Saturday night I said goodbye to our soldier son as he went back to his unit. Their training course, which is considered one of the toughest in the IDF, has suddenly become a situation of relative safety. In life, everything is relative: many of his friends are now fighting in Gaza.
That same night the IDF’s first losses were reported and the names of the fallen were published. We were beginning to pay the price of moving from aerial operations to ground battles.
Early the following morning, I did my customary forty laps in our community’s swimming pool. I swam in the right-most lane. One lane to the left of me Yigal was swimming. Yigal is a large man, a strong swimmer. Every day he swims vigorously and steadily for about an hour without stopping.
As I was swimming I was suddenly gripped by terrifying thoughts of our son, my own soldier. Of what might happen to him, and under what circumstances. Of what we would do if, God forbid… I don’t even allow these thoughts to pass my lips, for fear of tempting the evil eye. It was agonizing. I tried to banish them from my mind and just focus on my swimming, but they were persistent and refused to leave. This was not the first time my ruminations have run in this terrible direction, but never before have they been so intense and so tenacious. It was obvious why the thoughts came that particular morning: the news of the fighting in Gaza. But I was at a loss to understand why they were so relentless.
By the end of my swim I had managed to push the thoughts away. Yigal had also finished his swim and he sat on the side of the pool, drank some water and recovered his breath. I wished him good morning and went on my way.
A few hours later, as I was eating lunch at work, my daughter phoned me very upset. “Dad, Oren Noach was killed in Gaza.” My first thought was of his parents, Yigal and Hava, whose lives were shattered and will never be the same. My next thought was of my wife – Hava is Betsy’s friend and student. “Don’t tell Ima,” I said. “I’ll drive over and tell her in person.”
As I drove to Betsy to tell her the terrible news I listened to the radio. The loss of the 13 Golani fighters that morning had not yet been cleared for publication, pending notification of the families, but the rumors were already flying the length and breadth of the country. Suddenly I was horrified, as I realized the connection between the dreadful tidings I was about to deliver to my wife and my terrifying fears of the morning. At the very time I was fending off horrifying thoughts about my own son, in the lane next to me my anxieties were already Yigal’s reality. Swimming along briskly in the left lane, Yigal did not yet know that his son was no longer alive.
The next morning, the second-to-the-right swimming lane was empty.
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, and as Chief Instructor of the Hoshaya Karate Club. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His book “Son of My Land was published in 2013. Sagi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.