Thumbing My Nose at Death on a Bridge of Fire
Towards the end of the 1973 war, my unit was finally deployed. We were assigned to cross a bridge across the Suez Canal and head north towards the revered city of Ismailia. At this point of the war the Egyptian army was highly concerned that if the Israeli Armed Forces crossed the Suez Canal, they would subsequently have a clear path to Egypt’s capital, Cairo. As a result, the Egyptian army was defending the bridge that my unit had been assigned to with all their remaining military might, relying on intense artillery bombardments, air force bombings, and anti-tank guided missiles to deter the incoming Israeli army. When we arrived, Israeli tanks, personal carriers and jeeps were on fire and literally flying off the bridge. It was an intense game of chicken between the Egyptian bombings and the Israeli military engineering unit, which was rapidly rebuilding and repairing the repeatedly hit and damaged bridge. Amazingly they were able to keep rebuilding despite the catastrophic losses they were suffering.
Then, I received my orders: we were commanded to cross this fiery strip and move deeper into Egypt. While the rest of my unit quickly jumped into vehicles and sped as fast as they could into the clouds of smoke that covered the bridge, my recklessness, bravery and perhaps my stupidity spurred my buddy and me to cross this death zone by foot. As fire and metal rained down around our unprotected bodies, we sarcastically argued over who would be the first to die, and who would get to put a wreath on the grave of the other at the prestigious famed national military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Halfway across the bridge I suddenly felt compelled to stop. A strange sense of calm and quiet came over me despite the deafening bombs and missiles exploding all around. Almost engulfed by the chaos and destruction, I looked up at the sky and extended a defiant middle finger to God, a gesture by which I was telling Death, “I do not fear you!”
This attitude of fearlessness towards death, which has harmoniously and consistently coexisted with my deep reverence for life, has revealed itself in multiple ways throughout my life, such as in my predilection for evacuating hospitals against medical advice, diving the magical but lethal Blue Hole, shooting the light bulb, challenge-riding a motorcycle at the Himalayas by 4,000ft drops and many other death-defying ventures. My mother vowed she wanted to ‘die erect,’ so perhaps there’s a strain of this mentality I inherited from her!
Even as I walk, surrounded by flames
On this Bridge of Fire
You, death, will not win!
Though you may try to burn my aching body
You will never singe my soul – my essence
Oh death, You will not defeat me!