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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thinking of you friend.

The first time I went to a Vedanta temple with my friend Laura I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had to been to various church services, but before that day I had never even heard of Vedanta. We navigated through the surface streets of LA, neither sure where the hell we were going. Without GPS and smart phones we would have never made it to the small side street that wound up to a little patch of heaven in the middle of the busy metropolis. We parked and got out of the car, amazed by how quiet it was. You couldn’t hear the busy freeways, the honking car or sirens. We walked up to the temple on the path where her grandparents and parents had once walked and into the modest building. The ceremony had already begun and we took our place in one of the back rows. There were four other people in the pews, which were actual chairs, and those practicing the ceremony in the front of the room. I didn’t understand what they were chanting or what the ceremony meant, but I never understood Catholic Mass either. I sat and enjoyed the tranquility and watched those around me in a calm, peace with their heads bowed and their eyes closed. I decided to follow suit. I can meditate; I thought and tried to quiet my mind. Of course when you try to do a simple task it makes it nearly impossible. At first my head itched, then something outside caught my attention, a bird? A flash of light? Who knows? Then the compulsive thought, “am I doing this right? What am I supposed to be concentrating on? What are they saying?” Sometimes at the beginning of an acupuncture treatment the same thought runs on repeat through my mind. I try to remind myself that there is no right or wrong way to meditate or relax, but I can’t when I’m supposed to, maybe my mind is broken and I simply can’t be at peace on command. I’m at peace when I run or work out, during a long, familiar drive and when I’m writing, but not when I’m sitting still.

Walking back to my car that day Laura said, “I hate meditating like that. I always feel like I’m doing it wrong.” I laughed and told her I felt the exact same way.

I feel the same about grieving as I do meditating. I can’t seem to do it when it’s appropriate and I always feel like I’m doing it wrong. I must have been sick the day they taught us appropriate grieving techniques in elementary school. I haven’t lost a grandparent, parent, sibling or close friend. I see bad or horrible things on the news and I feel distant from the emotions I am supposed to be feeling. I let myself believe that nobody I love can ever die because that’s just cruel and unfair and life is already hard enough so god wouldn’t even dare taking someone away from me. I realize this is unrealistic and even childish, but if you could have held onto the belief that Santa is real for just a little bit longer, or that your babies could believe just one more year, wouldn’t you? I let myself indulge in this fantasy, because like Santa and the Easter Bunny, once I know I’ll never be able to go back.

I remember the day our friend Florian passed. She was my mother’s dear friend and I don’t think my mom thought it would upset me when she told me. I was living in New York and going to a summer graduate program at NYU. I think I had run out of money by then, or maybe it was the last week of my 30 day metrocard before I had to start walking to and from class – from Union Square to the Brooklyn Bridge. I remember I was alone when Mom called, and probably running late. My mother called and there was something in her tone that gave it away before she said the words aloud. There was the initial shock that I didn’t snap out of until one of my roommates asked if I was okay. “No,” was all I could get out before I ran out of the conference room where we had classes. I walked down to Battery City Park. I cried as crowds of people walked by, not a single one looking or asking if I was okay. I remember it was a cold June day and it was starting to rain. I was glad that this kept people out of the park. It was a weekday and people were scarcely scattered about the park I stood and stared at the Statue of Liberty, then wrote in my journal for a bit. There was a Mexican man and his son taking pictures and the father interrupted my journaling to ask if I could take a picture of both of them. He then explained how they had travelled all the way from Mexico City just to see the Statue of Liberty. I thought this was a strange pilgrimage since they weren’t American, but then I remembered all the castles and landmarks I visited in Scotland when I lived there. My eyes were probably red and my cheeks stained with tears, but this man just rambled on and on about their journey to get there. I listened, because that’s what I do when strangers want to tell me their story (and they always seem to seek me out for this task). I smiled, glad that they had made it and it meant so much to them to see Lady Liberty even though I just wanted to sit on a bench and pour my heart out in the blank pages of my journal. I was glad when they left without asking me to dinner or trying to hit on me, the man simply wanted to share their moment of joy and triumph with someone and I just happened to be the someone who was around. He wanted someone to know what that moment meant to him and I was able to hide my moment of sorrow behind his excitement.

I think about this day from time to time when something reminds me of Florian. I feel selfish for not thinking of my mother, when it was her close friend who passed. She talks about her often and I know she misses her. I feel ashamed that I didn’t try to contact her husband and children with condolences. I can remember being upset that I wasn’t living at home and couldn’t drive out to Oklahoma with my family to go to the funeral. This was the first of many events I have been too far away to attend. I wonder if someday I’ll regret living so far away. It will be seven years this summer and I still wonder if I grieved properly. Maybe I should have checked on my mother that afternoon.

Today, I opened up my email to the subject line, “Funeral.” My parents have been active members of the Tecumseh Lodge since I can remember. We have danced at the Tecumseh Labor Day Powwow every year for the last 20+ years. I get emails about member’s failing health, births, deaths, graduations and every other triumph and trial of life that they want to share with the lodge. I haven’t lived at home for ten years, and don’t always get home for the Labor Day powwow let alone for the lodge socials and other dances. I don’t usually recognize the names in the emails and delete them without reading the details, but this morning the name for the funeral notice was Jim Deer. I’m trying to remember if I saw Jim when I was home this past September for the 50th anniversary of the Labor Day powwow. Did I talk to him? Did he eat with our family over the weekend? Was he even there? As we always say, “if I knew that would be the last time …”

I didn’t know Jim any better than I knew Florian, but they both influenced my life more than they will ever know. I was extremely shy growing up, but at every dance Jim came over to our camp and asked me how I was doing and what I was learning in school. Jim lost his son after he left for the military. During off hours he was playing football with some of the guys and broke his neck. Growing up, I can remember wondering why Jim always looked a little sadder than everyone else. He lost his wife and adopted son far earlier than is fair in life, as well. Jim was a veteran and I remember watching him dance around the arena with the other veterans during the memorial songs. During Officer Candidate School (OCS), when I didn’t think I could push myself one more step, I thought of Jim and the other Veterans that I had watched through the years and kept going for them. During the Veteran’s song they danced through the arena with a humble pride, grace and unexplainable sorrow that I never quite understood until I went to war. My dad sang with Jim on the drum and I know he’ll be singing his favorite songs in heaven today and Jim will finally be at peace with his wife and sons.

I think today I will take my journal to the Vedanta temple here in San Diego. Instead of trying to sit still and meditating, wondering if I’m doing it wrong, I will take my journal and meditate my way and think of those I’ve lost and those I’m fortunate enough to still have here. Like we always do, I’ll swear I’ll try to call those I don’t see or talk to daily a little more often, even though I know I probably won’t.

Today, I miss my friends, but instead of wishing I had spent more time with them while they were here or wondering when was the last time we spoke, I will be grateful that they were part of my life at all. I’ll remind myself that grieving is like meditating, there is no right or wrong way to do it. I’ll listen for the songs from heaven, because I know Jim and Florian will be singing joyfully for us to hear and know they are doing alright.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I wanted to post an update and thank everyone for their warm thoughts and comments.  I decided to drop back to the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) and hopefully I won't be pulled back to deploy.  If I do get called back I'll go and lead Marines to the best of my ability because it is my duty.  I feel like I made the right choice.  I didn't do anything to get out of the deployment, they simply gave me a choice and I hope it all works out.  There is still a chance that I will have to go, but that was the best I could do to keep it my choice.  Now I sit and wait.

I've spent a lot of time in the last two days thinking.  Thinking about my time in Iraq.  Thinking about active duty.  Thinking about why I joined the Marine Corps to begin with and why I went back to the reserves when I missed it.  I thought about how bad some of the leadership in my prior command was and I thought about how great a few individual leaders in that command were.  I sat in my office watching at the Marines and Sailors coming in and out of the office cheerfully working.  I finally concluded that they deserved better.  They deserve someone who's heart is in the fight.  Not someone who got out for a lot of different reasons and went back to see if she made the right decision.  Over the last six months, I got my answer.  I put the uniform back on, this time with Captain bars.  I had a better attitude, had a lot of fun and became a better Marine and leader.  However, the truth remains the same -  the Marine Corps will never change.  The faces of the young, gung ho Marines evolve, but the Marine Corps doesn't.  I can go back in six months or a year.  I have two years on the IRR.  There is a strong chance that I will have to deploy during that time or I can start drilling with the reserves again.  As a Gunny keeps reminding me, I serve at the pleasure of the President so I am never really free.  I kind of like that fact.  I'm part of something for the rest of my life no matter what.  A commitment I can't break, divorce or run from.  I like to think that when I'm 90 and aliens invade earth I'll be pulled back to kick alien ass or that someday I'll really get to be a space Marine (although I can't figure out why Marines are always featured in sci-fi movies when there really isn't much water for amphibious tactics in space).  I go back to my other job today with a heavy heart.  "I did the best I could with what I had," I tell myself.  "It was the right decision for you, today."  Still, I wonder if I did the right thing.   

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The funny thing about life is it’s hardly funny at all.  You have to look for the humor.  You have to learn to laugh at the things that aren’t funny because it’s never fair, it’s never logical and it’s never easy.

I have a choice.  I can leave.  I spend at least five minutes of everyday dreaming recklessly leaving without any intentions to actually do so.  Or I can stay.  I have been trying to redefine my comfort zone lately so staying would give me that opportunity.  Think about it I’m told and then I leave the office with a heavy heart and mind and sit down in my own office to make a decision.  I write out a list of pros/cons because that is how we’re told to make a good decision.  The funny thing is I’ve made these lists before and I’m sure I’ll make them again, but I never go with the logical choice of the one that has the most bullet points under its header.  Sometimes I flip a coin and other times I just blurt out what I want to do while trying to feign ponderance so it appears that I have made a logical, sound decision.  In reality, it’s much easier.  I listen to myself.  We always know what we want to do, it’s just a matter of figuring out if we can or should do it.  It’s not always plausible, but where there’s a will there’s a way.  Usually financing needs to be taken into account, family and friends, jobs, responsibilities.  We can never just get up and leave because of all the things we are attached to like our comfort zone, which is called that for a reason.

My list goes something like this:

-Money (tax free, that might give away what this decision is)
-Pride and honor
-Time to take online classes and enough time to earn another degree?  Do I really need another piece of paper saying I had the patience to do so?
-Vacation at the end – I could go back to the jungle

-400 days away
-Just started a new job in October, don’t want to be gone for a year
-400 days … didn’t you read that!?!
-Wearing a uniform for 400 days. 
-Hair product build up and breakage from pulling hair back (yes this is something to take into consideration)
-Pride – I signed a contract and still feel an obligation to fill it even if I don’t believe in most of the circumstances.
-Four hundred fucking days!

I want to stay.  I want my relationship to work and I want to go home in March to see Les Miserables with my sisters and mother.  I want go somewhere over Memorial Day – maybe camping at the Grand Canyon?  I want to celebrate the Fourth of July, I want to learn my job and do well at it, I want I want I want.  At the same time, I signed a contract.  I have an obligation to fill.  I need the money.  I need I should I could.  So, what do I do?  There’s also the risk that if my status changes I could get called back for an even longer or worse deployment. It’s a gamble either way and as we all know, in gambling the house always wins.  What do I do?  Will the US still be standing in a year?  Can I afford to leave for an entire year?  Can I afford not to?  Fuck.  I hate this.  I hate trying to make a logical decision based on a system that isn’t rational.  This is Russian roulette and I have to decide take my turn now or wait until later to see if time runs out before my number comes up again.  How do you laugh at that?  How do you laugh when the big guy in the sky is saying fuck you?  You say, “Wow, big news and I haven’t even had coffee yet,” followed by nervous laughter because you know it’s your turn to draw the proverbial short stick.  You go home and tell your boyfriend the news and wait for his response.  You make jokes that god hates you and blame some made up deity for your problems because that’s easier than the reality that it’s all random.  You hide the fact that you don’t want to go now or later because it makes you look like a bad Marine.  You cry when nobody is looking and throw yourself a pity party because nobody else will.  If someone catches you, you tell them we don’t sustainably grow chocolate and you’re really upset that we won’t have any of this delectable treat in twenty years.  You scream obscenities to nobody as you drive home furiously.  Finally you pray, you pray and you hope more than anything in the world that you were wrong about all your conclusions of god.  You hope he/she/it/they are good, kind and reasonable and they’ll help you out just this once. 

A therapist once told me I can’t second-guess myself.  I just have to make a decision to the best of my ability at the time and live with it.  No need for regret, I made the best decision with the information and tools that I had at the time.  I can’t change what has been done.    She agreed and told me nobody is perfect and I would have to learn to live with this fact.   

Today I’ll make a decision.  I won’t second-guess myself no matter how many Marines tell me to go or not to go.  When other officers say, “I hate to see officers leave, especially when they have so much potential,” I’ll say thanks, but it’s my decision and it’s what’s right for me.  This is my decision to make with the information I have today, not all the what ifs of tomorrow or the next day or the next ten years.  I will not let pride get in the way of what I want in life.  I will not let false promises fool me this time around.  I will not feel bad for making a decision that is best for me, not the Marine Corps.  Yes, today I will make a decision and I will pray to every idea of god, fate, randomosity in the world that this will remain my decision to make, because we all know with the Marines they make it look like your decision, but really they do what they want.