A wave of light. Going in, a wave of light. And then, in an explosion of excruciating light, a terrible and horrific wave of darkness.

We're just leaving a meeting at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and my friend says, "I want to introduce you to someone." On the floor for reconstructive surgery I enter a small room. His name is Gal Orr. In Hebrew that means "a wave of light."

He welcomes me, and we talk. I want to know about him. After high school, he says, he started his army service, then squad leader school. Advanced degrees in mid-eastern history and military history. And then platoon captain, in the most excellent Golani brigade.

"I saw in their eyes the sudden realization: this is real."He was offered a challenge—a company in disarray, not well enough trained, and the army was ready to disband them. "Give them to me," Gal said. He taught them, and loved them. "My soldiers," he'd say, always referring to them as his own.

Barely ten months since the start of their training, they were marching into Gaza. Strong, he says, confident, heads touching the sky...and in the first few hours three of them wounded in ambush, among them one of his best friends. "I had a bad feeling," he tells me, "I saw in their eyes the sudden realization: this is real. This is thighs shattered, limbs detached...this is war. And they are children...I saw them scared." His eyes, latched on mine, are wide, "I had a bad feeling."

He is quiet, and I have no words. He lies back on his pillow, closes his eyes...above one brow a deep wound, now healing. His left side is without muscle power from the hip downward, his arm bound with bandages on upper arm, forearm and hand. His right leg is marked with a surgical scar its entire length—thigh to ankle; right arm in a cast with only the fingers visible—thumb, forefinger, space, ring finger and pinky. The medical team had been here earlier, soon they will remove the remainder of the little stump of middle finger, then remove his index finger and transplant it to become a middle finger. Double duty finger. Index finger transformed to middle finger. Will the former index finger, never having received the tefillin strap, now be bound in black as the middle finger? My eyes get stuck on that little space.

"Hey," quietly, he's smiling at me. And then continues speaking. They'd moved along; one company for cover, another on Caterpillar D-9s (he gets technical, as if I knew one military vehicle from another), they find and destroy tunnels, vigilant for ambushes, and then in the receding daylight take cover, finally, in a three story house. They determine the house is empty; two squads on the third floor, one squad on the first, single guards at entrances and windows. Plans for the next day's movements and, on the third floor, they finally settle for the night, Gal next to Yossi next to Nitai...the three of them stay close. Just before he puts his head down on his arm, Gal says, his shoulder nudges Yossi's, staying close, together...and he relaxes...about to allow eyelids their purpose...

The first explosion blew Yossi atop him, ten seconds later the second explosion sent Yossi across the room. Chaos, noise, dust, so much blood, screams...limbs askew, limbs without body...Gal looks down to assess his body's damage and, unable to stand, crawls on his back to a corner...knows he's badly hurt. Arms grabbing him...checking him...someone sitting on him to staunch the frightening blood flow, and he's lifted and carried to the tank downstairs, placed onto its roof... with other wounded he's driven to the fence and airlifted to Hadassah Hospital.

His soldiers...Yossi and Nitai are dead...another fifteen of his boys are injuredOpening his eyes, post surgery, he cannot speak for the tubes in his throat, and mouths the words to his wife, "My soldiers?" But those around him can't make out what he's asking...he's being told about himself, but he's desperate to know about his soldiers.

His soldiers...Yossi and Nitai are dead...another fifteen of his boys are injured, some lightly, some seriously, critically....

He doesn't know...just out of surgery, some twelve hours after the explosions...he doesn't yet know that this devastation was not the result of enemy fire. Compounding the tragedies...their own brothers, in one of the more horrendous elements of war, erroneously targeted the house in which they'd settled, as a terrorist house. It's another day before they tell him; he can barely contain the reality of his losses, and now this terrible knowledge.

"Children," he says to me, "they're children." I am without words, and he too is silent, but just for a moment. "Twenty-four soldiers were injured," he tells me, "eighteen of them were mine. Children." His eyes hold mine, and to my own surprise I hear myself, do you believe in G‑d, I ask him. "We saw miracles," and his eyes close. After all you've suffered, after what you'd seen? After this horrific mistake? "Like the Chanukah miracles," he tells me, "we saw miracles."

Gal knows he must reach out to the boy who'd been given, and followed, the order to fire. We speak of what he'll say to this soldier; he knows he can save this young boy's future, he needs to confirm for him that he is a good soldier.

I've moved my chair closer to Gal's bed. He reminds me that his hearing hasn't fully returned since the blast and so I move closer. He speaks a bit haltingly, English his second language, sometimes searching for a word or phrase...his eyes are unwavering, though, never hesitant, he looks directly into mine all the while he is speaking.

Lior is his lovely young wife of just several months; she comes into the room to check on him, and then returns to her studies, preparing for an upcoming exam. Lior—Hebrew for "light is mine"... Gal and Lior Orr...I look at them both...light, light indeed.

I worry about their wounded hearts and psychesTwo doctors enter the room and intense conversation ensues. They are speaking to him of reducing the pain medication. I move aside to allow them privacy, and nearly bump into Mordechai and Joseph. Joseph seems not much past his bar-mitzvah; smooth young face—has he even shaved yet? Thinking he's a younger friend or relative coming to visit, I ask of his relationship to Gal. "He's my commander," Joseph says, "We," indicating Mordechai, "we were in the next house, behind. We heard the explosion and ran to them."

And he describes the scene as moving from stricken soldier to stricken soldier they try to assess each boy's needs, begin administering life-saving first aid and preparing each wounded soldier for transport to a tank, to the fence, to the helicopter, to the designated hospital. Gal, with multiple wounds, critically injured, is asking who's hurt, and Joseph doesn't want to tell him about Yossi and Nitai. It's bad, he says, but is intent on taking care of the injured.

We speak of those first moments, and the subsequent nights and days and nights...and nights...and nights. Joseph describes the sessions they have with veteran soldiers, the debriefings and group discussions. "But we don't need psychologists," he tells me, "we're soldiers. Trained. We're okay."

Israeli PM Olmert visiting Gal Orr
Israeli PM Olmert visiting Gal Orr

I've spent the past two days at a conference for mental health professionals, and am fearful of what dreams may come to these youngsters. I worry about their wounded hearts and psyches, and whether they will seek the expert counsel available to them. But I say nothing, he's so young, and he says again: "We're soldiers. I'm okay."

They look towards the door, Deri's standing there, his right arm in a cast. Another of Gal's soldiers, one of the less critically injured. He grins and says: We're the lucky ones, only three days in the war. Lucky indeed—Deri's right arm was severed in the explosion, long hours of surgery, just the first of many yet to follow, they hope that his reattached limb will become functional. But he's smiling, and here to bring his commander news of some of the others. I'm overcome as I watch them, as I hear them say "my commander"... The love, the reverence.

"Hey," his medical team gone, Gal motions to me and I move back to my chair at his bedside. I can't get close enough...

"When I visit their graves, that's going to be hard," he says. It'll be many months yet before he's released from institutional care, but he's anticipating now the hardship ahead.

He doesn't anticipate the visit from Nitai's parents.

The following day, as soon as I get off the elevator, I meet Aliza, Gal's mother. His door is closed....he'd just had a "hard" visit, she tells me. We sit for a bit, we two mothers. She says, "Eleven o'clock Monday." I know that tone, that place on the clock and calendar that will never again be just a time, or day. Eleven o'clock on Monday the doorbell rang and there's a soldier at her door. Gal is alive, he tells her. But there's a soldier standing at her door, and she knows she needs to pray. Ten hours in surgery, she doesn't see her son until the next day.

She needed closure, he explains to me...and it seems he's about to cryAnd, day by day, his body recovers. But today, she says, today was hard. He had a hard visit. She opens his door a crack, Lior sees me and motions me inside.

It's the first time I see him sagging...the first time his eyes aren't in direct contact with mine. How much pain can one young man endure? I wish for the pain team to return, to administer some medication for his soul. "Nitai's parents were here today," he's speaking more haltingly than before. And then, "I called Yossi's parents," he tells me, "his mother wanted to know his last moments, his last words." He wonders, how does she envision that horrific scene? She needed closure, he explains to me...and it seems he's about to cry.

It's my last day in Israel, my flight leaves at midnight and I come to say goodbye to them. Gal's mood is excited, he tells me he has to pack. Tomorrow he leaves Hadassah Hospital and begins his rehabilitation at Tel Hashomer. We speak for some time—he knows he has many difficult months ahead, but he's strong and determined and confident. We speak of his plans when he's completed the eleven months scheduled at the rehab facility; he doesn't know what he'll do, and I suggest that perhaps he'll go into psychology. He's amused at first, but then we speak a bit more seriously about it. It feels like I've planted a seed.

It's almost impossible to get up and walk away, but I know if I don't leave soon, I'll miss my flight.

Just as I walk out of his room, some bright lights come on behind me...waves of light.