It’s probably not surprising that I have been feeling particularly reflective or melancholic these past couple months, but turning 40 recently certainly has given me cause to reflect. Many of you have asked how I feel now that I’ve reached this milestone and even my kids make a lot of hubbub over it. Well, here goes nothing.
I was born March 5th, 1968 at 5:20am at Home Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana. The life lived since has been an incredible journey filled with marvelous experiences, a few life-threatening incidents, and one heartbreaking event more painful than death itself. But all of them have, for better or for worse, made me who I am.
I think turning 40 puts me at that age when my perspective sharpens quite drastically. At 40 you’re at the peak – you can see the other side and your fate. But you can also see and vividly remember where you’ve come from. There will be no other time in my life quite like this one. This is the convergence of my past, my present, and the people and elements I imagine will play a major part in my future.If you could only imagine how strange and funny and exhilarating it is to be sitting here in Afghanistan again, laughing and reminiscing on my life. I mean think about it…. What would I even consider normal anymore? Everything has changed! I am outside of my comfortable life as I know it back home, I am physically and mentally exhausted most days, and I am weighed down with incredible responsibilities. I also have my recent divorce just to make things interesting. You would think I would have enough reason to look back on my last 40 years and complain.
But I can’t.
I accept responsibility for my past mistakes, and I ask God daily to give me guidance on the way He would have me go. And looking beyond myself, I also wake up every day here witnessing firsthand how poor and destitute the average Afghan citizen lives. I have also seen it in Iraq. For all of them, every day is fraught with fear… fear of the last remnants of the Taliban, or Al Qaida, who still give no value to human life and will easily steal it from them just to make a political point. I have seen the kids of the refugee camps, clinging to their prized possession – a wadded up plastic bag encircled with rubber bands to form a ball they can play with. I have seen the smiles on their faces when I give them a beanie baby, or a soccer ball, or even something as simple as a pencil or pen. I have seen the blown up remnants of old buildings – windowless, dirty, filled with raw sewage, open to the harsh elements – that many Afghans and Iraqis call home. So how can I complain about turning 40? How can I complain about “anything?!” If turning 40 has done anything for me, it has made me realize the blessings I have been afforded in my young life and to stop complaining about trivial things like the pizza that arrived late, or the car that cut me off on the freeway. My experiences have certainly given me ample opportunity to appreciate all those things. Heck, three war-time deployments to the Middle East will give anyone MORE than a healthy dose of perspective. Secretly, I wish that everyone could see what I’ve seen to understand how fortunate they are to be living in the United States.
Last night Bixby, Gary, Charlie and I sat in my room and reminisced about past deployments, recalled harrowing experiences, and laughed until we cried at the funny stories that inevitably come out of deployments like this. I needed that so much, and I am here to tell you, it was therapeutic; I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. Those are the stories that only those who have “been there” can tell - and understand. But I realized what a great friend I have in each one of them, and many others. It’s been said that if you have five friends that you can count on for anything - anything in the world - that you’ve lived a full life. As I look back on my last 40 years I realize I am easily above my quota. Those friends – military and civilian - have always been there, and thankfully, will be a part of my future.
So here I am, standing at the peak, looking forward and back. There's a lot to treasure, to appreciate, to savor, whichever way I look - sure, there's some crud, too, but you don't get to this point without being forged in the fire a few times - and look what that does to steel. I have to wonder, are 50 and 60-year olds reading this and saying to themselves, “What’s the big deal?”… 40’s a piece of cake!
Soon, I will be headed home, and friends old and new, family of birth and of love, are gathering to greet my arrival back home to my - dare I say it? - “normal” life again. I will wake up every morning realizing what a gift these last 40 years have been, living in the greatest nation on the planet. Until you’ve truly awakened in the morning and wondered if that day would be your last, you’ll never fully appreciate it.
And what of the next 40 years?... Well……. I think they’re going to be great!
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