Finding North

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, service, Uncategorized

Today, my life re-oriented itself and I am renewed in purpose.  I had the enormous fortune to spend some time with a friend – one of those friends who is supportive but directive and says the really crucial stuff, sometimes the really hard stuff.  It was the equivalent of someone taking me by the shoulders and saying  “Look, what happened was painful and unexpected, and this path doesn’t get any easier.  you need to learn how to apply some of your skills to yourself, to be more objective about your successes and setbacks, and recognize your value and purpose. you are prepared and skilled and talented and your heart is big enough – time to move forward again.”

And she’s right.  What I’d forgotten, what my time at DOC had hacked away, is my desire to be of service.  For almost two decades, the question that has driven me is “how can I best be of service?”  I haven’t always known this question was pushing me onward, although the pattern of seeking some answer is obvious in my choices of education, career, and interests.  And to be clear, I’m not entirely thrilled about having discovered the question.  I’ve been fighting the knowledge for a while, wanting some acknowledgement for what I’d already done, the service I’d already given.

I was so tired, so exhausted, so beaten down by the endless need and casual, normalized brutality of the prison system that I couldn’t tolerate the thought of more service.  I couldn’t tolerate giving more of myself and getting nothing in return.  The final defeat was when I was being targeted by DOC.  My employer never acknowledged my service, my value, or that they cared about my situation or me.  That was crushing.  To have worked for them for so long, doing such difficult work, and be pushed aside, so casually and thoughtlessly, was a terrible experience.  My desire to serve was profoundly wounded, and I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself back into that arena.

Unfortunately, purpose doesn’t really work that way.

Even if my conscious mind couldn’t bear to think of being in service, the rest of me knew the deal.  I focused on private industry, found a job, and all was well with the world.  Until two weeks ago when, out of the blue, with no explanation, they let me go.  I was thrown into the perpetual chaos, confusion, and uncertainty of looking for work, again, in a very tight market.

I was also faced, AGAIN, with the question of what did I want for myself, what kind of life did I want to live?  Not once, but twice in a six month period I found myself asking the same round of questions, looking at the same batch of answers, and questioning my sanity.  Why would this happen twice?  Why would I be forced into this process twice, in such a short period of time?  What the fuck was I supposed to learn?  Sweet baby christmas, how much reflection was I supposed to do before the light came on?

Of course, I was far too close to see the answer, even though it was probably obvious to everyone else.  Everything in my life is about being of service.  Hell, every single idea I’ve had about starting my own business is based in service to others through education, creativity, or advocacy.  My reading, my art, my writing, it’s all grounded in the desire to serve, to help others be the best they can.

I was hoping for a different answer.  I tried to redirect my ambition in other directions, but it literally didn’t fit.  My ego, my intellect, wants a bigger presence, accolades, acknowledgment, praise, the recognition I see going to others who do work I admire. But that’s not why they do the work and, ultimately, not why I will continue doing that work.

We do it because it’s who we are.  We came here to serve, to be of service, to lift others and, in turn, be lifted.  As Gandhi said “we find ourselves in service to others.” This clarity doesn’t mean my desire for recognition has magically disappeared, it just means it isn’t driving the bus anymore.  I’ve found my north again.

Nothing-Liberates-Our-Greatness-Like-The-Deisre-To-Help-The-Desire-To-Serve.

 

 

Don’t worry, I won’t

Hard Stuff, Peace/Conflict, Social Justice, Uncategorized

For a while now, service men and women have been talking/not talking about the whole “thank you for your service” bit.  You know, the one where Person X realizes Person Y served in one of our endless wars and claps them on the shoulder with a hearty “Thank you for your service!”  That one?

Well, vets aren’t buying it, in part because they see it as an easy way for people to avoid truly understanding their sacrifices and suffering.  They’re probably right – it IS an easy way for people to feel like they’ve done something, liking or sharing a post or passing along a petition.  It’s ephemeral action, prompted by vague sensations of obligation and guilt.  But it’s over quickly and life goes on badda bing, badda boom. I’m not sure what would constitute a proper “thank you,” I’m not sure there is one.

It’s almost a certainty that I’ll never thank a vet for their service because I’m not convinced that the US government sending women and men to kill and die is something I want to thank anyone for.  That I know of, no one ever thanked my father for his service and his service ultimately killed him.  A slow, lingering, wasting, psychotic death, courtesy of Agent Orange and decades of untreated PTSD. Agent Orange ate his body, while PTSD gnawed his heart and mind.  He died several years ago – sick, angry, sad, afraid, and alienated from his family.

Thank you, US government and taxpayers, for sending my father to your service. Thank you, US government and taxpayers, for treating him, and the other boys you sent to die in Vietnam, like pieces of shit when they came back.  Thank you, US government and the VA, for forcing him to wait YEARS before acknowledging his exposure to Agent Orange and all the resulting physical illness.  Thank you, US government for not having a safety net in place for him, and tens of thousands of men like him, so they didn’t die or go insane under the weight of grief and trauma and rage and fear from everything they experienced in that horrifying war.

There is my thank you, service people.  It’s the only thank you I can imagine offering.

I don’t thank people for their military service because those words simply don’t make sense to me.  I know millions of people think our military keeps us safe, and stops all those “Others” from invading our country and killing us in our sleep.  Our military keeps us “safe” by doing exactly that to people in other countries – to people who don’t look like us, don’t eat what we eat, don’t believe what we believe.  I won’t say I believe any of those people deserve to die – any more than our soldiers deserve to be sent to kill and die.  I don’t believe my safety demands they be indoctrinated with a mindset that builds towering barriers between Them and Us.

I’ve watched the US clench itself into a fist of fear and anger and confusion and grief over the last 13 years, long years since 9/11.  I’ve watched us become more and more divided over issues fundamental to our humanity, issues that used to define us as a nation.  I’ve watched us become more and more suspicious, lashing out in wide-eyed fear and mistrust.  The few who speak out against this reactive behavior are often crucified, because terror holds no room for differences of opinion.

I grew up in a military family.  I spent the first 18 years of my life on military bases, moving around, following my father to his next station.  I watched him die as a result of his service to his country.  So to all those men and women who don’t want me to thank them for their service, don’t worry – I won’t.