So I started this blog at the worst possible time. That’s a bit melodramatic, but it has been a crazy couple of weeks. I apologize to all my loyal readers (hi Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa!) for the lapse in posts.
Now, here’s a story from a few days ago:
I don’t know how the conversation started, but it ended with convictions. It was the second time I’d had that conversation that day, so this time I knew exactly what to say.
I was talking to a classmate; one of the people here who seems so fascinated by stories about my time in the military. It’s a fascination I don’t fully understand – I think we have a way of un-glorifying our own experiences – but I’ll go with it because, frankly, it feels nice to be fascinating. This person is also someone with strong convictions, someone who knows exactly where he stands. Whether I agree with him or not, he’s the kind of person I’m a little jealous of right now because in so many ways I don’t know where I stand anymore.
I think I’ve felt that way for a while, but it wasn’t until I met with a Veteran’s Affairs (VA) therapist earlier that morning that I fully acknowledged it. She let me ramble and helped sort through my jumbled thoughts until I put my finger on it. So when the topic came up later with my classmate, I was prepared.
In a nutshell, this is what I told him:
I used to have strong opinions about everything: from politics to race relations, religion to foreign policy, whether or not Bud Light can be categorized as a real beer. I used to have a firm stance on solid ground. Now I’m teetering on the shifting sands of uncertainty.
And I told him why:
My solid ground was propped up by a combination of nature and nurture. I was raised in suburbia in the Pacific Northwest in a good, conservative, patriotic family. My grandfathers and mother served in the military. When I was 18, I went into ROTC, and four years later into the Air Force, where I spent four-and-a-half years. Somewhere in that eight-plus year stretch I “came of age.” I “found myself.” Or whatever cheesy title you want to give it. Like most people do in their late teens and 20s, I figured out who I was and formed opinions that correlated to that persona. It’s a vulnerable time in everyone’s life, full of opposing influences. And because I was in the military while my self-discovery was taking place, the military’s institutionalized values to some extent became my own.
But then I went to Afghanistan and everything got shaken up. I saw the best and worst in humanity, crammed together in the same tiny spaces – even within the same people. I saw sides of issues I’d never been privy to before: bureaucracy, corruption, censorship, suffering, desperation. In short, I got a new perspective, a new filter through which to view the world. And through that filter, from where I stood, nothing looked quite right any more. I tried putting down the filter, but I couldn’t. So my only choice was to stand somewhere else. I’m still looking for solid ground.
For a long time when I got back from Afghanistan, and then when I got out of the Air Force, I felt very unsettled. That’s a whole topic for another blog post sometime, but it’s important here to note that mostly I don’t feel that way anymore. Except for my convictions. I have some values, of course, that I’ve maintained and that will never change. And I have “hot button issues” that are entirely new to me – things that jolt me into a Hulk-like alter-ego I never realized I had until I got back from my deployment. But when it comes to my stance on some of those “big issues,” I’m still floundering. I hate floundering. Floundering makes me uncomfortable.
But I realized yesterday, if I really think about it, I’m glad I have that filter. Because now I have a solid, worldly foundation of life experience on which to build my patch of solid ground when I figure out where I want to put it.
I recently got out of the military. I’m back in “liberal academia." And I’m surrounded by a new group of people: people who don’t know much about the military; smart, eclectic, worldly, passionate people; artists; people who could have equally heated in-depth conversations about punctuation and about race relations; people from New Hampshire (love you guys!).
In many ways I feel like I’m back at that “coming of age” place again. I don’t have a clean slate (do we ever, really?) but I have an opportunity to reestablish my opinions, my values, my convictions. I am once more being bombarded by opposing influences. But this time I have the power of discernment. It may take me a while, but I know that when I do find my solid ground, it will be mine and mine alone. It will be shaped by my experiences, filtered through my unique lens.
When I find it, I know I’ll be unequivocally comfortable there.
And I will still never drink Bud Light.