“Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once. And space is what keeps it from happening to me.” - John Archibald Wheeler
“Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.” – Steven Wright
I’ve never really taken too many things very seriously (which might explain quite a bit) and to be totally honest, people that I know have gone through far more terrible things that I have. I’ve often told Wen that she only needs to worry when I stop laughing… I certainly wasn’t laughing now.
I don’t think it was as much that my first born had now gone off to start his own life. I’ve always encouraged, sometimes begged, my kids to go after whatever it was that they thought they wanted, wherever that might take them. It’s just that it all seemed to happen so fast! 18 years… GONE. That, combined with the fact that I felt like the only future I had to offer my son started off with him giving the next six years of his life to serve a country that I wasn’t sure I believed in anymore. The next two weeks were probably the darkest of my life. It was March, 2011 and I hate winter. There I said it. I spent 18 winters in Michigan, so I think I have at least a little bit of expertise on the subject. But Virginia winters are not the same thing. At least Michigan winters commit. They are freezing cold, snowy things I’ve often referred to Michigan weather as 9 months of Winter and 3 months of bad snowmobiling. Northern Virginia Winters might possibly suffer from the same lack of ability to make any decision that plagues it’s nearby northern cousin. The cold, brown, damp deadness lying still outside the window only served to reinforce the hollowness of what I was feeling inside. Maybe my hatred of Winter is a purely psychological connection to this time. Either way, I’m not a fan.
And then something happened.
My parents, who lived next door at the time, had been on an extended trip. We had been collecting their mail each day, depositing it on the dining room table. We had anxiously been awaiting the official correspondence from the Coast Guard containing the address where we could send letters to our son during his 8 weeks in boot camp. We weren’t too surprised to have not heard from him, considering that he was never a big writer, and taking into account the fact that he was in the midst of the most intense time of his life to date, but we hadn’t received anything… or so we thought. Misaddressed to my parents home, a number 6 instead of a number 5, the official letter sat in a stack of mail for nearly two weeks. Two weeks with no word from us. His first letter arrived a day or so later, and the despair I heard in his voice brought me to tears. As far as he knew, he had done everything he was supposed to and there he was, 18 years old. Scared. Lonely. Abandoned. “the only reason I haven’t quit is I don’t want to disappoint you.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Every one of us had already fired off letters to him as soon as we got the address, but he had no way to know this.
I want to take a quick second to clarify something I think is very important. The title of this blog might understandably lead some to think that I am advocating wholesale quitting… a sort of abdication if you will. (Frighteningly, the first ad I saw on a video I watched directly after launching this blog, was for a suicide prevention site…) I’m not talking about quitting because things are difficult. I am talking about quitting, no matter what it is, if what you’re doing isn’t leading you in the direction you want to go, thus the sub-title of this blog: “you only get one.”
Two and a half years have ticked by since that dreary March morning and a few weeks ago, my son and I spent a couple of days driving from California, where he had graduated from his Coast Guard “A School”, to Georgia, where he had a few days to catch up with the family. He then reported to his permanent duty station. The exact place I had driven past back when this whole ball started rolling. He got the job he wanted, at the station he wanted, with the schedule he wanted (and those of you with any military experience know how extraordinary that is)
Now it was my turn.