Today I just realized that I have had retirement orders for a couple months now. I didn't get any notification, so I didn't know they were there in the portal. I read them today for the first time and it evoked emotion. The orders included these words:
You are relieved from active duty, organization and station of assignment, retired... Proceed to home of selection.
The phrase "proceed to home of selection" really hit me. This will be the first time in my entire life that I get to truly experience home.
I didn't have that growing up. As an Air Force dependent, I was dragged around the nation and the world and I changed friends and circumstances like others might change the oil in their cars. I am very happy that I lived that way. It was perhaps the greatest gift and burden I have received, being able to see groups of people and how they act and then move and change the way I interacted with them and therefore learn about people. As a military brat, I could re-invent myself every few years growing up. It was a very valuable laboratory on how people operate and the art of politics, presenting others an image to gain favor or manipulate them even if it's just to have them like you. At the time I didn't realize that I was conducting experiments.
Like everybody else, I was just trying to fit in and assuage the standard insecurities. But my failures and successes to fit in taught me valuable lessons. The ultimate lesson was that fitting in, moving with the cool crowd, was unremarkable. I learned about people and their values during this serial laboratory, and that trying to be at the cool kid table was for the insecure and the easily manipulated and that the cool kids were actually not very impressive. As I would later read from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, "Some men are like rhinoceroses. They don't respond properly to social conditioning." I lost any interest in playing those games, and then I learned a bonus fact. People love/hate, admire and are jealous of those who truly don't care what the herd thinks. I have long lost all interest in politics and deceptions and the genuine confidence of somebody able to stand alone is unmistakable and very attractive, even if confounding, to other people. That fact was especially useful later in high school and in college and my younger years. I seriously doubt that I would have been able to learn all that from growing up in one place.
But like I said, it was a gift and a burden. Most organizations, and especially those of the government variety, along with toxic and unprincipled leadership are not a huge fan of independent and confident people who don't need their affirmation (ie, manipulation). They prefer social conditioning and control. Often such people are seen as threats for their independence, as Huxley's brilliant and incredibly relevant novel made crystal clear.
Another downside is that I had no real sense of home. I could be yanked from anywhere I was living and moved thousands of miles away at any time. There was one place that grew on me more than any other place and I formed a real attachment to this State. I was pulled out of it at a formative time in my life. Quite literally I was in class in high school and the teacher had us memorizing the capitals of the countries of the world. I actually made the remark that there was no reason for me to learn about Reykjavik (side note, I didn't need to use spell check typing that word) because there was no way I would ever live in Iceland. Not two months later, I was living in Iceland and it was without question the most formative and valuable experience of my entire life. It's a special place without a doubt, and ironically the same island where independent thinkers were sent in Huxley's masterpiece, in an attempt to limit their control-disrupting interaction with others. But Iceland wasn't home and while I lived on that island of fire and ice, I used to have actual and recurring dreams about being back in my real home from where I was plucked. Those dreams of being home have yet to be realized.
I haven't lived there in nearly three decades. I've visited. I remember on the first visit, after I had graduated from college, how I was overcome by emotion by simply being there. I mean absolutely overcome with emotion. I have been away a long time.
As a military brat and a child I had no control over where I lived. When I applied to college, I sent in my application to a public school in "my" State but my parents were not residents of that State and so neither was I, despite the fact that I have lived the plurality of my life there, longer than any other placed that I have lived. As an out of State applicant, the standards were twice what they were for residents and I just missed the cut. Had I been a resident, my mediocre 3.0 GPA and my resume that included National Honor Society and student council president and being on the wrestling and soccer teams, along with my AP college credit in history and english classes would have no doubt gotten me accepted.
But I wasn't. So I went to school just about as far away from "my" home as I could, since my parents were residents of Florida and the tuition was much cheaper. I'm very glad that I went to Florida State. I had a phenomenal time and received a great education, and really was able to take my life lessons and harness them into a much greater understanding of the world around me. And I was able to get this education at an affordable price with an ROTC scholarship, a grant from the Air Force Aid Society, and a few loans and a couple of jobs from time to time. I am so very thankful that I didn't get accepted to where my heart wanted to go. I think perhaps my mind would have missed out. Delayed gratification.
I then went into the military and I have not been stationed anywhere near my home. I have defended my home, and my country, but I haven't lived there. In total, I have only spent one fifth of my entire life living in my home, an American land of fire and ice, Washington State. But I have spent a great deal of time thinking about home, though the anxious and sad dreams have ceased, and I may be personally responsible for making millionaires out of several YouTubers who have posted videos of my State not realizing all the hits they would get from one single person watching their videos of mountains and volcanoes, glaciers, and forests and rivers.
My wife and I now own two properties in what is now our shared home, but we have yet to live there. And in thirteen years of long distance marriage, we have never lived together for more than several months at a time. My profession has not placed me in the kind of locations where successful lawyers typically thrive. I have had limited control of where I reside, and it has been a challenge.
"Proceed to home of selection."
Never would I have guessed that a set of Air Force orders could make me cry tears of joy. I am so close to raising bees and growing tomatoes and raising rabbits, of getting to live with my wife and hike through gorgeous forests together. Of not being engaged in the profession of conflict, both here and abroad, and finally being able to set down the sword and pick up the plowshare. So close to finally being able to focus on being happy, of being friendly and neighborly and trying to enjoy life and to find the beauty first and always in everything, rather than concentrating on uncomfortable threats and feeling a professional obligation to try to rally a defense against them. I look forward to being relieved of active duty and the burden of my oath of office so that I can concentrate on enjoying my home on this earth for the bit of time I have left to do so.
But if Crowe's character in the video above teaches me anything, it's that longing for home and being close to finally returning, doesn't necessarily mean you will make it.
But regardless of what the few months ahead bring, I can still continue to whisper and speak fondly of home.