Civilians is Silly

The other day I got to help my younger brother move furniture. He and his fiancee’ are preparing to merge apartments as their wedding approaches, and moving several pickup truck loads of furniture was the next step. It was great to help out with that, because, both of us being busy adults, we had not gotten time to hang out in a few weeks. I was in Georgia, studying for my National Registry Paramedic exam (which I passed, thanks be to God) and he was, is, and still will be for some time, preparing for a wedding.

It is great to have a brother. Friends are great, a wife is awesome, but no one is ever going to understand you like a brother. We can talk about things with that, “You know what I’m saying?” “Yeah, I’m right there with you,” “People just don’t get it,” “No, they don’t,” kind of agreement. We have different opinions and interests, but we get similar things because we start from the same principles.

Civilians, for instance. Both of us share a similar attitude toward civilians and city folks. We grew up on a farm and were, if not exactly dirt poor, at least soil rich. We liked to build things, break things, learn things, discuss things, argue about things, think about things, and question things. Every thing had a million functions, only a handful of which were included in the instructions. “Ready made” was not in our vocabulary.

Then both of us joined the military and spent years being shuffled like a bad card trick from one side of the globe to the other on various missions. We had no control, we had to be ready to pick up and go at a moments notice and so we learned to discern what was needed and what could be deleted or returned or simply done without. If it doesn’t fit in a C-bag or rucksack, it obviously is not required or can be acquired, jury-rigged or hot-wired on-sight, overnight, in flight, on the go.

We have a casual disdain of plans, because they never work. When you make a plan, you have only succeeded in describing one of the million possible ways in which it definitely will not go down. More often than not you have blinded yourself to the one or two ways in which it probably will go down. Best to keep it loose, and just make it up as you go. Screw it, we’ll do it live.

One of the biggest discoveries we have both made, which we sometimes commiserate about, is that civilians freak out over the silliest things. Whether it is running late for work, or the color or layout of party decorations, or whether or not they might get a black eye from sparring with friends, or how hard it is to walk up a mountain at 2 mph for a couple of hours, they freak out about it. I once saw a patient in the hospital who was a veteran. He was working in retail as a manager, and when one of his subordinates started freaking out about some boxes that got knocked off the shelf, he told him, “Shut the f— up and quit crying. No one’s got their arms or legs blown off by a suicide bomber have they? No one is dead. No one is getting shot at. So what’s the big deal?” This resulted in a complaint, a trip to his superior’s office and subsequent trips to a psychiatrist’s office. He was unable to wrap his head around the concept that you can’t talk to people like that in the civilian work force.

I get where he is coming from. Sometimes I get frustrated and just want to shake people and say, “Wake up! Are you seriously complaining because the server made you wait five minutes before he took your order? Are you starving to death? Are you that important? Do you realize that right now, in a hundred countries around the world (including this one) there are millions of people who are not eating at all? Broaden your horizons and stop being so small and pathetic.” People who complain about office politics especially unnerve me, because A: I just want to tell them they haven’t gotten shot, lost a patient, or blown themselves up so quit crying; and B: I am going to have to make it in that civilian workplace eventually.

I can talk about this with my brother. He gets it. I can talk about this with my wife. She gets me. Most people start to nod and nervously back away, so I learn to let it go. You see, while our background gives us advantages, it also comes with some drawbacks. Neither of us is good at relaxing. Or rather, what is relaxing to us is incredibly strenuous to others. We want to be engaged, mind, body, heart and soul. The glory of God is man fully alive, and we don’t want to be even the least bit dead until we are all the way dead. So a relaxing Sunday afternoon might involve hiking up a mountain, or discussing astrophysics, human genomics, and the moral ramifications of both. As a matter of fact, if we are hiking up a mountain, we are probably discussing some heavy topic at the same time. So we are great at relaxing in our own way, but we have been living at such a high level of intensity for such a long time, that our idea of relaxing is skewed, and neither of us does well with boredom. He goes to school full time and works nights full time. I feel like a day that doesn’t start at 4:30 AM and run non-stop until 10:30 PM is wasted. 

We sometimes have a hard time being patient with people who aren’t patient with the vicissitudes of life. As my brother says, “We had no control over our lives for so long, we learned to just go with the flow and not stress out about it.” (He split that infinitive, not I. I merely left it in, in the interests of historical accuracy.) It isn’t life’s ups and downs that frustrate us. It is the people who get frustrated at life’s ups and downs.

All in all, we are well on our way to being either incredibly active and useful citizens or grumpy old men.

Whichever we end up becoming, we will probably be whole hearted about it. As my brother likes to say, “I never half-ass anything. I always whole-ass it.” (Which I believe is a Ron Swanson quote.)

Or, as I would put it, “The generation that carried on the war has been set
apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our
youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to
learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.
While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do
not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we
have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields,
the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report
to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that
whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look
downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will
scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to
command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.” Oliver Wendel Holmes, 1884 Memorial Day Speech.

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