By lex, on Mon August 16, 2004
Son Number One’s. Today he took the oath.
Indoctrination Day down at USD. The weekend a whirl of final preparations – finding birth certificates, packing a duffel bag (actually, the Hobbit did that – and typically, over-packed him), final moments at home for a while.
I rousted him out of the rack at 0600, but he begged for another 45 minutes. We compromised on 30 – it was his last day at home for a while.
We drove down mostly in silence – I tried to share a few last bits of guidance, before he was wrapped in the sometimes stern embrace of a Marine Corp Drill Instructor. The usual stuff:
“Do the right thing. If you find that you’ve done the wrong thing, ‘fess up quick.”
“Five minutes early is on time. On time is late.”
“Attitude isn’t everything, but it’s easily more than half way there.”
“You’re ready for this.”
I told him that he was moments away from meeting some of the best friends he’d ever had – he just didn’t know their names yet. Men and women with whom he’d forge bonds that lasted a lifetime, hammered to high tensile strength on the anvil of shared experience.
He was nervous – I told him it wouldn’t be that bad. I told him that the worst time I ever had in the Navy was during SERE training, after I’d gotten my wings, but before flying the Hornet, and the worst of that only lasted a long weekend. You get through bad times a day, an hour, sometimes five minutes at a time. You tell yourself, “I can do this for five more minutes,” and when that time is up, you do it again. And so on.
The unit XO is a former shipmate of mine, and we chatted for a while in the way that people who have been to war together tend to. We mostly reminisced about the old days on USS LAST SHIP: The memory of the painful moments whose intensity we can’t recall were distant, vague – another lifetime. But all the happy ones sprang fully formed and fresh to mind, almost unbidden. That pint of beer in Perth. The perfect golf shot in Hawaii. The things men can’t talk about, but know anyway.
I went back to the car to get my camera, seeing that I wasn’t the only one who’d be embarrassing his child. When I got back, I found that SNO was well on his way to making his new friends.
And you know what? I was a little bit jealous. He’s got so many great things ahead of him, the doors are open in every direction. He hasn’t crossed any thresholds yet, the ones that cause all the other doors to slam shut in the anteroom. Nothing is permanent.
He hasn’t yet felt his own living ship, moving under him, carving purposefully through the waves, heading out to sea – heading into the unknown.
He hasn’t seen the cobalt blue of the ocean south of the line on the way to Australia – a color found nowhere else in nature, its character evocative of unimaginable depths, streaked with mercilessly piercing rays of sunlight. A color you will never know unless you sail those seas, profoundly moving, and despite my best efforts, entirely indescribable.
He hasn’t yet looked out upon the endless ocean, and seen – nothing. Nothing at all but his fragile craft in the midst of infinite enormity. Felt somehow cut off from the world of men, their dirt, highways, high rise apartments and machines – and through that strange alienation, felt the face of God, moving over the waters.
He hasn’t braced himself into a forty knot breeze on the weather decks, arms flung wide, exulting from the very point of the bow at the feeling of flying over the endless, wine-dark sea.
He hasn’t come back from his first solo flight, exultant in an achievement that seemed impossible only a few weeks before.
He hasn’t sat in marshall with his mask dangling from his helmet as the sunset turns the world to burnished bronze, and laughed out loud at the unbearable beauty of it. And then put all that away, to fly the best approach he possibly could, because everything, everything trembles in the balance.
He hasn’t felt the deep and savage joy of flinging himself into a fighter merge at over a thousand knots of closure against an adversary as motivated to gain advantage, as he is himself. And then emerging victorious.
He hasn’t spent long months in monastic denial, only to purge it all away in a single night ashore with a dozen men he’ll love more than any man ever loved his brother – men he’d fight for, and die for if it came to it – knowing that they would do the same for him, unquestioningly, without hesitation.
He hasn’t had to test himself against the limits of his personal endurance, and been surprised to find that far beyond those limits were deeply hidden wells of strength , unknown previously untapped reserves of will.
All this lies before him, and other things besides. Long, tedious hours on watch, on CAP. Hard work that seems senseless, but demanding of perfection. The memorial service of his first close friend, killed in the service of his country. The things he cannot yet afford to buy. The things he never will. The long separations from those he loves the best in this world.
All that lies in front of him. Today, he took the oath. Today, he joined the line.
And I’m very, very proud.