Welcome Home

His eyebrows sagged and his countenance fell. His lips tightened as he went into a blank stare. He wiped a tear from his eye. He was somewhere else in the world right then, a different place, a different time. He had come back from that place years ago, probably before I was born. He had to come back from it again during our conversation sitting at the bar. I wondered how many times he’s had to come back from there in the last 45 years or more.

During my last trip to Ft Jackson, I stayed for a week instead of the usual weekend. When I’m there for only my army reserve weekend, I have a routine I generally follow. I get to town on Friday, check into the hotel, then go to Sonic. And why not? They’ve gotten my order right 3 out of the last 5 times now, getting better. Saturday is usually blur, and Sunday afternoon I head back to Florida. But when I’m there for a week at a time, I usually go to a couple different restaurants instead of eating drive-thru food for a whole week.

One particular night I went to a place I’ve enjoyed a few times before. It’s a sports bar with a killer burger. Not only is it good, but it might kill you, too, at half a pound of beef. Hence, a killer burger. But I’ll take my chances. The beer is cold, there’s sports on the TVs, and the people are nice. That’s where I met Chuck.

The conversation at the bar had to the with the heat that day. Then Chuck started talking to me, saying something about a “dry heat” like in Arizona or something. I told him that only works until it gets to a certain point. I told him it was a dry heat where I was in Iraq, but once the temperature got over 110 degrees, it was just hot. Dry or not, it was hot. Side note. For the record, I took a picture of the thermometer outside our Preventive Medicine office at my base in Iraq. It was at 146 degrees. But it was a dry heat. LOL.

Then Chuck told me he had been to the two worst places in the world. The first place being Detroit during the riots in 1967. The second place was Saigon, 1968. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He told me how he went from Detroit to the jungle. Then he told me that off all the men on the plane that took him to Vietnam, only 4 came home. That’s when he retreated into his mind for a minute. I imagine he was taking a moment to remember each of them. I believe he could see them in his mind, maybe as they sat next to him on the plane or maybe as they drew their last breath, I didn’t ask. Either way, he needed a minute.

When he returned to reality, we changed the subject of our conversation to sports. But in only two minutes before that, I knew his pain. I had a sense of his war stories. I could tell where he had been in some respects. His face spoke it all very clearly. Sports brought a completely different face to Chuck. His sports stories were amazing and fascinating. The sports figures that he met over the years, the autographs he told me about, the memorabilia he said he has in his sports room. It all had me in awe. And he was happy talking sports. It’s his life now, and his job.

Everyone I went with to Iraq and Afghanistan came home. I personally knew a few people that died serving, but everyone I went with both times came home. I can’t imagine what goes through Chuck’s mind when he thinks about being only one of four surviving members of the group on the plane that took him to Vietnam. The only inkling I have of what he goes through is what I saw in his face while he revisited the fallen in his memories.

I have my moments where I get triggered to memories of war. On occasion I get jumpy because of unexpected noises. Being in traffic is hard for me. I battle anxiety and depression all the time. I’m still figuring out a lot of this since coming home from my last deployment. I don’t know his stories, but I can very much relate to how Chuck reacted when taken back to 1968. I also do that from time to time. And I wonder if years from now I’ll still have my moments like that. We’ll see.

I’ll say again what I told Chuck the other night. Thank you for leading the way with your service. And Welcome home. I’m glad you’re one of the four that came back.

Thank you all for stopping this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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March Madness and Life

I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I love the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. It may be the best sporting event in all of sports. Especially the weekend of the first two rounds. And especially this year. I don’t watch all the games, but I watch a couple games each day that interest me and try to catch the highlight shows at the end of the night. This year’s first two rounds last weekend certainly lived up to the madness of March Madness. Buzzer-beating game-winning shots, the #1 overall seed going down, elation, heartbreak, chaos, poise, desperation, and confidence. Just a few things from the first round alone. Every game for the seniors is potentially their last, and every freshman that takes the court has a chance to do something historic. Underdogs can win and overrated teams usually reveal their weaknesses. All of our brackets are busted. It’s madness, complete madness.

While March Madness might be the most exciting sporting event, baseball is my favorite sport. Yes, baseball over football. At no point in a baseball game is the game over until the last out is made. There is no clock. There are no flags to be thrown. No turnovers. Baseball is the only sport that can’t change from offense to defense in the middle of a play, the defense must get all three outs to change sides. And one of the most interesting things in comparing baseball to all the other team sports is that every ballpark is different. In all the other sports, they have the same playing fields, same dimensions, same yard markers, same goal height. No two ballparks have the same dimensions, only the standard 60’ 6” from the mound to home plate and 90’ between the bases.

My life sometimes feels similar to March Madness. It’s chaotic and anything can happen. It’s had excitement, surprises, moments of success, and plenty moments failure. And there are times that even though I’m living my life, I can’t believe what happened and would like to see a replay. I get happy when a good thing happens to me and I get upset when a bad call happens that’s not my fault. Sometimes I feel like that team that’s down by 5 with 15 seconds left but doesn’t have any timeouts left to stop the clock to regroup in hopes of making a final effort to avoid defeat. I’m probably like the 16 seed that people root for as the underdog, even though they know there’s no chance of winning.

But a 16 seed won a game this year, for the first time ever.

March Madness also means that Major League Baseball is right around the corner, something I start looking forward to as soon as the world series ends. My life is like the madness in the first weekend of March Madness from time to time. PTSD doesn’t follow a season. The symptoms come and go as they please. Sometimes my frustrations turn into anger. I become depressed without warning. I go from having a great day to a horrible day in the blink of an eye. I’m often on edge and tense and hypervigilant. I get stuck in that madness sometimes, some of which is from outside sources and some of which comes from within my own mind. I don’t always do a great job of looking passed it. But I’m learning. I’ve found that the periodic madness of my life doesn’t last, I just have to make it through it, that there’s something ahead that might be good. It helps to find things to look forward to. But even then, it can sometimes be a challenge.

Even with the unpredictable madness, I see baseball coming. In baseball, the game ain’t over until the final out. No lead is insurmountable, no clock will expire. And no series is won or lost until the final out of the final game. And I’m still in the game. It’s madness, but I’m still in the game, still swinging for the fences. I’m striking out a lot, but every once in a while, I connect and hit one out of the park. And if I find myself at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the game on the line, I’ll make contact or I’ll go down swinging.

The madness of life is a given. Don’t get stuck there. Something better is coming, whether you can see it or not from where you are now. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless, and Go Red Sox!

Dave

Wired Differently

Way back in high school, what seems like a thousand years ago now, I was on the wrestling team. I enjoyed it and I was pretty good at it. Two-time regional champion in my weight class. In the largest tournament I ever wrestled in, with over sixty schools represented, I took third. Not too shabby. And my senior year at the state tournament, I lost by one point in overtime to the guy that would go on to win the state title in my weight class.

At the beginning of one wrestling season, one of the football coaches made some of the football players go out for the wrestling team. I think officially, it was strongly encouraged to those players, but they knew they had to go to wrestling practice if the coach told them to. About a week later, they were all gone except for one or two guys. Most of them couldn’t do it. Coach Downey ran a grueling wrestling practice, mostly on the mats in the cafeteria, but sometimes running stairs in our three-story main building on campus. If someone puked while running, he kept going, and the rest of us simply ran around it, lap after lap. Up three flights, down the long hallway, down three flights, and back. And again. For a couple hours. I guess this is my proof that wrestlers are tougher than football players.

Although… I went out for football in junior high school (yeah, I know it’s called middle school now, and whatever, I don’t understand why they changed it). I lasted one practice when I decided it wasn’t for me. Not having become very athletic by that time, my young body was in shock at what it was having to do. I lacked the talent, desire, and commitment it would have taken to be on the football team. So, maybe football players are tougher.

OR, perhaps, we are all just wired differently. Conditioned differently. Have different goals and strengths. Different talents. Some of those guys that couldn’t make it on the wrestling team were a force to be reckoned with on the football field. Brute strength and hard hits. And while I would have likely gotten run over by them on their field, they were no match for me on the wrestling mat. I had balance, technique, and leverage. That’s what I brought to the table that they could not compete with.

The hardest thing I’m working on in my life right now is realizing that we are different from each other, in more than just our physical abilities. Mentally, we have different strengths and weaknesses. We each react to situations differently. I know that some people can’t relate to what I go through, especially when the depression gets ahold of me or my PTSD symptoms show themselves. And, on the same token, I don’t understand some of the things other people go through. I have to catch myself once in a while so I don’t say out loud, “Get over it,” or “Why do you let that bother you?” or “It’s not that hard.” And I know people think that about me as well. And I understand.

We’re not just different from each other, we, ourselves, also become different. Age, trauma, and stress transform us on a daily basis. Even though I try very hard to not show it, I am my own worst critic about the person I have become. I ask myself all the time, “Why does this bother you?” I reminisce about all the things I used to be able to do physically, long hours of physical labor or running a half marathon. Or even passing an army physical fitness test. None of that used to be hard. I tell myself to get over it, but it’s not that easy. That’s usually when the depression flares up.

I’m not wired like I used to be. And I’m not able to recondition myself to be the old me. Not physically, not mentally. I’ve said before that the physical issues I brought back from Afghanistan contributed to my mental collapse. And to be honest, if I could just get the army to take responsibility for those issues, that would be a huge weight off my back. And what absolutely kills me is that at one time in the life I used to live, again what feels like a thousand years ago, much of what makes me “crazy” now barely phased me back then.

I am struggling quite a bit lately with self-criticization (and yes, that’s a word, I just looked it up to make sure, consider it your word of the day). I am depressed more often than usual and it’s becoming harder and harder to work through. As a high school athlete, I looked forward to getting pushed to my limits. I wanted to know what I could handle and how I measured up to others. It made me better. I don’t enjoying being pushed to my limits anymore. Especially mentally. And I reach my physical limits after just a few hours on my feet at work. And I hate it. But I’ll bet if Coach Downey barked at me to run stairs, I probably would, until it killed me. You know, since wrestlers are tougher than football players I would have to. LOL.  🙂

Thanks for stopping by this week. I hope you got something from this. Good day, God bless.

Dave