Saturday, December 12, 2009

What It Means To Be A Workaholic

"I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality." Martin Luther King, JR.

Having almost a week off from the army sounds like some great, wonderful vacation. A whole week off from waking up early after getting just a couple hours of sleep. No 80 pounds of bulletproof armor, heavy night vision gear, and bulky combat vests. That constant companion, your assault rifle, finally finds its spot in your closet. Instead of a sweatshirt over your gun, you actually get to sleep with a pillow! And of course, the best bit of being away from the army: doing whatever the hell you want.

For weeks I was salivating over what I'd do during the 6 days we were to receive. Maybe I'd go out to Tel Aviv and call up some friends. Or I'd even go somewhere like Tiberias, and the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), rent a nice hotel room, and spend my time looking out at that enchanting blue lake. There were many options, but the best one I could think of was the easiest. Just do nothing. Relax. Let that angry shoulder heal up. Catch up on sleep. Knock out some needed blog posts. You get the picture.

But here I am, sitting on my laptop at midnight, the night before I go back to the army. I wrote none of those blog posts I meant to. I slept crazy hours, like 5am to 7, woke up and played on the computer for 30 minutes, and finally went back to sleep 'til 12. I ran three times on the crazy Jerusalem hills, essentially making myself feel asthmatic and out of shape. And my shoulder still kills.

I realized last night, while explaining my frustration to a friend, that I am addicted to the army. A year and two months have passed, and it's still the only thing I get excited about. I get excited about the stupidest stuff, like shooting a machine gun. I love getting to a guard post, placing my helmet to the side, and radioing in to HQ for a sound check. The crackle of the incoming reception, radio waves bouncing all through my head and vibrating my bones, followed by an unexpectedly loud, muffled voice coming from a mouth too close to the receiver...

Crackle. Hiss. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. "Guard Post, this is HQ. Copy that sound check."

I am addicted to that positive confirmation. I am addicted to the code words we have to use. I feel like a little kid when I hear one of my friends on the radio, talking to someone important or HQ. With my index finger on the transmit button, I'm just waiting, tapping my boot toes all the while, for my chance to ask my buddy how it's going.

"Guard Post Ari, this is Guard Post Danny."

"Danny, what's up?"

"Hey man! It's cool out here, just hanging out, you know?"

And more than all the silliness on the radio, which inevitably evokes the anger of some officer, and is just a stupid little example, I am addicted to the army life. Even if we're doing nothing but guard posts on base, which is fairly worthless and extremely boring, I am always excited to start my day. No matter how many hours of sleep I may or may not have gotten, I pop right out of bed when that magic minute comes (7:45, not 7:46). I sit up, jump out of my bed, get dressed, put my shoes on the same way every time, grab my toiletries bag, and head to the bathroom. Toilet; wash hands; brush teeth; shave; wash face; flex in the mirror while hoping no one notices.

Every single damn morning. No different. No less and no more. A routine, fixed and set, just as you'd expect from the army. I start the day feeling like a grownup, and more importantly, like a responsible one. An adult with a real purpose in life. Clean shaven and uniformed, I am Superman.

And so, trying to get back to the point, which I feel I lost a long time ago - or maybe never even had in the first place - I am addicted to the army. Being in the civilian world for so many days and feeling the way I do at the end of it all, I am fully able to realize just how much I enjoy that other world. Let me try to explain with one example, as I am becoming increasingly frustrated at how difficult it is to articulate these thoughts.

Earlier today I was standing next to my bed, gazing out the window towards the east. Sprouting up through the maze of apartment and hotel towers were construction cranes lowering metal beams and stacks of Jerusalem stones onto skeletal buildings. Palestinian migrant workers were laboring diligently, building towers for rich Jews from all over the world. An Arab man was welding some metal, throwing sparks in the sky.

And far in the distance, deep in the background of this cozy civilian existence, I could clearly make out the "separation barrier" between the West Bank and Israel proper. From my expensive apartment in one of Jerusalem's best neighborhoods, from my private room with my Winnie the Pooh blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I studied the barricade between here and there.

With my forehead resting against the glass pane, I felt a craving for the other side. I need to be back in the operating area. Maybe I'm addicted to the adrenaline of popping out of an armored Jeep. Do you know how ******* intense it is on the ride over to a terror operative's house before you arrest him? Or a foot patrol with one hand on the charging handle of your gun, and your eyes moving like a Meth freak's from window to window? I don't know which drugs give you a rush like any of the regular activities of the army, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that some soldiers turn to them after the army.

Staring out at the separation barrier didn't simply elicit a hunger for action. What it really made me think of was how nice and pleasant our life is here on the good side. And how much work there is to be done on the other side. That work, the daily patrols and guard posts and checkpoints, all of that is what I am addicted to. I am an army workaholic. Coming 7,000 miles in order to "protect Israel" certainly doesn't sound very realistic, but even after a decent amount of time in the service, I still wake up every day thinking that I have a chance to help that day.

Each and every morning I feel this extreme sense of meaning, a certain voice in my head that tells me to continue despite the exhaustion, the aches and pains, and the annoyance of being controlled like a dog. When I look in the mirror in the army, I see a man who knows what he wants, and who knows what he does for a living. I see a man who is proud, who never feels awkward or shy. I see pride and strength. And most importantly, I feel content. Fulfilled.

I've never felt like that outside of the army. In college I was nervous and agitated, unsure of myself, and very shy. Awkwardness became a part of my daily experience. I covered all of that with being talkative, and learning how to make others laugh. And from that falsity I lost self-respect, and pride. In the civilian world, worst of all, I never felt satisfaction and meaning in my endeavors. I simply survived. A man? Ha! I never felt like a man before.

But now that I do something that I believe in to the bottom of my soul, something that I have given my entire life to, made peace with myself and my mortality, and long ago left the gates of comfort, security, and peace, I naturally and genuinely call myself a man. Boys do not stand up and give themselves over to a cause greater than their own lives.

As much as I enjoyed seeing friends, and eating pizza, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, juicy hamburgers, Mac & Cheese, massive delicatessen sandwiches, and my flatmate's unreal homemade pastries, I'm ready to start my day with the hope that it will be even more meaningful than the day that proceeded it. I don't mind eating the same army crap every day, as long as they let me serve my country - and my people. This domestic, civilian world is beautiful, and it is meant to be lived. Unfortunately, however, there are those of us that have to protect it daily.

All my life I've been told that I am idealistic, and that that ideology is wonderful, but it is the domain of the youth. I am now 25, and I have never been more driven, severe, and single-minded in my life. I see no end to it, though the army will end for me soon enough. When will this ideology wear down? I have seen the good and the bad, moral and immoral, scary and scarier - I am not naive. When will I relax and accept the simple life, that of working and moving along in a quiet life like everyone else? Why does that sound terrifying to me, when entering Gaza and seeing Hamas' hideous face seem only necessary and natural?

I am addicted to the soldier's life, and I would not have it any other way.


Eli said...

This post is exciting for me because I hope to get out of my upcoming army experience what you are describing is happening to you, that is, a sense of purpose.

Have you seen the movie The Hurt Locker? It's about an American soldier in Iraq who is addicted to war. Your post reminded me of that.

"The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." -Chris Hedges

Good luck and I'm glad to hear you feel happy with your service.

inkstainedhands said...

That was a beautiful post... Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the army with us.

Anonymous said...

Phenomenal post - Nameless commentator

Anonymous said...

your insight about the army is very well written and I can see you write from the heart. Be safe, Happy CHanukah.

Anonymous said...

maybe you should look into making the army a career?

DanielC said...

hppy chanukah
great post, as usual. This is the reason i'm joining the army, to give back and work for a cause greater than my own life.

you ain't a workaholic, buddy. workaholics work for themselves. youre a jew-warrior, a macabee, working for holyland and holynation.

should we take this post as a hint that you're not leaving the army in April?

Anonymous said...

wow! on a scale of 1-10 i rate this 15!!!!!
Great Post!
Happy Chanukah, be safe

CanMan said...

so you signing קבע
after your "sadir" is up?

anyways this post is awesome gives you "ra'al" and motivation

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. You sound like I did some 25 years ago! I too, left my comfortable life in "Chul" and joined the army. Best thing I ever did. Thank G-d I've found a job where I still get to serve "Am Yisrael" but I regret not doing "K'tzinim". Think about it. You already have your B.A. An M.A. and real life can wait. You have much to contribute. Keep it up!

d-rose said...

i have to add to this quickly-building comment section....truly an incredible post.

im happy that the army gives you this feeling of fulfillment - i'm still in search of my own path. I hope your experiences help you find your right career later on.

Happy Chanukkah Danny.

Ami Vider said...

They use to say that for a year soldiers walk around in a daze. That is why some have taken to the obligatory backpack trip to an exotic country. I have seen a few people get out of fighting units and just "hang out" until their mind settles down and they can figure out what is next for them. I am not sure if this is so different than working on an assembly line or a regimented office environment.

Good writing, keep in coming. If you want the "boring, quiet" life in Tel Aviv:

SingleGirl said...

Great post Dan - 2 people told me what a great post it was before I had even read it - i can feel the emotion you were feeling writing this!

Israeli by Day said...

thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments! To be honest, I was a little surprised getting so many (also in facebook and on the phone). I don't really like this post, since it was so difficult for me to write it! It was one of my more forced posts. But I felt strongly at the time quite a bit of anxiety or uneasiness, and had to write something. Its nice knowing it came out somewhat readable!

Thanks again. Debbie - I ate like 5 of those things you made, and would have had more but didn't want to be a pig. Delicious.

Aviv said...

It doesn't read forced at all.

And it's a post any of your commanders would be delighted to know a soldier of theirs wrote. (But they probably have a good idea of your ra'al already).

The only downside I can see in your becoming an officer - Eventually you'll have to command soldiers who aren't as motivated as you.

pap said...

Structure & purpose are focusing factors the human mind relishes to help generate higher level accomplishments. The army furnishes structure with a capital STRUCTURE. An army's mission also provides some purpose, but the true purpose comes from the individual. Structure & altruistic purpose generate the greatest accomplishments. Later in life, after the youthful intensity of the army experience, there is room for personal structure & altruistic purpose that makes for a laudable life anyone could be proud to live. You are well on your way.

Ruanne said...

It is addictive isn't it?

d-rose said...

ive been reading about some arrests made in the West Bank - what's the gossip over there Danny?

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THIS POST! Thank YOU FOR DEFINIING what it means to live out passionately for what a person who "just wouldn't have it any other way" on doing what they like to do. =D Blessings and peace to you. =)

Jacob B said...

Yo, definitely one of your best posts. Keep up the good work and great blogging.