Not Your Mama's Hooah

A couple of days ago a woman contacted me to say she was conducting a background investigation on the son of a friend of mine, who just enlisted in the Army; she wondered if I were willing to meet with her to share what I knew about him.

The young man in question had aced the ASVAB like a boss, and as a result had opportunities of the more sitting-in-front-of-a-computer, intel variety available to him.  It makes sense they'd want to check he had a clean background and that upstanding citizens were willing to vouch for him if he were going to be involved in any kind of classified work.

Even so, I was surprised at the speed at which this thing moved.  The investigator was willing to meet with me any time, anywhere.  The US Army don't mess around.  My friend told me that after asking her a bunch of questions, the investigator called to say she'd neglected to ask one thing, and that she drove all the way back another day to do so because the questions had to be asked in person.  With that kind of seriousness abounding, I was naturally curious to see how this whole thing would go.

I'm not allowed to discuss the questions I was asked, but I can say the quick transition from mundane to life-or-death was truly startling.  It was a little like being on a first date and having the conversation go from "What kind of music do you like?" to "Would you like to join me on a second, naked skydiving date tomorrow night?"over the course of a single bread stick.  Lil unnerving.  Still, I was happy to help out.

Yesterday morning I got a message from my friend, the young man's Mama, which was sent out to a bunch of friends and family members; in it there was a link to her son's Battalion's Facebook page.  Yes, you read that right.  The US Army has joined in the fun of social media, which I find both odd and a little reassuring.  Odd, of course, because the ass-kickin' fear-inducing boot camp days seem a little tempered if there's somebody taking pictures of it all and posting them online, where proud Mamas and Papas and friends and family can make comments like "We miss you Benny!" and "C U doing rope things!"  And they do.  Of course they do.  You can bet I would too, if that were my little monkey out there, but probably only because I'm sure they don't let the actual enlistees read these comments.  Not yet anyway.  I'm sure it wouldn't bode well for the cultivation of fearless soldiers.

I'm sure the balancing act is an incredibly challenging one, but I'm happy to see that the Army is doing what must be necessary to attract and serve well the people who have volunteered to serve for them--people who could have chosen so many other, less dangerous options.

I was talking to my friend's son just before he shipped off and after he'd already had to do some online training at home.  What he described were videos of the "power of positive thinking" variety, which, I think, caught him a little off-guard, but which I was happy to know were now part of the drill.  I mean, c'mon...who could argue with the idea of positive thinking?  I found it much more appealing than the idea of drill sergeants standing with a foot on the neck of some terrified, floundering kid, screaming obscenities and insults about his Mama.  I mean, that's probably part of it, too.  But again...balance.

It seems that all the way around, the Armed Forces are learning to grow and change with the times.  I was talking to a customer the other day and learned that he's long been a pharmacist for the V.A.  I told him I imagined he's seen a big increase in prescriptions related to mental health over the years and he shared that he had indeed.  This made me sad, knowing that so many soldiers return from service suffering the effects of PTSD, but it also gave me some sense of comfort to know that mental health care is finally being offered.  Because, of course, it's not that soldiers haven't been returning from war with PTSD for many hundreds of years; we just didn't know how to diagnose and treat it.

As I write this, controversy rages on over a viral video depicting US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.  It's terrible, embarrassing, disgraceful.  And the only upshot I can see is that it did cause outrage, and that the Marines identified in the video will likely have charges brought against them.  I'll call that a certain kind of progress.

I don't know that I'll ever sort out how I feel about the Armed Forces.  I will always, always advocate for the advancement of peace wherever there is conflict.  I will likely always think our tax money would be better spent educating children than getting involved in foreign conflicts (with a few exceptions).  At the same time, I do have a certain admiration for people who are willing to risk their lives fighting what they must believe are just wars, on behalf of others.  I may not agree with them, but I know I'll never embody that kind of selflessness or valor.  And though I'm not sure how it affects their ability to cultivate fearless soldiers, I have to say I do like the kinder, gentler version of the Army I'm seeing.

And to my surprise, when my friend told me about a year ago that her son was considering enlisting in the Army, I was shocked to find myself in strong support of the idea.  He wasn't interested in college at this point, didn't know which direction he was headed, and could use a little, I don't know, molding.  It was a big plus that he did so well on his exams, he was able to go into a field that will likely keep him out of combat.  I am an auntie to this young man.  I want him safe.  I want his talents utilized.  I want him happy.

I was especially proud that the young man, whom I've watched grow up from a little boy sitting in pajamas playing video games, to a teenager sitting in pajamas playing video games, to a young man, fresh from graduation and with the whole world of options available, was able to make this decision for himself.  Proud that he took a step in the direction of his future--one that will hopefully help him discover some among what are sure to be many callings throughout his life.

And I feel lucky that I'll be able to be among the supporters seeking out his young, still-full-of-trepidation face among the other full-of-trepidation young faces in photo albums on the Battalion's Facebook page.  I wish all those among them the finding of fulfillment in the midst of this phase of their young lives.

Is this an appropriate time for a battle cry?

Uh....hooah (!)


(Again) On Happiness...

Ok, if you know me or have been following my blogging in even the vaguest of ways over the years, it probably seems I harp a bit on this subject.

That's because I do.

That's because I simply can't see any point to this life if it isn't to find joy, through any/all (prudent and preferably legal) means.  For some people, joy comes by way of career fulfillment, for some love, for some artistic expression, for some family time. For some it's the carnal pleasures of sex and food and wild abandon-type dancing.  And come to think of it, I can't see why it couldn't/shouldn't be all of the above.

Tonight the fam and I watched a show my Mom had recorded that was basically a report on neuroscience and social science studies of happiness (incidentally, the latter found that the happiest people in the world reside in Denmark, where taxes can cost up to 63% of income, but citizens walk around feeling "tucked in" (was how they translated the idiom) and secure, where women leave sleeping babies parked alone in strollers *outside* of the cafes where they dine and people rarely lock their bikes; where there is an actual societal value that advocates against one's feeling superior to another, and where bankers make the same money as artists, so people choose professions based on what they most enjoy or feel called to do.  Sounds like a pretty nice place to be).

Anyway, the show got me thinking about the subject of happiness (again).  Often at my job, customers politely ask me how I'm doing during a transaction.  You should hear the responses I get when I respond that "I'm happy."  Some seem almost troubled, or at the very least incredibly curious.  The number one response is "Why?  Did something happen?"  I understand where they're coming from.  "Happy" seems to be a state reserved for special circumstances.  But I kind of feel that nothing great needs to happen in order for a person to be happy.  The absence of any bad news is usually sufficient for me.

I think sometimes the expression of happiness is shied away from for cultural reasons, even in a country where happy face emoticons are the law of the land.  A lot of people perceive smiling people to be fools, smiling fools who must not know what's really going on in the world.  And some people truly do feel the pain of the world very deeply, such that the simple knowledge of somebody suffering somewhere could keep them from feeling contentment themselves.  I admire people like that in a certain way.  But I am not one of them.

I've written before about the concept of gratitude journaling: the practice of recording a few things every day for which you are thankful.  The idea is to focus on what is good in your life, even in NOTHING seems good in your life, in an effort to magnify those positive experiences and diminish those that lead to feelings of sadness.

Between the ages of 18-19 I experienced a sadness so deep that nothing could make me feel happy or even imagine a future happiness.  But even in the midst of that sadness, I *appreciated* music.  I appreciated that certain music I listened to could heighten even the experience of sadness, because it made me feel that somebody somewhere had known what I was going through.  My gratitude for music--that and an old typewriter I'd picked up at a thrift store on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, its keys making the most satisfying of clicking sounds--was really what carried me through those dark days.

But gratitude journals aren't only for the gloomy times.  One thing tonight's show highlighted was the concept (partially arrived at through the studying of twins) that one's propensity toward happiness is 50% determined by one's genes.  Only 10% is determined by life circumstances (wealth, partnership, children, satisfaction with one's physical appearance).  A full 40% is determined by choice, by attitude, by one's willingness to make the decision to be happy.  (I'm really not sure how clinical depression factors into this.  Perhaps it can fall into the first category, since it often has to do with chemical imbalance (though that's not genetic..I don't know...seems like a fuzzy zone there)).  So I remain a firm advocate for focusing on the positive on a daily basis.

I have friends who are annoyed by other people's constant expressions of happiness on Facebook.  Yeah, I get that.  I'm similarly annoyed by people's constant expressions of fml-type sentiments or disdain for any number of things.  But those who freely and frequently declare their feelings of hope and joy bring me little uplifted moments myself.  I don't see happiness as coming in limited supply.  It seems to me that the more of that type of thing that's spread around, the less of EVERYthing negative there is or is potential for.

This is what made me happy today:  taking care of three giant, glaring bits of business, all of which will nicely support my New Years Resolution to get my finances in order, then having the entire remainder of the day to spend with Monkey (who has been the sweetest of sweeties and who's talking all the time and making amazing eye contact.  Parents out there will feel me: there is just nothing like the experience of your own child looking you in the eyes.  It's this recognition and familiarity that is unmatched--like the feeling of total warmth).  When I put him to bed and told him "I love you" and he said, "I love you too, Mama"...I think it's safe to say that was the highlight of the day.

And this is what is bringing me happiness right now, in this very moment: feeling, well, snug in the Dodgers snuggie my Ma got me (one each as stocking gifts for Kris and I), listening to jazz on my headphones while the rest of the house is quiet, having a friend I can say the most ridiculous and embarrassing things to and not feel judged, realizing I'm thirsty and seeing there is a 20-ounce bottle of clean water sitting about 6 inches from my hand (when we're talking gratitude happiness, no thing seems too small to mention....after all, there are so many people in the world for whom this remains a most out-of-reach luxury).  If these were the only things in my life I had to be happy about, I would still be a fortunate woman.

Just love the joy in that image.

I hope the New Year is treating you well so far and finding you with much to be happy about...

Oh, and here's a little something for the Kids in the Hall fans :)