The cool mountain air is refreshing, and the flask is bitter. The night time sky is an incredible maze of connected dots. I breathe deep the shallow air and bite down on the small opening of the flask. The fire burns low before me and i am reclined against my bag and a tree, a technique perfected in the army. I take the time to look around, to study where i am sitting and the land that i am currently surrounded by. I notice the pine trees, the large rock across from me, the roots reaching out of the dirt, and the sounds of the night, all surround me. I am taking stock of what i have, and where i am at. Shy of ten thousand feet, and miles away from the trail head, i am on a mountain in Colorado. As i close my eyes i know exactly where i am, it is easy with a compass, map and reference points. The peak to my west, the trail bends and the contour of the ridge line. These are the metrics used to find myself on a map, or the way to describe where i am at in a very basic physical sense.
Another pull of my flask and i am reminded that no matter how hard it was to determine where i thought i would be, it is even harder to describe where i am in life. I have no map, compass or a series of land marks to be able to accurately say where i am. The map of course that i am missing is the one that i so readily failed to draw in my youth. With no clear cut understanding of what success or failure is, with no clear goal such as the summit of the mountain, i not only find myself lost, but floating on the winds of irreverent wandering as well. As way leads on to way, and each choice will not come back i have continually been of the mindset to take the choice at hand, make the best decision possible and then push has hard as possible forward. Each of these choices sometimes seemed to be fresh mistakes but none the less, they have brought me to where i am today.
Another deep pull from the metal lip of the flask, this time the brown liquid burns all the way down. A harsh reminder of the truth and the nature of relativism. The stars dance around the shadows of the large pines and i for a moment do what comes naturally and i am lost in the vision of the ocean, screaming across waves with nothing but the pasty clouds of the milky way above me for direction. A noise in the woods brings me back to the fire and drink and my solitary adventure through my own life.
Physically i reside in a military town, in a townhome that is filled with the newest appliances. It is way too much room for just me. But the amenities and conformist nature of the two cars in my garage and the pictures on the wall, as well as the expensive furniture, all satisfy the background urge for stability. The toys fall into both categories of my conformist and non conformist contradictions, an old CJ7 and a thirty foot sail boat. My job again satisfies both aspects. As a special forces officer, i have promotions and a career, yet the nature of the job is unconventional and random at almost all times. The Army as a whole is not for me, yet the money is just good enough that i am afraid to leave. Thou not enough for me not to think about it daily. I have an education and a couple of degrees, and enjoy expressing my academic capability at every turn.
Mentally, i reside in a world of contradictions, with a strong desire to set out on my own with nothing, to the more immediate pressing urge for relationships and companionship. I am constantly in a state of struggle trying to determine what i want from the day at hand. The psychologists will tell you that i test off the charts as an introvert, yet display strong signs of extroversion, meaning that i should wear a sign that would let people know when i want to be left alone and when i am ready for everyone. The proof i guess is that i am on a mountain by myself, and wishing that someone was sitting across from me. Well, another pull from a flask that is damn near empty.
Emotionally, i am more mature for my age than i will ever let on, and struggle each day to prove that i am less mature than i am. Though this rarely works in my favor. I have lived times that others already are saying were best forgotten. I have smelled the crisp burning of flesh and held the dying in my arms, i am constantly amazed that i can comely look around the extravagance of my humble life style and not lose focus. I am grounded and take a realistic approach to most obstacles. I am unhindered by emotions and morality in the accomplishment of my daily tasks at hand. And, yet, i leave so much up to chance knowing that my control is mostly my self-made illusion.
The night sky closing in around me, and i know i am tired, way too tired to still be awake. I look around again at the fire, trees, rocks, and sky. I slide a little farther back into my recliner, and pull the brim of my hat down over my eyes. Tonight i will sleep peacefully, i hope. Everything is packed and put away and the stars that were dancing around the trees slow down, and fall silent.
The trail opens up before me, it had been tighter than expected for the last two miles and eight hundred feet in elevation. It opens up as the trees thin out; I am still below eleven thousand feet, though occasionally I can see the summit nearly five more miles away. I know that I will stop here, I am going to have to back track, the trail has lead me the wrong way. The ridgeline is headed south and the peak is still to my west. I know where I have gone wrong, yet at the same time, have I, the world I look at is as I want to be. The pines smell of the stickiness that are their needles and I breathe it in deeply. A long pull from my water, with the ever present urge to take a pull from the flask, I look at my compass and take stock of what is around me.
I was asked recently “am I where I thought I would be?” Clearly, the most immediate answer as I look along the ridgeline and then back over my shoulder to the summit is, no. No, I am not. Yet at the same time, I am on the mountain, I am moving with strength and ease. The strength of a body and mind prepared for hardships and duress that can be found at these elevations, and the ease of a man comfortable with his surroundings given that the knowledge to handle the problems come readily to him. So, I am exactly where I should be. Though, that is not the question at hand. To be able to answer this question I must first be able to come to grips with where I wanted to be. And for me that is a much harder statement than originally thought.
I have persistently daydreamed my days away. Never have I spent too much time in the here and now, the confines of the rings upon which I have entered have been the only places that have grounded me in the moment. Those rings have had boundaries, ropes, nightmares and even a desert. Within these confines, my adversary or task has taken all other options away from me, other than the here and now. The persistent dreams of the future have always clouded the reality of where I wanted to be. By this I mean, my dreams are without substance and push the limits of both time and space, they are the dreams of the young, of the romantic, of the renaissance. All of this to say that I dreamt that I would be on a slightly less than luxury yacht, sixty feet, huge sails pulling at the wind, and a beautiful traveling companion. This future has no location when it comes to age or money, or how I got there. These dreams can be closely compared to those of slaying dragons, and I have taken down many.
I have wrapped these dreams, as I aged, with glories of the battlefield, of dreams of love and romance, of all the things that a young man should dream of. And yet I sit here and still fail to answer the question at hand. Where did I expect to be? Dreams are never where you expect to be but rather what you wish to be possible. Well I dreamed away my expectations and wondered with ambiguity through choices, pushed by peer pressure, social desires, and need to be something other than what I was at the time. The persistent fight against fear itself. Without specifics, I moved forward from one challenge to the other imagining that with each accomplishment I would be taken farther from the place at hand, that with each success would bring me to new destinations. I continued along this path as I pushed through middle school and then to high school where I dreamed of the ocean and found the army. The path took me to many places that I knew were not for me no matter what potential I showed. Art school and my Olympic prospects where not far enough away for me, and the boyhood fantasy of the glories of war triumphed.
By high school I was unable to fathom a reality that I would find, though the expectation was that I would be at a Military School and on my way to graduation. Though is that a real answer, how far forward must I look for this to be a fair representation of where I thought I would be. One month, a year, three years, I can say that I have ended up exactly where I thought I would be three years ago, and can say with some certainty that I have been correct as long as the picture was within three years. So where did I think I would be. The ephemeral answer would be, successful, married, and happy. Have I been these things, maybe, never, and sometimes would be the associated answers. My success is at the middle levels of the army, those that have worked for me will tell you that I have done well, and those I have worked for will tell you the same, yet the harsher crowd of my peers may not. This crowd of peers has continualy diminished as I have pushed past one test after another leaving me in one of the more elite captain positions in the army. Marriage has been allusive as possible as I find myself struggling to just be happy with the women that I have found. I have come close to this woman, and yet I chose to walk away. I allowed this memory of what I made into perfection to ruin any chance of a successful relationship in the towns where it was possible. Happiness, well, the roller coaster of the cosmic play has been comedic tragedy for me, and I have found humor and happiness in moments, the dull ache of un-fulfillment of the majority and the occasional brief moments of happiness so ephemeral that I have raced around the world looking for it again.
The suns glow has diminished has I finish pulling tight the lines of the poncho that I have strung up between two trees. I look back at the smoldering start of the fire and add some more wood. The flask sits alone before me. The mountain has been no different than my life, my thoughts centered around the summit and never the trail…
Finally a question of some substance, however, one that will bring us all to the brink of either calling me a cheesy pathetic fool, or a romantic that has an overly developed sense of himself. Either way the intricacies of my job or profession will be brought to light. It was dark in the living room when my phone rang, it was dark outside as well. The movie on the television had barely captured my attention. Although not ready for the type of grilling I took on the phone, one particular question caught my attention, “what is the most important part of my job?” What an interesting way to phrase a general question about another’s occupation. I had expected, “what’s the most fascinating part of your job,” or even “why do you do what you do.” For both of those questions I have well rehearsed statements and stories, that would alleviate the others expectations, while keeping myself well within familiar grounds.
This question was different, without hesitation, I heard what I wanted to hear and started to answer a completely different question. I tried to tell her why I do what I do, what keeps me at my job, and not in the unemployment lines, or rather the freedom of release. That answer is simple and rehearsed… The people that I work with and the problem sets offered me, provide both the camaraderie as well as the necessary challenges to keep me. Both are true statements, but neither of them match what the question was asking. The most important aspect of my occupation, the one that resonates the most with me, is the aspect of responsibility. Not so much the duty, or the obligation to my country, for I have never been an Arthur Sullivan man. But, rather the sole responsibility for the welfare of others that have volunteered to throw their lives on the altar of our Imperial ambitions. It is the sons and daughters of the Untied States that I have been entrusted with through my commission. For those that have seen an officer stand and take his oath of office, you have seen what should be heralded as the most sacred and solemn pledge our nation has to offer.
It is this pledge and oath that truly separates us from mercenaries, (or contractors in today’s colloquial.) It is this oath that forces a young man to swear to another officer that he will do everything in his power to defend the constitution against all enemies. Though not stated in the actual oath, the men and women that are around you when you speak it, can hear the words that are not spoken. They hear, “From the last of my breath I will ensure that the mission is accomplished. That during this trial I am personally responsible for the well being and lives of the men under my command.” A young officer will hear these words, or a similar set, almost daily from the moment that he is commissioned to the moment that he takes command of his first platoon. There truly is no way to easily describe the pressure that he is under. These young man-boys are chastised for each mistake with the curse of, “what are you going to tell his parents?” It will be taken as far as watching young lieutenants write letters of condolences to fictitious soldiers that he has lost in training due to his errors. These letters are written, and are one of the hardest punishments you can imagine. Late at night in your hotel room, you sit there nursing a beer, knowing that the punishment is bull shit and that the letter isn’t real. Yet, by the time you get to the second sentence you can start to feel the emotions rise. The anger at the ones forcing you to do this does not subside but rather changes and you choke back the rising tide of emotions.
As for myself, this is the portion of my job that I take the most seriously. I would like to say that I have done everything I can to keep my subordinates out of harm’s way, that is just not the case. There were days that I was reckless, there were days that I volunteered us to do more and more dangerous acts. Yet, without hesitation, I would tell you that I did my best to prepare my team for these operations, and I took all precautions available after the acceptance of the mission. Having to write the second most difficult letters of my life, the first being the letter to my own parents, letters to the parents of my fallen. Of men that I was with when they died, when my choices pushed them forward into harm’s way. Where no amount of training could have protected them. My choices alone are judged and measured by the blood of not only our enemies but our friends, I have relived these choices a thousand times each night for years. This is the part that they don’t tell you on the recruiting posters, this is the part that they cannot train you for, nor prepare you for. It isn’t until you are sitting at a small, poorly lit desk, with your shaking hands on a key board, working on the opening of a letter that you never wanted to write.
In my previous posts on a much older blog site I wrote many times on the deaths of friends, small eulogies and tributes to images of men that will be forgotten with time. It is from these experiences that I tell you as a commissioned officer in the United States Army the most important and the only aspect that I treat with pure reverence, is that of the lives of my fellow soldiers on the battlefield. As a child in the eyes of those that I work with, as a man in the eyes of the world, I stood in front of a wooden stand with a rifle facing downward, behind a pair of boots. My eyes caught the reflection of the dog tags that hung from the pistol grip of an M4 carbine, and I know that though I was successful, for that moment I had failed. For that brief eternity my world narrowed to the name on the tag, I had failed. That the responsibility laid on me, no matter how unprepared or ill conditioned for the task was mine. For a man with no god, it is the one time I wished that I had a god. That I could wish for my friend something more that would make up for leaving his family and friends behind, that could make up for the suffering of his final moments.
A question was asked of me late at night on the phone by a woman that was testing my limits, trying to learn more about me, neither of us were prepared for the responses that would follow. The night was lost to my mind, as I let it race from one aspect to another of my job, before settling down upon the facts of what responsibility is. Of what having to grow up early means. It was in this moment, that I realized I had changed, that over the course of years, living times that others would say were best forgotten, I had aged. I have written that their memories will fade and that they will be forgotten, and yes it is true, and yes time will erase their names, but I will never forget. And the monument on the North corner of Fort Carson will forever carry their names and titles until the earth moves and I have gone to join them.
We live our lives within our own self-perceived expectations. As a child, we have to be constantly reminded that we can surpass our limits. We are told to study more, achieve more, we are even lied to, in order to help create a broader scope for our definition of our own capabilities. As athletes, we are hounded by coaches to move faster, hit harder, to be better than what we assume we can be. As if all around us are people trying to force you to push past expectations, to grow. As we enter adult hood hopefully we have successfully broken through our assumptions about our capabilities. That the latitude of our reach is wide enough that it does not hinder our goals and desires; that we may be successful. For the most part it usually is, and we all move forward towards goals that are within our grasp, with a healthy understanding of who and what we are. Those who have failed to expand their minds find themselves in crowded hotel conference rooms listing to speeches of how to be successful, how to be more like someone else, or ‘how to’ any numerous other self-achievable dreams locked behind the walls of our own creation.
The utter acceptance of these truths and facts about the power of the mind is demonstrated by those that should not need any reminders of this concept. Yet, Olympic athletes read mental preparation books, and receive classes and coaching on how to prepare the mind. CEO’s that are exceptional by all metrics will try to come up with seminars to force ‘out side the box’ type thinking. This is in direct understanding that our limits are clearly self-defined and that we must work hard each day to push past our perceived capabilities. The US Military holds the corner on the market of mental based limitations, their toughest schools are less about the tactics and skills and more about the ability to teach the soldier that they are capable of so much more than they ever would have believed. They push the body of the individual well past what we would assume to be the breaking point. In the end it is those that learn this lesson and take it to heart that graduate these courses and become the elite of the American Military.
So often are these truths manifested unevenly within some of the most capable and soon to be successful among us. That though their limits have been thoroughly tested and they have the confidence to stretch their horizons and grasp at stars, they have failed to link that the very nature of their confidence is as simple as belief. Though many never need this reminder but the truth of the matter is that the power of our mental projections is able to and will shape our daily lives. And, that each and everyone of us lives out these hidden insecurities and failures on our sleeves in the design of the life that we box ourselves into. A simple case in point is the stunningly attractive Foreign Service woman who on a whim could ace Law School, or MIT Engineering, she can move in circles around some of the more impressive crowds in DC, yet in consideration of her personal life, she feels as if she is the worlds greatest ‘friends-with-benefits.’ Why is this different, where is the disconnect. How is such confidence replaced by such a sense of being a victim. In one aspect of her life she is the one with an aura of power and righteousness; yet in the other (separated by a change of clothes and a hot shower) she is the victim. A series of, ‘I don’t knows,’ and ‘it never seems to work out,’ or ‘they have always only liked me for this, or that reason,’ is all we hear from them. Needless to say she is not alone, Kim, being a man of strikingly similar qualities, has found himself surrounded by mostly (not all) people that he would never be able to have a serious relationship with, and continually seeks out those who he could never love. Yet, from nine to five, men of quality and character hang on the words that he speaks, and he commands the respect of those that move mountains, he holds millions of dollars and the lives of Americas youth in his hands. How does this happen.
I look out upon the world as it moves silently by in thought. A meditation of paper and pen, interrupted by a phone call here and there. Discussing a set of personal issues with a woman moving to the American Consulate in Hong Kong, I told her that we each live out the lives that we choose to have. I even quoted Ayn Rand (her name alone on this blog will give me hundreds of hits) that we sleep with those who remind us of how we view ourselves, and fall in love with those that we view hold tight to our hopes and ideals of what we believe is perfection. Hopefully we spend our lives sleeping with only those we think we could love, though this is not the case. For those out there that the separation of the two are so great that it gives you pause to how you view yourself, well take it to heart. The cheaper that we hold our own worth the cheaper we are willing to sell our time or body.
Where is the disconnect, obviously our parents pushed us to get better grades, and our coaches pushed us to perform faster, but who among us have been told that we shouldn’t hang out with those kids, or we should pick better friends. Well most of us, probably have heard that, yet, for some reason in the pursuit of other goals we have forgotten those lessons or never learned that we are deserving of better friends, relationships, or just in general, lives. This brings us to the crowds of people packed into the same small hotel conference rooms or churches listening to the glimmer of what we deserve. This late in life pick-me-up to try and convince us that we deserve more, or better. As I told my friend on the phone, fuck that, you are deserving of what you allow. Choice is the key to this scenario, and it is what the priests and self help books tell you, choose to be different, be different, then you are different. Why should we live lives of quiet desperation, Throuea in his infinite wisdom told us what we are doing, then showed us what we should. He did this in the deliberate attempt to live life to the fullest, to take the time to change what he wanted and to grow in a way that he desired.
An additional reminder to how easy it is to affect the tenuous balance of our own psyche, another friend of mine changed how she described all of her tasks for the day to play/played whatever. So “I played house today… I played for ten hours at work today….” A simple statement was able to measurably change the perception of her actions that it was repeated by a myriad of friends around the country. Careful, this is the warning label, these changes in diction will not actually solve any problems nor change reality, though maybe, just a little, the perception. We hold so many mental reservations for change, mostly because change is where the pain is, it is where the loneliness sets in and the insecurities that we clutch to tightly must be put down just for a moment. On the other side is a whole new set of friends, a whole new outlook on life, a whole new whatever portion of you that you are trying rectify or straighten. Yet we choose to do what is slightly easier, slightly less painful, to date another girl that doesn’t have chance, to allow your relationships to be purely physical, or to never leave your home. Though this passage is in strict reference to those that are already successful in other areas, there are truths that can be held for everyone who reads this. I have spent numerous hours and megabits of storage on entries that describe a sense of confusion, of frustration, yet I knew the truth, it was buried in the pages and scripts, that the choice in the end was mine. That the happiness, the relationships, the successes are all a manifestation of me fighting against my own mental reservations to reach out and grasp a hold of what I want. Gandhi claimed that we should be the change that we wish to see in the world. He said this as an adaptation to lesson that he once shared with me, that we should live the lives that we want by acting out the change we wish to see.
I wake up in the morning and I will ask, as should you, what type of day will I create for myself.
I was seated at a table, small round, covered in the familiar green felt that I had come to dread. The room was in neutral colors, beige paint on textured walls. The room was rimed in the dark cherry oak that you would find in our grandfathers studies. The room reeked of cigars, its pungent left over smell and its slight discoloration of the ceiling would be nauseous if not edged by the glass of scotch in front of me, filling my nostrils and flooding my senses with something better. I glance around the room and recognize the leather chairs, reading tables and bar for what it is, a famed Republican hangout. A place of old men sipping bourbon and smoking illegal cigars, where decision are made and discussion take place that will move the country. A place of power; A place of control, a place where those who sat before me knew the rules, and would change them when they did not fit. I blink, the view blurs and as I bring it into focus I see the glass in front of me. It is half empty; a pessimistic truth that came from an optimistic beginning, the glass was full of Glenlivet. As my eyes focus I see the bottle on the other side of the green felt, a similar glass in front of him, slightly more full I should say. There is card stuck to the bottle, slightly eschew, it is a queen of spades. I am mesmerized by the card. Then I am aware that I too am holding a card to my forehead. I have no idea what it is, yet I will continue to bet. The bottle of scotch looks at me, taunting me. Yet I know it is a game, a card game, it has rules, and rules bring equality. As I look at my bet, I notice the small reflection in the glass in front of my opponent, it is hard to make out but it is the card on my forehead. As if it can read my mind the bottle laughs at me, he knows the rules, I do not.If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? If a game has rules to level the playing field, and one of the players does not know the rules, are there really any rules. It is clear that I have been out classed by this piece of glass across from me. The reflection becomes clearer and I see the four of hearts stuck high on my forehead. I laugh, a sad laugh, and reach for my glass and take a long pull. The bottle has done it again; it has beaten an opponent that doesn’t know the rules. The room around me blurs and fades into my neighborhood, into my dining room where I sit glass still in hand. The dining room blurs to a collage of my past and present. I see the bets that I have made ignorant of the rules; ignorant of the second and third order affects. I laugh again, slightly harder this time as I realize the truth. I have placed myself on the altar of self pity and I have drank deep from the wells of despair. The control I envisioned around me, and of me is gone. I have wished it to be with a passion that made it almost real, then the bottle looks across the table at me, waiting for me to ante up. Reality slides away, or is it the other way around and my world drifts into reality. I am the fiction writer constantly amazed that there are no dragons.I stand from the table and turn to walk away, knowing that it is impossible for me to let it go. Our illusions are everything, they are my everything. I look back, and feel the emotion rise up from somewhere deep, somewhere where childhood dreams still live, and I come crashing back to the table swinging my arm in a sweeping arch sending glass, cards and the bottle to the air. With defining shatter all smashes against the hard wood floors of the Capitol Hill lounge. I blink, and sit up. The room is dark and I am breathing way too hard. Ripping the covers off of me I swing my legs out of bed and take the three large steps to my bathroom sink and splash water on my face. It is but a dream, a reminder of the effort that I must put forth everyday to maintain control; to maintain my illusions of control. I breathe a little calmer; the cold water has felt good. I turn and head back to bed, fully aware now of where I am. I lie down and reach over to turn off the light, and that is when I see the empty glass looking at me.
The world swings awkwardly on its hinges, almost as if you could hear the creaking in the plaster of the night sky. I have felt every move, no different than that of a small boat at sea. Your stomach lifts with each swing and your heart freezes as the old adage of equal and opposite reactions crashes into your soul. So bereft of any emotional ties to another holiday, I am in my room contemplating a religious festival that is cheerfully being celebrated outside my door by the American Special Forces soldiers that have somehow managed to produce bottles of Johnny and Jack. The small fire is a little larger this evening, as is the volume of the conversations. These men have seen things that others would best forget, they have been places that god does not walk, and yet almost all of them to a man believe. They believe deeper than I care to admit to. They believe, yet they also hate. They dislike the people that they are forced to live and work with. To see their efforts diminished and disappear every time they return. Forced to start over, forced to deal with the same problems and norms that set the Iraqi man from us. They are ignorant of Islam and despise its perceived tenets. Though in good fashion and discipline they are professional enough not to allow these opinions to affect their work, as we operate side by side and through the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade.
They are tired and discouraged, they have been taken to the mat by time and wear, yet they are not defeated. You cannot defeat men such as these. They will never lose; it is not an option that they are willing to even consider. So they continue on, venting to the youngest of the officers in their midst. They vent in the form of cynicism and snide remarks meant to hurt those around them that are not strong enough to take it. They push back against the orders that are passed down to them by those that forget to think before they hit send on the email. The war is over, and their blood as not been for the glories and success that they had hoped for. So, they forget the past, and ignore the future as they toast each other in the form of stories. Crazy stories that would scare the shit out of you, but only make them laugh, though their laughter is hedged with melancholy and sadness. Tones that only those looking for them will hear, as I do from the steps to my room.
Normalcy; in the past ten or so years I believe that I have lost the definition of the word. I have not lived a normal life. I have chosen to live what I hope one day I will perceive as exceptional, though today as I sit here and write this, I do not believe it is so. I am the most passive man that I know. Yet, there is no task that I have shied away from; there is no enemy that I have not pursued. There is no ring that I have not climbed into. And yes my stories have been told in a tall fashion, they are mostly truth. At 29 I am tired, so very tired. Tired of dealing with the expectation of exceptionalism, tired of others not meeting my reality, tired of my reality being just outside of my grasp. This exhaustion drives me to dream of the ocean. To drift into the darkest corners of my mind and set sail on some adventure that is the wind and sun. The dreams are grander than the reality. I am strong enough to admit that, I am strong enough to know that I will never meet my own expectations.
After some time, I will do as all others and I drift towards the fire. Drink in hand and a stoic face that will light up in smile when I am recognized and greeted. When I shake the hands of those that have gone to hell with me, when I grasp the men that hold my life in their hands, then I too will tell the lies that are my reality. The sunrises above the waning fire and begins is slow crossing of the sky and the men trickle away to their rooms. Today will be no different from the last or the next and the possibilities of what it will bring and what we will endure are endless. I to return to my room just as the morning call to prayer is sounded. On the inside, I smile as I recognize the irony of the music of the minarets. I shut the door and lay there awake…
Tonight I will try and find a conclusion to the initial question posed to me over a skype phone call from thousands of miles away. What do I care for, which somehow translated into what do I value, or rather how much do I value? I believe that at some point I started thinking too hard about such a simple question. One that required almost no thought, but rather a gut response. Though my first answer or attempted answer is true and valid, I think that somehow I missed the mark. That in the absence of an available metric from which to measure my willingness to sacrifice, that I missed the most important part of the question. The intangible desire to ensure that they are ok, that the bonds that exist are not shattered. It is from this revelation that I will attempt to summarize an answer that I have found to be complex and intangible.
The simple fact is that every email, phone call, and personal interaction that I have had since this quest of the mind, has reminded me that the number of things that I care about are uncountable. Not to say that it would be any easier to describe for you the things that I do not care about, but rather that the world is too full of the little things, of family, of interesting things for us to go out and find, and most of all the connections that we make. So, for a moment let’s talk about connectivity. Connectivity, a term referred to in the highest levels of academia in relation to globalization, can also have such a personnel and pointed meaning as well. The barista at the nearest Green Bean, to the friend that you share all of your sins with, are all connections that you make, some with more value than others but none the less, they are there. Now the metrics come into play. And it is this failure to have any distinguishable markers is what makes my statements so difficult. I have no clue what I am capable of in defense of that or those that I care about, I have not had to truly push the limits of what I am willing to do. That being said, it is safe to say that given what I do for a living, woe be it to those that choose to take from me something that I value.
My friends, my comrades-in-life, my comrades-in-arms, my blood, all have intrinsic value to me that is undeniable, and yes I could spend pages describing to you the values that each represent that I desire and will pay for with my time and effort, but it is suffice to say that you too share similar people and friends. So, an answer that is going to hurt to write is that I care about humanity, or at least the portions of humanity that are connected to me. I value the conversations, the gentle touch, the friendly tease, and even the smart-ass response, and maybe the occasional punch, but only from those that I hold in some regards. This is where it gets tricky. I value humanity only in direct proportion that it has value to me. Yes, I can see your eyes rolling, as you pull up quotes of Ayn Rand, but there it is. I am not unconditional, nor am I selfless service. Though I am conditional and I will serve, I have value, enough value that those who know me, love me, or respect me will understand that they know, love, and respect me because of the values that I bring to the table. The barter mans trade on what I care for, should scare some of you, especially my do-gooder friends as I call them. Though, if they were to read this page I would remind them of the values that they display and hold that make me want to know, love, and respect them.
I can see now that I have gotten off topic. What do I care about? Well, I still am not sure, though recently I believe what I care about is changing. This past week an ex-girlfriend moved to Iraq. She is small and beautiful, with such a brilliant mind, and I found myself for the first time feeling protective of something that is not mine to be protective of. She is more than capable of getting by on her own, but that was not enough for me. I have a specialized skill set that is designed for Baghdad and she does not. Somehow, this was translated into giving her rules, advice, and objects that I think will better prepare her for this environment. Why would I do this, well for one, I care for her. For another, this caring manifested itself into a concern or worry that could be partially alleviated if I knew that she would respond to events in a certain way. Maybe this is the natural progression of things.
So, I guess, protective feelings, connectivity, the small things, all placed together could get me very quickly to world peace and ending poverty. Then as I finally approach this inevitable position of the modern intellectual elitist, I remember that I also feel that there are numerous people on this earth that should be the home for stray bullets. And I also know that the sins that I have committed will out way any single serving sentence of a do-gooder.
Tonight as it snows in DC it rains in Baghdad, as the streets close down and the city grinds to a halt in DC so to does it in Baghdad. The mud is thick and will stop you in your tracks as you muck your way to work. It was on a similar dreary night that I watched a young girl turn on her father. Her testimony was enough to have me and those that work with come and pick him up. He was an AQI Ameer and responsible for some of the more recent attacks in the city, responsible for the deaths of tens of innocent. In her anger she sentenced him to death, though I am sure this is not what she intended. I remember the night not so much for the man that we were detaining but rather for the difficulty in walking to and from anywhere in the mud that was created by the rains. Specifically the way he and his two sons were covered in the mud as we made our way to our trucks. Iraqi mud is different, it is thick, yet with the ability to splash and dry onto anything. As I walk back to my room this morning as the sun tries to break through the clouds that are still drizzling, I must watch my footing stepping up into my room, no different that climbing back into the truck.
I sit at a small desk, trapped between the cheep sprigs of a bed, and the fridge that is clearly marked ‘do not remove’ as if I would just up and heft the damn thing and walk away. I am hunched over and listing to Bob Schneider as I bang away on the lap top that is square center on the desk, the top of the screen barely touching the small hutch that is weighed down with books, papers, and the gloc. My elbows are on the table and my arms are wrapped around the cut-off plastic bottle that is being used as a rock glass for the Jack Daniels that sits just below my nose. In an attempt to saver every bit of the joy of drink I have placed it in a spot that allows me to breath in every wafer of sweetness. Yes, it is addicting, the smell, the taste, the feel of comfort that comes from some state side habit. I cant help but singing along with the song that is playing. The world can go away and hide behind the sunrise that is occurring outside my blacked out room. The poor souls that need my attention and decisions can wait; I am tired. In fact, the world can wait until I am ready for it again. Tonight was no different than the possibility of any other night. There is no difference in my world between possibility and reality, they are treated the same, with the same level of detachment. I want my humanity back; I want to feel again, so I bury my head into the electronic page that sits in front of me. Oh how I wish I was not good at my job.
The streets of Baghdad are not quiet tonight, nor will they be all day. As I do finally sleep, I have left the small portion of the city called Yusafiah in turmoil. I have separated families, changed the social makeup and forced more children to grow up way to soon. I have ruined the lives of a dozen men tonight, and those whose price I exacted was the least, are those that will be buried in the next two days. Such a world I live in. There are thousands of men and women who claim to do my job, yet in truth it is such a small number of us that are forced to exact violence upon others, forced to do the unthinkable. The night was quiet when I went to this town, even the dogs had decided not to make such a fuss, though that should have clued me in to how the night would turn out, and In all honesty, it did. There was no trap, no ambush, just a group of men that thought they were wrong done by and decided that they would not give up their homes, would not let intruders into their house. It is unfortunate because they were men with families, they told us that we could not come in, that they were protected by the law. Well tonight, my companions were the law and they thought otherwise, these were men that were wanted, with warrants, for acts of indiscriminate war, acts of barbarism. Before I had a chance to intervene, the night became bright under the explosion of artillery pieces precisely laid along the road.
The fireworks were incredible, the lights, and sounds were enough to amaze you. The fighter jet that came in next had me standing with my mouth open staring into the contrails of smoke and stars as he made an entire building buckle and fall. The night did fall quiet again, silence, the eerie silence that is unnatural, I have tasted it before, I have heard it before. The night would be quiet for another hour while we left, and then the streets will fill up as they are now; now as I sit and remind myself. Tonight I will sleep like a baby under the heavy eye lids of scotch carefully poured into a makeshift plastic cup. It is this cup that I find refuge, that I find comfort in. I look into the bottom of the clear plastic and ask what was the price that I paid. I have measured and weighed the price that others have paid tonight, but what in the end was the cost for me. Well I assure you it was not as much as the men of Yusafiah, though still heavy. Achmed, Mahmood, Ali, Mohammad, Yasid, and Saad will all go to the promised land and take with them the trophies of shrapnel to show Allah, they will stand tall at Mohammad’s side (blessings be upon him) they will see the glories that are for those that do good in the name of protecting those that cannot protect themselves. They died trying to prevent another tragedy, another senseless death. It is easy to see how some men can be confused into thinking that all deaths are senseless, yet I cannot see this logic. I have been trained and educated to understand the Kings Gambit in chess. To learn the sacrifice necessary for victory, the definition of the victory will tell us who is fit for the hereafter filled with the glories of your deity. In the end I hope to find my departed state without any of the accoutrements of the religions that I have seen on this planet because I will not answer for the acts that I have done. That is right, I will not commit to remorse, nor will I accept accolades, what I have done without humanity I should receive its rewards without it as well. Give me nothing but room to walk my way and alone, and do not for the love of your life, or those that you have heard about tonight, nock on my door for the next seven hours.
So, the scotch will burn the untrained tongue, and so will the lies that are spread across the printed pages burn your mind. As those with an education take the time to digest what is placed for mass consumption. We are reminded of the foolish nature of all humanity when another email is forwarded in an effort to promote some silly hoax with an unending chain, or enduring message that hasn’t stopped since such and such a date. Where will we go next and what will we believe. I would not like to have to quote a popular song to express the idea of only stupid people are breeding but it seem that I must. This in fact is just a rant that is the lead in to again answering the question posed to me almost two weeks ago to the day.
I care about the rational of our human experience, the betterment of who we are through education and experimentation, through living life. And yes, in this last sentence, you will actually find two things that I care deeply about. First and foremost in the broadest sense that the previous posts will fall into, is to live life to its fullest. To take on Thoreau’s quest to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life; this is the hallmark of my motivations at all times. Of course, each of the previous posts and the future posts in an effort to come to grips with what I am passionate about will revolve around this point.
Our minds, our precious minds, it is the last of what another can take from us and it is the first that we can master. To never stop learning, to push the limits of our understanding, to ambitiously seek out that which we do not understand. This is something that I care deeply about, shame on those that do not read, shame on those that do not ask why. I have spent a lifetime in the pursuit of answers, a lifetime coming to grips with reality each page at a time. The fundamentals of physics that brings me the tides that I will ride to shore, the mathematics that give me my patience in economics, the history and literature that allows me to connect with others thousand miles away from my suburbia Ohio homeland. This pursuit of knowledge, the idea of searching for answers, this energetic attack for reason and logic, is so key to my very existence that is an aphrodisiac when I find it in others. Yes, you may have your fun, that I have just said that nerds can turn me on, but it is the truth.
I have stood in the presence of Olympic athletes, and yes have felt desire to be able to perform as they do, I have also stood in the presence of mental giants, the brightest that our country has to offer and though I desire and wish to have the power of a boxer as he faces his opponent in the ring, I cannot help but know that I would give so much more to be able to write and argue against those who are above contestation. The world works it mysteries on us all, and we all have dreams and aspiration and ideas that drive us forward, for some academics and scholastics mean little, and their times in school is short. They will not read, and what little they do read or listen to is without context. These are the men, the droves of humanity that read emails that are forwarded to them and pass them on as gospel as the unique insight for the day. These are the people that are the masses or mob, the ones that religion and cable TV is tailored for. These are the masses that argue without logic or reason, and therefore are unopened to facts and figures. These are the ones that I truly feel sorry for.
Another sunrise across the city and the morning call to prayer echoes into the courtyard. I am greeted by an Iraqi Intelligence officer, Salam, Subah Alquair (the Romanization of Arabic is tricky at best.) Subah Ahnur, he replies, the day as begun again. I look out at a society that has lost its intellectuals, its free thinkers. Yes, there is a new crop emerging, those that have returned from exile, or those that have been marginalized for the past five years waiting their turn. It is their turn now, and they take the cues from the top. As Maliki and Dulami flex their new muscles of sovereignty so do their subordinates, our influence is being diminished on a daily bases. Muluzam Ahwal Achmed looks to me and smiles, he too has tasted the scotch that is in my room, and is headed to bed, as am I, we work together throughout the night, and this past night was no different. I close the door to my small room and climb into bed, and think about what I can learn tomorrow.
I walk among the tiger lilies, each so small and quaint, their gentle breath barley a whisper to my nose as I meander through the pond. Each among them perfect in their own right. I have learned to care about the small things, about the intangibles that are forever drifting in and out of our subconscious mind. I have learned to care about the colors the sun makes on the waters of the ocean, and the sound the breeze makes as it passes by the flags at the marina. These are the little things in life that one must find beauty in. Or maybe not, maybe it is but my own obsession with the collide-e-scope of smells, colors and textures that world offers me and you every day. Though it would seem to most that this is something less than the quality of importance that I have somewhat describe for you in the previous post, to me it is not. I have the heart of an artist and his brush is in my mind. Each day I see the beauty that surrounds us and take pause in the understanding that all of us are not so different than those tiger lilies that I have muddled my way through.
The pond waters move as my feet push into the soft underbelly of the shallow marsh. The bamboo straightens as I push it out of my way, and the field of lilies opens up before me in a cascade of purplish hues. This is magic; this is a stunning achievement of serenity buried behind the swamps of the low lands. The things I care about are out there, hidden behind trials and suffering, behind sweat and blood, but when the fog has been lifted and the path is exposed one is able to find the things that we hold most dear. I would like to tell you that the answer is much easier than I am making it out to be, and maybe it is. But, I am struggling, my feet are sinking into the roots of the very lilies that I am holding dear and I am unable to recognize what I am walking through.
Maybe each of us is no different as well, to the tiger lily. Maybe we are but one little piece of a giant mosaic of purplish hues that are spread about haphazardly across a globe. Maybe it is those that cannot stop looking at the mud that they are walking through to notice the beauty of all of those that surround them. A much easier question was once asked of me, and I believe that I have found that answer, what would make one holy. The intangible knowledge that the person that you are dealing with has been elevated above and beyond our own human rational, to a status, for lack of a better word is holy. I have found it to be those that do not need help in seeing the beauty that exists inside each and every human being that walks the earth. Though I as well stick to the reality that to find these shinning lights of beauty one must first wade through the mud, to throw off self perception, lies and the horrible actions that people are willing to commit.
ereading the passage above I realize that though I have found some metaphysical journey upon which I use to answer the question, of what do you care about. Well, maybe I care about the journey. Maybe I care about pushing others to recognize the possibility of beauty in almost everything. That man in his glorious imperfections can be holy. This is what I care about; I care about those small moments. The moments when your boot is three inches into the mud of the Tigris river flats, and the weeds grow taller than you. Every step forward and you are assured that your boot will end up coming off and will be left in the flats. Then as you sweep your arms and the bamboo straightens out, the purplish hues fog your eyes. I pause, pull off my head sets and kneel into the mud, reaching out I grab a lily and bring it to my nose and breath deep. It is these moments that I live for….
Authors note: though this portion of the narrative did happen, when I did breath in, this particular lily (not a tiger) smelled like a dead animal with the light overture of gasoline. I am not sure that would bring wild plant life from this particular grove to my face again, I guess we all get smarter.