When I was a senior in high school, I remember walking in to school one day and being confronted with the news the one of our class members and a friend of mine, had been killed by a drunk driver. It's hard for a teenager to stare mortality in the face as at that age, you feel invincible which is one of the things that leads to teenagers to do stupid, dangerous things. One of the few ways to get teenagers to pay attention is to slap them in the face with it and that is what something like the death of a friend does. Why it might not last forever, it leaves its mark.
The death of a young person is also a blow to adults. We all know the potential that was stopped, frozen in its tracks. The waste and the loss, while at the same time we thank God it wasn't us.
Recently, my oldest child, my son, was drafted into the Israeli army. Israel has a universal draft for men and women and this is a formative experience for all Israelis. Israel is a small country and even though he drafted into the army on Thursday, he was expected to come home the next morning for the weekend. We woke up early, the whole family going to Jerusalem to drop him off, wave him goodbye and see him tomorrow. The time came, they called his name and he was off, though the door to the bus, holding the candy and a prayer book that had been given to him by the Israeli equivalent of the USO.
I never though I would get into the car and cry or that I would sit the rest of the day in my office with a pit in my stomach. The way I described it to my family and friends was that it was as if the door to his childhood shut closed, never to be reopened. That part of his life and our life as his parents is closed. We are on a different path now, fill a different role and feel a difference in our house.
Yesterday, another key turned in that door, causing it to close even more. A friend of his, a young man who graduated school ahead of him, was killed by a car. This young man was also serving in the army was on his way home for a few days break. As I said, Israel is a small country and the community of English speaking immigrants is even smaller. This young man was friends with my son, his sister with my daughters and many other overlapping circles of our lives.
The army gave my son permission to leave his basic training for the day in order to attend the funeral with his friends. He came home but I didn't see him before he took the train back to his base after the funeral. I didn't get to hold him and comfort him and explain to him about how this all works. I didn't get to fulfill my own urge to touch him to remind myself that he was still alive. I did speak to him after the funeral, when he was on the way back to the army and he sounded drained. This is part that journey to adulthood.
The day my son was drafted, I thought about why it had such an effect on me when I was going to see him the next day. I was reminded of a book by the prize winning Israeli writer, David Grossman, who himself lost a child in the 2nd Lebanon war, titled To the End of the Land. In the book, a mother, who is convinced the army is on her way to inform her of her son's death, takes off on a journey to hike the countryside in the hope that she won't be found and thus, won't be able to hear the news.
I began reading the book, but couldn't finish it. It was too much. Certainly, this is what we all experience as soon as we bring a child into this world. This fear that is mostly pushed to the back of our minds, allowing us to function normally, sometimes surges to the forefront of our thoughts when bad things happen to young people.
There are many things to be scared of these days. Shooters and stabbers in Israel, Paris, San Bernadino. Acts of political violence occuring randomly to try and make you flee to the hills and give up. But, if we allow this fear to paralyze us, we could not function and so we ignore it as much and as often as we can.
The family of this young man (of blessed memory), they don't get the luxury of ignorance, since their most dreaded fear is now their most dreaded reality. We, the lucky ones, only glimpse their pain in the faces of people who have lost someone and hug our loved ones a bit closer before returning to naggin them about putting away their laundry.
So welcome to adulthood, my son. Maybe once in a while you'll still let me hold your hand. You might not need it, but I certainly always will.