It’s Not Goodbye – It’s I’ll See you later

Wordlife Nat Shermans

Random Observation/Comment #248: Friends can be brothers – but not literally, just the way black people use it.

I have great respect for those who serve in the military.  How could you not? They are putting their lives on the line to maintain the luxuries we have back home in this first world country.   You could say that they are fighting some meaningless wars that boil down to some greedy corporations trying to make more profit, but at the end of the day, you still have to support the soldiers who do it. Don’t be an asshole and try to find a reason to say they’re stupid or made their own choices.  That’s just heartless. You can hate the government, love your country, and respect the soldiers all without contradiction.

There’s a big difference between watching Army commercials and seeing your best friend of 19-years go into the army.  There are stages of emotions that I went through – all probably explained in a psychology textbook.  As I am in one of the final phases, I’d like to go over the other sets of emotions I went through to get here.

  1. Disbelief. When I first heard Justin tell me he was going into the army, I thought he was joking.  I wrote in my diary. I read it and even laughed about it later. “Justin, you hilarious sonuvabitch.” How could someone with a Bachelor’s degree in bio-chemistry and 3 years of research experience at Columbia University’s neurology department change from a path of going to med school to a path of being a soldier?  Honestly, I thought it was a passing idea that he just wanted to bring up.  We spoke frankly about it and of course he fed me the same lines the recruiters feed soldiers.  I listened, nodded, smiled, and drank some more beer with my buddy and I thought – there’s no way he’s going to follow through…
  2. Confusion. As Justin told me more stories and I saw he was seriously considering the next steps of applying, I was puzzled around his logic.  I was confused because he had so many options and I felt like he could do so much more.  He told me his MOS would be with the Explosive Ordinance Department (which is pretty bad ass after watching “Hurtlocker”), but it still sounded like he played one too many video games.  We drank another beer and I thought – At least he’s learning more about career options and talking to people. I can always support building a community and networking .
  3. Anger. I heard his efforts progress, and one day he gave me a call to tell me that I will receive a call from someone that will ask me questions about him.  Once I knew he was getting a background check, I knew he had already signed up.  I was actually mad at him for being stupid.  He knew all the risks and he knew one of my close friends went through the Marines with all the negative things he could say about it. There were so many of us opposed to the idea, but Justin was so pig headed with this belief that it pissed us all off.  He wouldn’t bend to reason and it just seemed like he’d argue for the sake of arguing.  There was no “losing” the conversation because he was too prideful and stubborn.  I wanted to punch him in the face and say “Get your shit together, dude. You’re a freaking mess.”
  4. Indifference. This phase was the worst of them all. I knew the days were passing and I read his progression and boredom.  I thought that someone about to leave would make the most out of his time. I thought he would get closer with friends or start a blog that could actually tell the true story.  If I had those 4 months before leaving, I would travel more and write more.  I’d take pictures and be a tourist for a while. Everything that I like to do – I’d cherish because it’d be all gone.  He may have done his own version of this, but I didn’t feel like he made the most out of it.  I gave up on my ideas and I just let him do his own thing.  He fell off the radar for weeks at a time and I didn’t know or ask to worry about how he handled it.  There was no way to convince him otherwise, so that was that.
  5. Curiosity. It wasn’t about 2 months ago that I tried to learn more about what he would get into.  I had a small phase of fear in between, but my fear phases immediately shift to the reactionary preventive phase.  Worrying never gets anyone anywhere – it’s better to just learn more about it and give as much relevant advice as possible. So I did my research and I spoke to him about all of it. I could see he was passionate and looking forward to leaving. I asked him questions that I already knew the answers in order to test if he knew what he was getting into.  All in all, there were just more beers exchanged and more random stories.
  6. Acceptance. It took some time, but I did see that a few things had changed.  His family had come together and he became closer to a few friends. His church community grew stronger and he met more people that he could relate to.  I shifted my attitude towards him based on his attitude towards himself.  At times, I saw his uncertainty and fear as a weakness, which led me to doubt his choices.  Any shred of regret or childish view of this career path would just make me sad.  What I wanted to hear was confidence, excitement, and appreciation.  If I heard all these things, I would be supportive.  And you know what? I finally support him.

I don’t even want to think about going to my friend’s funeral, but it’s a possibility.  I choose to, however, accept that it is his life and his choice.  As a friend, the best I could do is give him my support and any relevant advice I can.  I am not going to hide behind any petty arguments or second guess his judgment a few weeks before his departure.

As a friend, you have two choices: 1) Hate Justin for his stupid choices and stop being his friend, or 2) Support Justin and hope he comes back to share his stories.  With even the risk of him not coming back, you should talk to him and see him before he leaves, because think about the worst case scenario of each choice.  In 1) Justin doesn’t make it back (which won’t happen) and you feel the guilt of having your last words to him be ones of anger or even your last efforts to see him to be non-existent.  In 2) Justin doesn’t make it back (which won’t happen), but you at least gave him a reason to come back.  Either way, you cry with emotions of anger and sadness, but at least with 2, you did your duty as a friend.

I’m proud of you, Justin.  Remember to think and stay calm.

~See Lemons Pray for Justin to Return