What are we supposed to do when we expect bad news? I had been taught in my time in the Marines to “suck it up” and just move forward. That is how I have done things for a large part of my life, but it really doesn’t seem to engage the situation, merely just puts it into the background with bravado and show. Perhaps I am just older or perhaps I just can’t deal with things by not dealing with them any longer. I recently found out that there is something wrong with my liver. What is wrong, I have no clue yet and neither do the Docs. Undergoing tests, which with each successive one peels back the need for another and more questions. It is very disconcerting and if I were to handle it according to my training, I would simply say “no big deal, let’s move out.” However, in this case, I have to face it. Face it and taste the feelings…because to do nothing could be very bad. It may turn out to be a minor thing, though it also may turn out to be a major thing, I just don’t know. I do know that I am tending to think the worst of situations right now, though I am having to temper my feelings to focus on what is known. But the fear and the uncertainty can be very draining…
I remember one specific day among many in Iraq in 2008. My unit was in Tikrit and I found myself on a convoy to a small MITT Team next to the Horseman’s Gate in the middle of the city. Just like normal as we were moving out of COB Speicher I found myself struggling with those inner feelings as we moved out. The local insurgents had been hitting convoys hard and we were heading into the city. Of course, SGT Qmo can’t show any emotions except to radiate that calm and collected assurance that it’s just another crappy day in Iraq. It really is an important lesson to learn about how you project to the junior Soldiers around you…the worst thing that a senior leader can do is to add to their fear and uncertainty. But inside, I was very worried that this convoy, this trip might be the one that finally was one too many. I struggled greatly with this almost crushing feeling that we were going to hit an IED or come under significant assault and perhaps be injured or killed. It was one of those moments that made crystal clear what was important in life. I would’ve given anything in that moment to be at home with my wife and children. The anxiety in my mind was growing so much so that I felt I would lose control and my stomach was doing twists. I quickly figured out that I couldn’t handle the situation as it stood any longer and that I was going to need to do something to focus and accomplish the mission, knowing also that I was going to be doing this for a year and that I couldn’t expect myself to manage every trip or mission like this, that eventually I’d break from stress. So I did something about it. I gave up.
There was absolutely nothing I could do to change the fact that I was in Iraq and that people there wanted to kill me and my friends. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change my mission or avoid taking risk to accomplish it. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to affect anything outside of the small control I had on my fire team. Other anxiety and energy was a waste, so I gave it all up. I started a practice that day that I continued for the remainder of my career, I prayed. I took a quick moment to prepare myself for whatever occurred, but it was much more than just a ritual. It was my way of sincerely preparing myself for death. That day as we rolled out and as we did our final checks I said the following: “Lord, if today is the day that my life is required of me I ask that you allow me to meet You on my feet and with honor. Amen.” Then I would breathe a cleansing breath and be about my business.
I wish I knew why it seemed so black and white over there and so clouded here, but I do know that my recent medical issues have brought back those same feelings of anxiety and fear that easily could swamp me to the point that I’ll break. I suppose the simple answer is that I need to give up again. That I need to do something about it and prepare myself for the reality that I could easily die tomorrow by some moron behind a wheel or in a few months or years because of a liver problem. Either way I don’t want to react to the bad news of life in a manner that causes me to not see what is important in life, but instead meet my Lord with that same resolve that I used to have: “Lord, if today is the day that my life is required of me I ask that you allow me to meet You on my feet and with honor.”
Amen and Amen,