It’s just a street corner. There’s nothing particularly special that separates it from the thousands of others like it throughout Israel. But for one boy, it was different. On that corner, the boy I once was would say goodbye to the girl he once loved on Sunday mornings before he returned to base. As I walk past it now, a wave of nostalgia washes over me, filling my mind with memories – some good and some bad. But then I remind myself- it’s just a street corner.
At the bus station, a soldier fumbles with his ID to show the guard, and suddenly I am thrust backwards in time, and am once again 23 years old with my hastily packed bag thrown over my shoulder, as I struggle to balance it along with my gun and search my pockets for my Military ID to show the guard. When I finally find and produce it, he wishes me a good week, but I barely hear him. My mind is preoccupied – I am nervous for the week to come, as I wonder, as soldiers in basic training, what miserable tortures we will be subjected to this week by our commanders. But as my heart beat quickens, now at 29, I can pause to remind myself: it’s just a bus station.
As I enter the gates of the base, now a reservist, my mind returns to 2012, when we arrived at these same gates. On the base behind them, we prepared for the seemingly imminent ground invasion of Gaza, and excitement, fear, and uncertainty took their turns in our minds and hearts on endless rotation. Again in 2014, I returned to these gates, and brought donations to the soldiers from my old Company. I drove off that night knowing those soldiers, among them my friends, would soon be entering Gaza. I prayed they would all come back safely. Not all of them did.
But for that, there is nothing of which to remind myself that will slow my heart beat, nor fill the gap their absence left in the lives of those who knew them, nor do I want to forget their stories. They live within me, as they live within every Israeli. On every street corner of Israel has crossed a soldier that never returned. Every bus stop remembers a boy in uniform that inexplicably stopped coming on Sunday mornings. Every base has housed soldiers that never came back from missions and wars, their youthful dreams and aspirations forever halted, their friends left to pack up their belongings.
If the street corners of Israel could speak, what stories would they would tell? Of young love? Of shattered dreams? Perhaps of both, but also of the cars and people that pass by them day in and day out, cognizant of the past, but with eyes fixed towards the future.