to cry. At first, I thought it was all about climbing, and learning, and then flat areas of calm and adjustment.

After the first few plunges, I realized this army thing was very much a roller coaster, each fall different in length and severity. There are great highs...not all followed by the fall, and sometimes, you can fall, even from the flat area of the roller coaster (which technically shouldn't be possible if you were following this analogy, but there you go).

Gaza was the greatest plunge for me, the deepest and the longest...and yet, I'd been in this wonderful flat zone until Elie called to tell me that where he was (in the center of the country) isn't where he would likely be in a few hours. That began my fall and it pretty much continued for the next several weeks.

Since the Gaza War ended, the last few months have been very much in the flat zone. I have even been playing with the idea that maybe I've passed my last plunge with Elie. Today wasn't a plunge - after all, no one was hurt; a warning shot was fired in the air. Nothing happened...except my son raised a weapon and fired it.

I guess it's a relatively new sensation - maybe I'll call it a hiccup. A little bump up and back into flat mode. Yes, that's it...today, I experienced a hiccup.

Later in the day, my middle son called to tell me that a boy Elie had known for the last few years had been killed in a traffic accident. He had crossed a road last night and a car hit him; the funeral was today. Shmulik went - he was friend's with Elyassaf's brother.

A bump, a plunge, a climb, a flat zone, and a hiccup - I'll take them all and pray my sons and daughters remain safe.

May God bless Elyassaf and send comfort to his family. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they know no more sorrow.