Friday, January 29, 2010

An Old Friend's View of an Old Soldier


On the way home from New York City Thursday night, I called Abel Lopez, one of my two best friends from when I was on active duty in the 1970s. If I haven't mentioned him before, Abel left active duty in 1978, a year before I did. He was the commander of the tank next to mine in Bravo Company 1-70th Armor in Wiesbaden. We talked a lot about faith and about life, the universe and everything when we served together and have kept the conversation up for past 32 years.

Abel and I seldom see each other, but talk every month or two about our current views of the same things we talked about back in Germany. He went home to Chula Vista in San Diego County and became a Federal Fire Fighter. He recently retired from the fire department.

I talked to Abel on the 100-mile drive from Trenton to Lancaster, from just over the Pennsylvania line to my driveway. If you think it is wrong to talk on a cell phone while driving you should stop reading now.

Anyway, the first thing Abel asked when I got on the phone is what I think the summary of my year in Iraq is. "I don't know," I said. We talked for a long time. He, like my friend Meredith Gould, think I went a very long way to prove L. Frank Baum (Author of the Oz books) was right, "There's No Place Like Home." One of my goals in going to Iraq was to become less tied to the life of luxury I was leading. That didn't work. My previous posts on the things I have done, bought, etc. since my return to America make it pretty clear that self denial is not one of my strengths.

Abel thought that if I write a book about this year, it ought to be for all the people he sees in California who get to be our age and think they can reinvent themselves. They need to figure out how to do the best they can with who they are. And given the considerable lengths I went to in finding out how much I liked my life, I could make fun of my self in a big way writing that book. It also fits with my sister's advice to write one of the currently popular "One Year" books.

I do know now that joining the Army and serving in Iraq is a great way to clarify what you really want from life--at least it was for me. It also made very clear that goodness has so many forms that one life and one place can never support it all. It is yet another thing that draws me to life beyond this life. I love the beautiful, civilized, literate world I returned to. Today I went to the Evolution Table at F&M and enjoyed the conversation of 22 professors and local professionals about current developments in Life Science. Tuesday I return to work with co-workers who have an average of 2.2 college degrees. But I already miss the courage and laser focus I met every day among the men and women I served with in Iraq.

I clicked my heels three times, I traveled a long way, but I can't figure out which end of the trip is Oz.