It’s not possible to fully appreciate what we have before it’s taken away. Certainly, we might have gratitude for the goodness in our lives. Of course, we might give thanks for our abundance. Yet, it is not within human ken to be entirely able, in this world, to realize the value of our Blessings.
A few months ago, my husband and our oldest son got into our car and drove away. They traveled for hours to a hesder yeshiva more than two hundred miles from our home. They traveled not only along the length of our nation, but also along the length of a soul. Our child was moving on.
It is not so much that becoming an adult means giving up juvenile pleasures like play; adults make music, art, and theatre. We like to laugh. It is not so much that getting older means becoming overwrought with responsibilities; adults have more freedoms than do children. Rather, it is, that during a transitional span, one passage ends in order for another one to open.
For the next five years, our oldest son will be focusing on learning Torah, serving in the Israeli Defense Force, and then focusing once more on learning Torah. Initially, his longest breaks will be three weeks in duration. Thereafter, it is likely that the largest blocks of time, during which he visits us, will be whichever handful of days surrounds his older sister’s wedding (meanwhile, she has yet to find her beshert). The former will take and has taken place around Mo’ed Sukkot, Mo’ed Pesach and during the summer. The latter is according to Hashem’s scheduled.
Whereas our boy can always come home again, per se, each time he retraces his route, we will be receiving a new young man. I believe that our beloved will remain the soft spoken, passionately loyal being that he was when he left our domain. I also believe that his depth of Torah and his experience of harsh realities will necessarily alter him.
He knows this truth, as do I. Both of us were in tears when he stepped beyond our family’s threshold.
Mind you, this kid is no pushover. He knows the history and make of war machines of several lands. His imaginary creature of choice is a mature Komodo dragon. He is trained in mixed martial arts, and can, accordingly, b’ayin tova, execute literally lethal moves. What’s more, he plays bass (!)
And yet, this young man was raised in a home that values tenderness and respect, in a family that tries to respond to life’s challenges with sensitivity, under the tutelage of parents who work to provide their children with consistent loving care. Thus, no one among us was surprised when our bucher took to the road grieving his loss of certain physical and emotional safeties. Thus, no one among us was surprised when, upon watching him leave, I was filled with grief about having lost my ability to shelter him.
It’s not so much which schools this would-be scholar warrior attended before moving on, what he earned on standardized tests or in classes before this nexus, or how much mastery he achieved in arts or sciences before he reached this medraga. That our cherished child formerly trashed his room by strewing his floor with piles of interlocking building materials, too, is of small relevance.
Unquestionably, my husband and I recall more than his childhood toys. We remember him insisting on nursing when and as long as he wanted to, when he was an infant. We remember his angelic, white-blond hair, when he was a toddler. We remember his preschool needs to dig in the dirt and to play, on a carved flute, the music of trains. We remember, too, that in kindergarten he liked math puzzles and made friends with the entire array of his classmates.
For this young man, the one sent to the hills to learn Torah and combat training, elementary school was all about Navi, Gemara Club, and science experiments. Free time meant jumping from one staircase landing to another, without gripping banisters, and meant otherwise testing the structural limits of our century-old house.
By the time this son hit adolescence, our family was on a plane heading for Israel. As a fairly new oleh, he read his Bar Mitzvah parsha at the Kotel. Here, in the Old World, as was true there, in the New World, this son liked walking with his father to shul.
As per his siblings, he bonded with them, albeit in ways confounding to his parents. One sister he tormented, just a little, another he raced through books or along park avenues. His younger brother was almost always, pillow fights, “ninja” attacks and the like excepted, the object of his gentle affections.
Despite all of the above, the day arrived when he became taller than his father and a better chess player than his mother. High school graduation, too, came much too soon.
The intervening summer, the one between requisite education and hesder, was one of brooding, of reflecting, and of denial. The season of his childhood was not, in his mind, meant to end.
Nonetheless, this soon-to-be gunslinging talmid chose a school a great distance from home, knowing in the secret wisdom of his soul, that the rabbis there would become his allies in elevation and that the other young men there would become his lifetime friends.
He chose well.
Before Older Dude left our home, he asked me to speak, to him, not of our shared past, not of our probable futures, and not of our mutual imaginary friends, but of the present. I had little to offer. My deep inhalations and exhalations were all I could summon; we were sending him into the world young and expecting him to return fully fledged.
He hugged me, anyway. My maternal heart washed with loss and hope. His filial heart filled with the same.