November 20, 2008. The words from the Brad Paisley song “When I Get Where I’m Going” are ringing in my head today after playing it. That phrase in particular struck a chord with me today for some reason. I realize that I carry a lot of guilt over past mistakes and wrongdoings in my life, especially when it concerns relationships I have been in. Most of them, I have known from an early point that they would not work, but for some reason (on a couple of them) I have kept it going, anyway. Why do I do this? And, more importantly to you, the reader: why the hell am I talking about this on a diary about being in Iraq? Aren’t I supposed to be telling stories of death-defying bravado and stopping terrorism? Or at least a story about some monkeys jousting from tricycles? Yes, I am that in tune with my readers; I know the questions before you ask them. However, this all ties in to me being here. How so? Glad you asked.
Coming straight from my gut and being as honest as I can, there is a large part of me that came here so that I could “get right with God,” so to speak. Yes, I do understand that, in the larger, Biblical sense of spirituality, only faith and forgiveness can accomplish that task. One may only attain a relationship with God by accepting His love and asking for His forgiveness. However, a big part of one’s relationship with God is also being right with one’s own self, and what it takes to be at peace in that arena is different for everyone. The alcoholic would benefit from a long trip to the mountains with no booze; the thief would gain from spending time in a place where material possessions mean little; one who is desperate for attention would do well to have a time of little or none of it, etc. The point being, I do not feel right about my place in the world, and have not since the loss of my love. It’s not that I haven’t experienced happiness since then; quite the contrary. It is simply that the world – and specifically my place in it – doesn’t quite make sense to me anymore. What better way to find my way than in the middle of a war zone, taking place in a land where civilization began?
Yes, I had already been in the Army, and yes, partly the reason I came back was because I was afraid of being called back involuntarily. As true as all of these are, a major driving force in my return has been the search for a bigger meaning and my place in all of this. I have always believed that the best way to “find yourself,” so to speak, is to focus all of my attention on others and on something much bigger than myself. I started to lose sight of that in these last two months; the horrible training and the even worse leadership had brought my moral to a new low. But the line in that song, talking about shedding all of the extra weight we carry on our shoulders, rang more true for me here and now than ever before. By coming here, I have shed everything extra in my life; I no longer have a phone, I can’t meet any women or carry on a relationship with the ones I know; the only possessions I have can mostly fit on my back and in my hands, and all of them are some kind of green or brown and somehow relate to either taking a life or saving one.
That is the raw essence of life. That is human nature stripped down. This is me at the simplest level I will occupy, probably for the rest of my life. It is liberating and scary as hell at the same time. We laugh and joke about it, but the possibility of death lurks not too far back in everyone’s mind here. The possibility of every phone call made home, every email sent, and every package received being your last puts your brain in a place it has never been. Sure, that can happen at home, too. But here it is a thought that is right there, lurking. Waiting. The bad guys are right outside the wire. There may not be many of them anymore, but there are still a few, and let’s be honest, we all know it only takes one. This forces your mind to think in ways it never has. Even on a subconscious level, you prepare yourself and you prepare those around you. You drop little lines to your buddies “if I’m gone, just remember this…” or “hey on a quick, serious note, be sure you get this to my family…” No one wants to spend a lot of time talking about it because they’re afraid of jinxing everything (I don’t care if there is no basis for it whatsoever, I guarantee even the most scientifically minded person in the world would become superstitious in a place like this), but everyone wants to say…something. And we all do, even if it is our own, strange way.
Which brings me back to my original point: in coming here I had hoped to purge myself of a few demons by tackling something much larger than myself and in so doing, hopefully feel that I had done something worthy with my life. I now see, even early on, that I was wrong in believing I could do that. I know now that coming here has not made me worthy of life and not “cleansed” me in any way; what it has done is stripped me down to the bare minimum. It has forced me to reevaluate life from the most primal level by taking away the freedoms and luxuries of normal life. The silliness of relationships is fading into my memories even as I write this, only two and a half months in to this deployment. I see now that this will not answer any questions, but rather silence the dull roar of complexity in my brain. Much that is regarded as important becomes less so when you wear the same clothes every day and instead of checking to see if your hair is ok before your date, you are checking to make sure you have your M4, ammo, water, and night vision before you go out the door. And also when you have to go to sleep to the sound of two other dudes snoring all the time, but that’s another issue…
Yes, I long for the normal life again where I can think about other things. And by no means do I believe that this is a cure-all, or that it will fix my problems. But I realize that this will change me, hopefully for the better, in a sense that my priorities have shifted. Yes, I would still love to meet a woman and have children with her. But if or when a crazy one comes along whose personality shifts from day to day and hypocrisy is her middle name, then I will no longer be upset about saying “goodbye.” I will simply know that she needs to go find her own war to fight in. We all do, sometimes more than once.