Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong
Sometimes the View is Better From Upside Down
Personal Essay & Memoir
Sometimes the View is Better From Upside Down
The time had come. I was sixteen and a month or so when my draft letter arrived from the Israeli military. I was less than excited. I knew that as an Israeli citizen, I would be serving mandatory military service when I turned eighteen. What I didn't know, however, is that when a citizen is sixteen, they receive the initial draft notice, and are scheduled to take a proficiency test, with both physical and mental aspects. Why my father had not mentioned this important part of the process until he handed me the yellow envelope and brochure, I still don't know. All I know is that immediately after receiving the package, I was distraught, unprepared, and scared. I hadn't planned on going to the military at all. My father had always assured me that there was a way to evade service. I had always assumed that I would never have to go. However, though there are ways to defer service with a medical examination, psychological evaluation, or religious exemption, I knew I did not qualify for any of these options. I could postpone service, but not defer completely. How bizarre is it that I, an American citizen who has never lived in Israel, would be forced to risk my life in a foreign country?
For a few days, my world was turned upside down. Everything I had thought I knew about my future was disrupted. I mentally spiraled, thinking of all the ways I could die in the military, or be forced to kill others. I thought of how, if I came back to the U.S. for college, I would be at least 3 years older than the rest of my peers and much more mature, with unknowable effects on my psyche. I thought about how complicated it would be to apply to colleges, saying that there would be a two or even three year gap period. So, I did what I usually do when I'm stressed about the unknown: I researched. Several hours and numerous tabs later, I found that military service actually wasn't so bad after all. It was exciting, even.
The more I researched, the more I discovered how beneficial military service would be for me. I would be able to develop friendships that would be different from friendships developed anywhere else. Similar to the U.S. military, I could potentially receive a free college education in exchange for service. If I scored well enough on the entrance exam, I could even become a medic in the military, which greatly appeals to me. I would have to learn Hebrew fluently, which is a difficult but meaningful task, and I would potentially learn Arabic as well as it is also a commonly spoken language in the Israeli army. This is something that I found intriguing; language and literature have always interested me, and I would love to be fluent in more than one language. Little by little, the benefits were making themselves clear. I started searching for where I would fit in that world, and I found many different sections of the military that were interesting and related to my passions. I would be able to learn a lot, be challenged in several ways. There would be consequences, but I would become stronger and more certain of myself because of them. And I would be able to do it all while protecting a country that I care about deeply as it is a part of my heritage.
Since I haven't had the personal experience of actually being in the military, I cannot say for certain that it is a good thing, or that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. But I can say without a doubt that I became a better version of myself after going through this short experience. Researching calmed me down, and I was able to focus on the details more. I realized how I fit into this new chapter of my life. It's a very liberating experience, getting to know yourself. I don't mean that I believe everyone should have to freak out about a draft letter coming sooner than they expect. I mean to say that I believe that it is important to take a moment and truly look at yourself, your personality, your desires. To put yourself in an entirely new situation, away from school and extracurricular activities.
All it took was a few sentences printed out on a yellow piece of paper and I was reevaluating my life, my goals, my values, everything that was a part of me at that point. I learned more about myself as a person in the few weeks that it took for me to accept this new path in my life than I had throughout all of sophomore year.
I'm not necessarily recommending mandatory military service. I am merely stating that to face this sort of responsibility is to face yourself, and to learn more about your own purpose and function. If I had been living in Israel, I would have taken the exam already, maybe even known where I would be placed in the army. For better or worse, I was given the opportunity to choose when to serve my time; a choice suddenly brought upon me with haste, and one that forced me to decide quickly. This opportunity, this choice that made me absolutely bonkers for a few sleepless nights, is one that I am grateful for because it allowed me to explore who I really am and how I currently fit into the world.
I can only hope that you, too, can find a new path to go down, some new experience that will test your sense of self. Whether it be dropped upon you from out of nowhere or specifically chosen by you, take advantage of the ability to put your values to the test. You will be stronger for it.