In January of 2012 I moved from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Fort Lewis, Washington. I had been living within a 3 1/2 – 5 hour drive from Aunts, Uncles, cousins and grandparents, and now I was going to be three time zones, and three days of driving from anyone I knew or cared about. I wasn’t too worried about that, but I knew that I never would have made it through the Q course without that regular presence of family, and I was equally certain I would not make it through my time in Special Forces without an equally strong support system. So I planned on:
1) Joining a Bible Study.
2) Being Active in a Parish
3) Building an active social life
4) Doing charity/volunteer work in my spare time
5) Read more books and start college.
With these goals in mind I set out across the country. I drove for 3 days by myself, doing 16-18 hours behind the wheel each day. I especially loved the Rockies and the high deserts of Wyoming and Eastern Washington, which were wide open, sunny, wild and beautiful. I loved that countryside and just driving through it made me happy, despite the fact that I was sleep deprived like crazy.
Then I hit the green belt. I crossed over Snoqualmie pass and dropped down into western Washington, and the whole world changed. The clouds crashed down in around me, the rain started, the trees and hills rose up on either side of me, the traffic turned thick. Then I hit the Seattle/Tacoma area and the buildings loomed around all gray and gloomy and sad looking, and the traffic was terrible and I was tired and homesick, and right then I was certain that I was going to hate living in Tacoma.
I spent the next week living in a hotel room, doing in-processing stuff on post, and playing World of Warcraft most of my spare time.When you move to a different duty station the Army gives you 10 days of leave free (meaning it doesn’t come out of your ordinary 28 days of leave per year) to get settled in. On top of that, however, you have just signed out of your old unit, so while you are technically on their books they aren’t keeping track of you. You haven’t signed into the new unit yet, so they are not keeping track of you either. It’s easy to fall between the cracks for a while and get a lot of free time off. I didn’t do that, but there was a snow storm in Tacoma that closed post down for three days, and a four day weekend, so I had a lot of free time. I played a lot of World of Warcraft.
I moved into an apartment and kept playing WOW. Life was still miserable. Then one Monday I looked at myself and realized that I hadn’t done any of the things I said I was going to do when I moved to Tacoma. Not one thing on that list was checked off. So I deleted WOW and Googled Catholic young adult groups in the Tacoma area.
It would turn out to be one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I walked into Panera bread at the Tacoma Mall on that Monday night, and met the group of young adults who would become my friends here. It wasn’t immediate, or easy, but I built relationships within that group. I had to force myself out of my shell, just like I did the first time, many times over. There is a reluctance to reach out to other people which is pretty common for most people, I think. Even if it is just trying to get a couple of guys together to drink beer and smoke pipes, there is the fear that maybe they won’t want to do it. No one likes to get rejected, so it is easier simply not to take that risk. If you have a group of friends that you can depend on, it is easy just to stick with that little group that never lets you down, never challenges you. But that is the way of death. That is how your soul dies, and your ability to love shrivels up.
So I forced myself to reach out, invite people out for coffee, or drinks, create events, host pizza parties, even a couple of dates. And you know what? It is fun! Being in community is fun! Sure there is some friction from time to time. Of course there are competing schedules and sometimes you can’t make plans work, and sometimes you don’t see so-and-so for weeks because they are just busy (I am usually that guy). It cramps my style, in some ways, meaning it challenges selfishness. It changes priorities. Things that I used to spend time on (like WOW) I no longer even want to waste my time with. On the whole, however, it is good. It opens my eyes, and stretches my
heart, and even fills up holes that I never knew were empty.
Since then I have been in and out of the area, Special Forcing here and there around the world. I was right, I don’t much care for Special Forces, and I don’t intend to re-enlist. However, through all the vagaries and pointlessness of military life, I have friends here who share the same values. When I come home I have folks I can drink a beer with without worrying that the evening is going to end up at a strip club. I have people I can invite over to pizza parties and serve good quality food and drink, and know that no one is going to end up puking all over the furniture. People I can pray with, or talk about God with.
It makes all the difference.