At my worst, I was fighting a hotel fire with a marine who was a lot more prepared for it than I was at 19. I imagined a Djiboutian man burning alive because of his own mistake, and wondered whether I would risk leaving my own family alone to save his from the same fate. He had been chewing an opiate leaf when the fire began, and all I could see was my future daughter’s face. Decisions like that are made in the slowest seconds imaginable, and it takes decades to process them afterward. The answers I came to in moments like that are my own burden to bare, but some of my brothers and sisters were there with me as I learned to live with them.
At my best, I learned pieces of foreign languages and to truly LOVE people who were different than me. I did everything I could to get clean water, toys, and food, to children who couldn’t possibly grow accustomed to that lifestyle. I often wonder if I did it for their sake, or for my own conscience.
It’s time for veterans (and others) to stop thinking that their “demons” are something to hide from. Your perspective on the world is something that the world itself needs. It isn’t fake. It isn’t a joke. It doesn’t matter one BIT if you went through more or less than what others did. Your story can help people. You are dynamic and whole. You have dark memories and you deal with them. Some moments are worse than others, but you have more to contribute to the world than you can possibly imagine. Fierce authenticity is the only way to share those lessons with the next generation. Your pain is what gives true life to your compassion.
Here’s a song to take you back. It gets me every single time. And you know what? I’m not sorry for sending you to that place. Stop compartmentalizing. Stop running from it. Use the emotion it provokes to change the world. If your employers, friends and family don’t see your holistic value, they don’t deserve it.
It’s a dark humility that comes from having your world shattered time and again. From thinking that you can’t over and over, and always managing because that’s the one choice you’re presented with.
Just send it, man.
If you want something more lighthearted, take a look at my previous blog post about hiking and mountains, which (along with writing) are the only medicines I’ll ever accept to numb what some people call “pain” (It’s really just perspective).
What you think is your greatest weakness is actually your greatest strength. Know your worth.