I attended a play the other night. It had one of my veteran buddies in it which is the reason I went. It was about civic responsibility. More importantly it was a play that involved the audience and formed them into different caucus groups in order to debate and ultimately vote on a bill that was proposed in the House of Representatives some 13 years ago that would create national mandatory service in peacetime and institute a draft during war time. There’s various merits and arguments and counter-arguments to that particular idea. That’s not what this is about.
The play itself also covered various veterans and military issues, all of which I am quite familiar with from finding a job, to going to school to “thank you for your service.” It touched on our various conflicts, both current and from the past. It was pretty good I thought. There was also a lot of audience participation in small groups. At one point we were instructed to introduce ourselves to the person next to us and discuss any personal insights, experiences we might that inform our opinion on the bill.
And wouldn’t you know my luck? I was sitting next to “that guy”. Because there is always, “that guy” at these things. In a way I myself was that guy but I was different guy. This guy, and keep in mind we were at a very upscale private school, was an older gentlemen who had been hanging around that campus forever. He was Vietnam era but hadn’t served. He turned to me and began to rattle off a story about how he had a friend that had served in Nam and his sister was at the protest at Kent State that got ugly and that’s all good and fine. Knowing people is an experience. It was what he said to me after he was done explaining all that that annoyed me. He said, “So do you have experiences or anything close to that? Or do you know anybody that has?” Something along those lines and the way he said it, like oh, I’m justifying who I am and you couldn’t possibly have anything close….
In my brain, I was like, no, dude, I’ve been sitting right here for the last twenty years and I don’t know shit……But that’s not the truth. And I felt bad that I even had to say or felt like I had to say my past to this guy, to me it felt like, do I really have to justify my existence to you? But I did and I do again. So I rattled off my military service, my deployments, my work with veterans and my six years out of the US doing aid work and I was like yeah, yeah I have a few things, here and there.
Any different attitude and it wouldn’t have triggered me at all and I handled this like a champ, because I really don’t think of my past has that big of a deal. But it’s important to me. It helps define who I am. And I’m not going to lie and say there’s things in it that don’t bother me. They do and I think that’s human. It’s not the end of the world. You learn from those things, you get stronger and you move on.
And I get where he was coming from, him as much as I do, as much as most people do (except for the saints out there) sometimes feel like we have to justify ourselves, our opinions, even our very existences not only to each other but to ourselves. It’s unfortunate and I know I’ve done it for years.
Sometimes, when I was out away from home, I felt fine, I felt I was in this big, diverse web of people and it’s just the way it was and it was cool and sometimes, particularly with the teams I was on or at least some of the people, I felt good, I felt like I belonged.
Here I feel like a bit of an oddity sometimes. Even at the play, I wanted to speak up and be like, well, you know, Afghanistan is not technically in the mid-east, I guess you can make an old argument that it is but still it’s not. Or when people mention Syria, they have absolutely no clue, not even an inkling of what the hell they are talking about. And don’t get me started on “Africa” that one village with twenty five people in it, 20 of whom are kids and starving (yes I’m being sarcastic goddammit). We’re just not very well informed about the world, we don’t need to be in our day to day lives I suppose but I think the world could be a better place if we were.
And sometimes its fine, sometimes when I broach the subjects with someone they’re genuinely interested and they want to learn something. I don’t have a lot to teach, but I have a little. But sometimes and I use to do it to, they get this whole, I don’t want to hear about the rest of the world because that fundamentally change cells in my brain if I really listen and I just can’t deal with that. I have my pre-set notions and I can only exist within those.
Thank God this isn’t my first time coming home. Because my first time, that was the lesson I learned. I placed pre-set notions on other people and I sought out information to justify the way I thought. I guess it’s only fair when I see other people do it to me now. But then again I was 23 just getting out of the Army, if you’re much older…..yeah…
It’s one of the lessons of being in the world. Listen before you speak. Don’t make pre-judgements because you just don’t know at the end of the day who you are sitting next to (and I hope I’m not making too much of a judgement on that guy, cuz at the end of the day who knows what else is going on there).
I have so many more thoughts along the lines of coming home, particularly around habits and time and days go and incorporation of the past into the present. But another time. Thank you for reading.