Saturday, July 25, 2020

Waking up in a Helicopter

I was inside my head, ruminating over circumstances, and I was definitely feeling down. With about an hour to go before sunset, I finally convinced myself to haul my body out of a chair and at least get out for a walk. Three miles down and a cool shower later, I was lying on my bed anticipating the next pass of the oscillating fan, thinking that my sense of self-worth had racked up at least one accomplishment.

Seriously. It was that kind of day.

At some point, my wife interrupted: Dinner would be ready in about five minutes, son was in his wheelchair headed for the table, and daughter’s boyfriend would be joining us. It didn’t matter that I was still full from my pandemic sedentary one-meal-a-day and it didn’t matter that I didn’t feel like I’d be particularly good company. “I’ll be there.” The next act of will was just sitting back up and getting dressed.

Again, yes. Seriously. It was that kind of day.

I don’t know who was talking or what the context was, but I somehow woke up at the table hearing someone mention “helicopters.” So listen: I have no particular love of helicopters – I’m not really an aficionado; however, the sights, sounds, and memories of them sometimes take me back to my service in the Army with the 101st Airborne Division. While helicopters were not a specific part of my daily life there, they were certainly part of the ambiance ~ and, yes, I do have a few good personal stories guest-starring Hueys, Blackhawks, Chinooks, and even Apaches. Before I knew it, I found myself at the table, sharing a few of each.

In recounting each story, one after another, I was transported back to another time and into another set of circumstances. In one place and time, maybe there was just something funny to see; in another, some obstacle to overcome; and in yet another, a reminder of who I was or a clue of how I came to be.

Looking a little to the left and a little to the right of each event, there were reminders of how I found myself in that situation and perhaps how I was changed by it. That pattern became even more clear with a little more altitude. Looking a bit to the left and a bit to the right, I recalled myself a wandering aimlessly in college before my father died. Working different jobs wasn’t moving me forward or getting me back to college, so one day I hit the eject button and joined the Army. While there, I had a basic plan. It was routinely confounded, sure, but I remained on course – right until it was confounded. Once I was injured, the Army – and all the things I intended to do therein over the next 20 years or so – were no longer an option. Over the next year, I worked to remain honorably engaged with the mission In an environment hostile to the “invisibly broken,” and I accumulated quite a few stories – and quite a few hours with the helicopters. I also remained mercifully distracted from not knowing what I’d do next with the rest of my life.

That was more than 25 years ago… and this day felt very familiar. What comes next? Who knows? What I do have now that I didn’t have then are those stories reminding me that this isn’t the first time my world’s been turned upside-down… and in this instance, I had the nice distraction of sharing some of my stories with my kids and with a young man who may have known little to nothing about me except through hearsay.

No helicopters this time ~ but maybe I picked up a worthwhile story for another day. In the meantime, for the first time in a while, I slept peacefully.

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