Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Short Timer

Way back in Vietnam, everyone longed to be “short”, to be getting close to that all important DEROS (date expected return from overseas) Day when each soldier’s war would end. (Unlike the current war, most GI’s only served one tour in Vietnam.) The DEROS count began the first day in country and ended at zero (or maybe even two if you got a quick flight out). At least I thought it ended then. Ever since, the notion of short has been part of my life. All things pass; time and change are inevitable. These passing events individuals and places may not have the certain duration and clear trajectory of military service but they happen nonetheless. Throughout life I have often been a short-timer as I moved from place to place. I knew that for sure when I lived on the Navajo reservation—no matter how long I stayed I would never be truly permanent in that place; that’s one reason why I enjoyed and savored it so much.

More recently I realize that I am becoming a short-timer in this life. The idea is nothing new--I’ve known that life is not permanent pretty much since I learned of death during my childhood. What I didn’t know about the uncertainty of life before I went to Vietnam, I learned there. But these days I can look back at the years and see more behind than in front of me. In Vietnam, that tipping point was cause for celebration (as was every day before and after). I don’t know when that tipping point occurred in my life but as an American male at age 60, I can reasonably assume that I passed my tipping point. I’m a short timer.

At this point in life, even the long term looks like the short term. Maybe longer than shorter but clearly a relatively short time compared to my previous years. So all those things I always wanted to do but haven’t will need to come to pass if I’m going to do them. For practical matters, I give myself another good 15 active years but that may be only a hopeful guess or pessimistic realism. My time could already be up and I just don’t know it as I write this. (Returning to this piece after a few days, I’m still alive, so I haven’t hit the trip wire yet.)

So what does this short-timer plan to do with those precious remaining years? I’m going back to full time employment. A combination of opportunity, challenge, income and benefits makes this a good choice for a few years. It will certainly offer an excellent introduction to my newly adopted state and further my goal of returning to “successful unemployment” in the future. I can also look back to seven years of freedom and interesting travel. I have no regrets about those years or my choices for the next years. I am where I want to be doing what I want.

Mostly. I will no longer co-host About Face on KPHX radio or appear on radio with the Olympia Veterans for Peace. My new employment requires that I be nonpartisan, objective and independent. I don’t think my veteran’s activism affects my ability to meet those requirements but I know well enough that anonymity is to my advantage. Besides, I don’t plan to give up on radio—or television, for that matter. I have some opportunities to develop a show based on my work as a veterans’ advocate and a possible documentary about traumatic brain injury. All I have to do is pass the VA test I took yesterday, master studio equipment and develop a format. I also want to begin photographing again not to mention painting and just experiencing the world around me and enjoying the company of friends and family. I have plenty to keep me interested and occupied.

But my clock is ticking and will stop someday. Fact of life. When I was a Catholic schoolboy, I worried constantly about death and eternal punishment, a feeling that became impossible to avoid when I discovered sex. Since I could not ignore sex, I gave up on Catholic doctrine which freed me from my fear of death as I came to understand my place in the cosmos and other forms of spirituality. Since then, my death has been an event that I know will occur. In the meantime, I can simply do my best to contribute to my community and refrain from harming others. If I do that, whatever comes after death is of no concern. Honesty and respect are important because that is how I define my humanity. It’s just the right thing to do. Period. Not because I fear some eternal punishment or seek some celestial reward. I’m no saint—I don’t always act honestly and respectfully—but I do know right from wrong. Heaven and Hell are irrelevant.

Unlike Vietnam, I am not anxious for my tour in this life to end quickly. Like Vietnam, I can’t do much about it. Well, okay, I can refrain from walking on the edge of sheer canyons since life has taught me that gravity is not always my friend. But even with reasonable prudence and judgment, I will die, probably within the next 30 years or so. Or maybe I will live to be 112. That still puts me past the tipping point.

Call me short. In the meantime, I have a few things to attend to.



Blogger NT said...

Beautifully written and very insightful.

It still amazes me that by simply adding up all the days we've been waking up and puttering around, we've somehow passed into our parent's age-group. And that they've passed on.

I was laying in bed last night thinking of the image of a fast-rushing stream with a lot of rocks sticking up. It seems like we are a leaf being swept down it, bumping into rocks, careening off, going not where we know.

Peace is found, as you indicate, in acceptance and giving up control.

8:21 AM  

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