Those penguins of Madagascar had one of the best lines in the movie. I feel like that often in my life. Over the past weeks I have felt completely overwhelmed by feelings and thoughts. I haven’t a clue as to what has precipitated my feelings recently, but I feel like I have to put a mask on everyday just to make it through. This happened often in my run-up to being sent to Jordan. I knew I was in trouble, that I wasn’t close to 100%, but I just put that mask on and pushed ahead. At the time of my training and preparation for mobilization I was also the pastor of a church and a mental health counselor. To say that I was suffering from compassion fatigue is an understatement. I had been burning my candle at both ends and in the middle. By the time my orders came through I was near the point of exhaustion. If I had been strong enough, and brave enough, I would have reached out for help then. However, I am a hard-headed and stupid man. I decided that I could suck it up and drive on – oohrah. I was determined to “not tarnish my honor” by admitting that I was not up to the task at hand. (These, of course, the musings of a much older and wiser hard-headed and stupid man). I think that the mask started to slip fairly early into my deployment though. I was paired with a person that not only was likely dealing with his own wounds and scars, but whom was also the polar opposite of myself.
I once told a Sergeant Major that “I could work with anyone.” That vain and ignorant statement would most certainly come back to haunt me. I have been trying to be as fair as possible in my recollections and recounting of this person, but I find that I am still too hurt to be completely objective. Where I would choose quiet persuasion, he would choose overt bullying. Where I would counsel compromise and cooperation, he would disappear and ignore. How many times was I asked, “Where is he?” My job was to know, and I didn’t. I couldn’t. He was my Captain Dike. I literally walked miles and searched for hours trying to answer that question. And the truth is, I didn’t really want to find him. We were stranded for 2 months in Kuwait waiting for important documents because of his bullying and impatience. Two months! We could have been on mission, doing our jobs, but his decision resulted in me basically being turned back into a Private, and given duties commensurate. You know that you are fulfilling a vital task when you organize closets and files that had not been touched in 6 years. I’m quite proud of that actually. That’s about when I first started to hear, with regularity, “Everything okay?” and it’s not like I could answer truthfully. Then, we finally make it to our mission in Jordan and almost immediately he made difficulties with the command that, from my viewpoint, caused us to be transferred to Afghanistan. I honestly don’t know how I was able to function, but I did. I accomplished the absolute, bare-bones of my responsibility in Afghanistan. I told him upon our arrival in Kabul that I did not feel that our current orders supported our leaving post, and that after getting through Iraq twice, I had nothing that I needed to prove. This was a lie. The truth was that as a fundamental responsibility as a Chaplain Assistant and as a Christian, it was my duty to lay my life down to protect his – and I couldn’t guarantee that I would. He did not challenge me on this. As it was, there were multiple times that I actually had to place myself at risk for his welfare even on our post (again, not trying to over-inflate my service – but this is true). The times that I did it was more out of concern for the reputation of the office of Chaplain and for myself than for personal concern for him. That is amazingly hurtful to write…but unfortunately true. I perfected my smile and wave enough that no one else suspected. But I knew, and I am rather sure that he did too. But again, he did not challenge me on this.
Which brings me back to now. I have been “smiling and waving” so long, that it feels like that is what I should be doing. But it’s not sustainable. My practice of living is not sustainable. I can’t keep doing the same things and think that a different outcome will occur. That’s insanity. I was hurt before because I was unable/unwilling to admit that I needed help and that I was not able to accomplish something. Well, without a doubt it is time to change that narrative. Tomorrow morning I take a large step outside of my comfortable rut and walk in a different direction. An important step, and one that must be free from any masks, any “smiling and waving.”
Dropping Pretenses Regardlessly,