Re-post from Baghdad during Charge of the Knights, when the Green Zone was shelled ~8-10 times a day for six weeks…
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
When the alarms go off, you throw yourself on the floor of your hooch, squirm into your body armor and helmet and under your bed, and there are moments, true life-changing moments, where you are forced to confront your fear. Your mortality and the absolute randomness that decides whether you end or continue is brought into striking focus, and you realize how truly out of control we are. Life or death no longer depends on your volition, but on the aim of some person miles away, the manufacture of a weapon from another country, the local barometric pressure, political maneuvering, gusts of wind. And so it always has been, and so it always will be.
The fear you have to confront, for if you hide from it, the fear finds you in your dreams. If you try to reason around it, fear runs your neuroses. Or worst of all, you try to think you can control it through superstitional wearing of lucky socks or amulets. Or by plugging your ears or not holding your breath so as to save your lungs from blast damage. Then you begin to lose touch with the reality, which is, there is no control. All that was and all that ever will be is, ultimately, mostly out of your hands. Control is an illusion, and all we have, all the world has, are a series of choices that combine to lead us here, or there. Your choices are few among trillions.
And so, lying facedown on the floor, panting in the dust from the adrenalin coursing through your system and the 30 pound of armor plate on your back, explosions in the distance like a pack of giants throwing stones, you confront your fear…and find peace on the other side. Peace is acceptance of the fact that one day you are going to die, and they will throw dirt on your face and you will be no more. Peace is acceptance that, if this is the will of the universe, then that is the only way it could ever be. In that peace is acceptance of risk, of life, of rockets and of death, and a dismissal of worry which is, ultimately, probably the most dangerous enemy we face in the international zone.
You find peace in the fear. You accept it, and you move on. The all clear sounds, you rise and remove your body armor, propping it up for the next time you hit the deck. You go in the other room, brush your teeth and go to bed. And you sleep, soundly and deeply, until the next alarm challenges you with fear anew.
This might sound shocking, but in fact, this is everyday life, brought into laserlike focus. We’re just so often ignorant of risk…we learn to dismiss it, accept it or worry it. In our safe little existences we don’t have the imminent risk of violent death, or at least we think we don’t, so we learn to worry about other things… are there toxins in my water bottle that are going to kill me in 40 years? Am I getting too little iron? Maybe too much? Do I have too little hair on my head? Too much on my back? Am I a boring conversationalist? Am I too old? Is my butt too big? Are my breasts too small? Am I eating too many eggs? Or maybe too few?
These are the things we think about because basic survival is no longer an issue. So we replace it with other, seemingly life or death choices. Fear is everywhere, and it finds us one way or another. You can’t control that. The only thing you can do is choose how to deal with it…face it, or hide. Accept it, or deny the reality that all life is risk, and ultimately, death.
So eat those eggs, but exercise and accept they may still clog your heart. Enjoy your food. Let your kid play barefoot in the grass, even though they might get toxoplasmosis and lose a foot. Play is good for you and sometimes you get hurt. And when you hear the CRAM, hit the deck and squirm into your armor, just know that if it’s your time, it’s your time, and if it’s not, it’s not. Nothing more. And sleep…