When people ask me how things are going I often reflect on how battle worn soldiers answer that question because I feel like my life echoes that of a soldier’s out on the front lines. I often envision myself struggling to hold myself up on some sandbags strewn with cartridge belts waiting and empty shells littering the lonely foxhole that my family and I call home. If you can draw this mental picture, (and I have a lot of them) you’d see my most precious friend, head wrapped in blood soaked bandages, lying by my side attached to an IV bag hanging from her rifle. An M60 would be perched on top of those sandbags, dirt and smoke marking my face, a cigarette hanging from my lips and an overarching look of exhaustion to finish the scene.
And then the question comes, ‘how are things going?’ Well that’s a loaded question, if it were someone in the next foxhole over perhaps there could be a coherent exchange but I don’t think anyone can understand what it feels like to live in a constant state of readiness, or in constant anticipation of impending death. To live in a place where the bridge to eternity is so close is not only extremely clarifying but it is also extremely freeing. You see when you’re out on the front lines and life is reduced to me or him, live or die, eat, sleep, breath, and survive, life suddenly takes on another dimension, a dimension that most people run from and want to get away from, but one that breaks down life to it’s final common denominator and makes perfect sense to those who are there. We’ve heard of the culture shock soldiers face when they come home from those front lines, some of them wanting immediately to go back and be in the struggle of survival with their friends, and some who just want to forget.
I am one of those soldiers that wants only to rejoin my fallen comrade on those front lines where life was reduced to the irreducibles, where the struggle for survival was all consuming, and retreat was not an option. You can imagine the hallow feeling of victory and the emptiness that I carried with me that day when there were no more attacks, no more emergencies, no more pills, no more volunteers, no more wheelchairs, no more throw-up bowls, no more potty breaks. Apparently the war was over, but everything I cared about had died out there on that field. For years I called this outpost my home, I ate, drank, slept, and breathed it, it may not have been comfortable, but it was home, and we were out there together.
Part of this mental picture continues in the torn feelings that I get every time I have to face life without her. I resent having to grit down on my cigarette and do what needs to be done, no-matter how hard, uncomfortable, awkward, and tough the job is. As much as I want to stop and sob over my fallen comrade, life offers me little time for that luxury. I’ve got to man my post and confront the challenges that we used to face together. And so, despite my sorrow, despite my sadness, and despite my weary body, I must, through gritting teeth and unfeeling action, stand up, and fire upon the enemy that launches daily attacks with unfeeling relentless and monotonous action that can only be met by one that can put his diary, dreams, and heart filled with emotions down and fire upon the enemy lest be overcome by him.