A Father's Ode to His Lost Son

Sunday, August 27, 2006

David Grossman, a leading Israeli novelist and peace activist, lost his soldier-son, Uri, earlier this month. Uri was serving on the front lines in Lebanon and was killed two days before the U.N.-brokered cease-fire. He died two weeks before his 21st birthday. His father delivered these remarks at his funeral on Aug. 16.

My Dearest Uri,

For the last three days, almost every thought has had a "won't" in it. He won't come home, we won't talk, we won't laugh. That boy with the ironic gaze and the awesome sense of humor won't be anymore. That young man with the wisdom so much more profound than his age won't be anymore. That warm smile and that healthy appetite won't be anymore, that uncommon combination of determination and tenderness won't be anymore, his common sense and discernment won't be anymore. We won't have Uri's infinite gentleness, nor the calm that steadies every storm. We won't watch "The Simpsons" and "Seinfeld" together anymore, we won't listen to Johnny Cash with you, and we won't feel your strong, soothing embrace. We won't see you walking with your big brother, Yonatan, conversing with exuberant gestures, and we won't see you hug your little sister, Ruti, the love of your heart.

Uri, my beloved:

Throughout your brief life we all learned from you. From your strength and your determination to follow your own path. To follow it even if there is no chance at all of succeeding. We marveled at your battle to get accepted into tank commanders' course. You didn't give in to your officers because you knew that you could be a good commander, and you weren't prepared to make do with contributing less than you were able. And when you succeeded, I thought: Here's a man who knows his abilities in such a simple and sober way. Without conceit and without arrogance. Unaffected by what others say about him. Whose source of strength lies within.

You were like that from childhood. A boy who lives in harmony with himself and with those around him. A boy who knows his place, knows that he is loved, is aware of his limitations, and knows what's special about him. And, really, from the moment you bent the entire army to your will and became a commander, it was clear what kind of commander and human being you would be. Today, we hear from your comrades and soldiers about the sergeant and the friend, about the guy who gets up before everyone to organize everything, and who goes to sleep after everyone else has already dozed off.

And yesterday, at midnight, I looked around the house, which was a mess after the hundreds of people who had come to console us, and I said: Okay, now we need Uri, to help put things straight.

You were the left-winger in your battalion, and they respected you, because you held fast to your opinions without dodging a single one of your military responsibilities. I remember you telling me about your roadblock policy -- you spent a lot of time manning roadblocks in the territories. You said that if there is a child in a car you pull over, you always begin by trying to calm the kid down, to make him laugh. That you always remind yourself that the kid is about Ruti's age. And you'd always remind yourself how frightened he is of you. And how much he hates you, and that he has reasons for that, and still, you will do all you can to make that terrifying moment easier for him, while doing your job, without fudging.

When you went to Lebanon, Mom said that the thing that most scared her was your volunteer complex. We were very frightened that if someone had to run to save a wounded man, you'd charge straight into enemy gunfire, and that you'd be the first to volunteer to bring more ammunition. That's the way you were your whole life, at home and in school, and in the army. You willingly gave up your home leave when some other soldier needed it more than you did. You'd do the same in Lebanon, in the war.

You were my son and my friend. You were the same for your mother. Our souls are intertwined with yours. You were at one with yourself, a person it was good to be with. I'm not even able to say out loud how much you were someone to run with. Every time you came home on leave you'd say, "Dad, let's talk," and we'd go out together, usually to a restaurant, and talk. You told me so much, Uri, and it was gratifying to be your confidant. A person like you had chosen me. I remember that once you pondered whether to punish a soldier of yours who had committed a breach of discipline. How you agonized over the decision, knowing that a punishment would anger your men and enrage the other commanders, who were more lenient than you were regarding certain violations. And, in fact, you paid a heavy social price when you decided to impose the punishment. But that incident later became one of your battalion's foundation stories, and established a standard of behavior and of adherence to the rules. On your last visit home you related, with your bashful pride, how the battalion commander, in his talk to the unit's new officers and sergeants, referred to your resolute decision as exemplary leadership.

You illuminated our lives, Uri. Your mother and I raised you in love. It was so easy to love you with all our hearts, and I know you felt it. Your short life was a good one. I hope that I was a father worthy of such a boy. I know that to be Michal's son is to grow up surrounded by infinite generosity and kindness and love. You received all these, in great abundance, and you knew how to appreciate them, and to be grateful for them, because you didn't take anything you received for granted.

I won't say now anything about the war you were killed in. We, our family, have already lost in this war. The state of Israel will now take stock of itself. We, the family, will withdraw into our pain, surrounded by our good friends, enveloped in the powerful love that we feel today from so many people, most of whom we do not know. I thank them for their support, which is unbounded.

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