“Well no rest for the wicked; Such is the fruit of a life with no limit; Ghosts of the past always tend to revisit; And rarely will they come bearing gifts of forgiveness.” – Zack Hemsey Greeting The Menace
When I left the Marine Corps in 2009… I was in a very dark place in both my mind and spirit. I remember an LT at the time saying, “Ben, you’re made for this shit. Don’t get out.” I replied, “I don’t know that I like being made for it….” There were some very trying moments for me as I tried to reintegrate back into society. I had lost my trust of government, questioned patriotism, I was withdrawn and generally disliked people until they gave me a reason to like them, short tempered, and intensely darkened. The harder moments were being on a college campus during days like 9/11, or the start of the war in Iraq, and listening to students say the shit they say. Some inexperienced insight based on unfounded arrogance of some 19 year old with a man-bun who has never felt the blood of another person on his face, or watched a city block burn. If you’ve ever watched the soul pass from a terrified man… it tends to affect you differently when someone places a fork in the ground for every 100 civilians lost since the start of the Iraq war.
There were nights I couldn’t sleep, developing a dependence on sleep medication that I still have… to stave off the nightmares. I cried openly in public when too drunk in front of random people or my friends. Usually this was sparked by some random comment, a smell, or a sound that brought me back. Brought me back and reminded me that they were never coming back.. be they friend or foe. And made me question my very existence and whether or not there was honor in the moment. Was I living the way I should be… because I was alive. Even the enemy has more of an honorable place in my mind than those thoughtless comments made in bars by strangers. Later I would feel foolish and ashamed for days, weeks, or months that people would see me in such a state. For future reference, do not take a combat veteran anywhere near the track of a war memorial – even if going there is not the intention – as it acts as an emotional fucking landmine.
Still, when I see some act in my life that seems shallow, or not mindful… I see them again. I see my ghosts, I think of the blood, I hear the cries, and I remember a time in flesh when everything had a substantial meaning. My life was changed forever. If you’ve ever seen me interact with women… I am not good at small talk. Unless you have something of substance to bring to the table, I usually just stay quiet and withdrawn. Really, if you see me in a group at all I am typically withdrawn and quiet unless amongst proven allies. I usually will gravitate towards something of substance.. be it an activity, object, animal, or person. Anything less feels like an insult to a time, place, and people that I once knew.
It is easy to get drawn into the darkness. It seems easier, than say… being ok… being happy. It is such a trying feeling, and challenging spiritual concept that it is just easier to say, “This is the way it is.” It is instead much more difficult to culminate strength and instead say, “You know what, it was a tough run, I am down and hurt… but this is not the end. This is not how it has to be… and I will find… That.” Whether you are suffering from PTSD, a heartbreak, or a loss in a sport… this is a matter of life. Too many times I have heard from people: “I am too scared to love, I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t believe in relationships.” Or, if they don’t say it… they act it. There is a cost to this. If you cannot let yourself go fully, then you will never really know the more mature, enlightening, and enhancing forms of love. Love is openness, communication, appreciation.. giving. It is not what can benefit “me.” It is, “what can I give… you?” If you suffer from a loss here, like I have… it is easy to give in. Say that love sucks, people are stupid, and I don’t care. But that isn’t greeting the menace. Acknowledging your loss or hurt, and then accepting it for what it is… and still saying “one day, I will give again.” That is much harder, and requires strength, optimism, idealism… and faith. Most people will take the easy route, never allowing themselves to love fully. It will be some perverted, mutated form of self indulgence and insecurity. In terms of a sport, accepting a failure… that takes strength. Saying, “that sucked, I’m no good, I quit.” That’s the easy part. The real athletes accept failures as motivation to become stronger.
It takes great strength, and you hear it all the time, “It’s about how many times you get back up…” To an extent it is mostly true. But it’s not about getting back up… it’s about your attitude after you get back to your feet. That’s the key. You can’t just stand up… you have to grow-up. It is in our most trying times, like I am experiencing now… that we really learn of the light. That small thing in there.. it is smaller than the darkness, but unlike the darkness… it is warm. You have to feel for it. You have to be brave. It is easier to say that there is no God. It is easier to avoid heartache. It is easier to quit. It is easier to walk away. It is easier to be angry and distant. But… then you’ll never grow. Then you’ll never know the light. You can’t just stand back up… You have to grow-up.