Monday, September 20, 2010

Making a Difference

I flew to Ohio to watch a childhood friend retire from the military. Kurt and I have known one another since forever. My father and his were in the Air Force and both worked in the Precision Measurements Equipment Laboratory together. Legend has it that when my mother, pregnant with me, called my father to say her water had broken, my father thought she meant the water pipe to the trailer where they were living had broken. Kurt’s dad apparently turned to my father and said, “I think you’d better go home.” Kurt’s eldest sister Cindy babysat me. She was twelve. I was two. For this reason, Kurt and I say we grew up together, even though, when your folks are in the military, it may be years between visits, depending on where each family is posted. Still, there’s a bond between Air Force brats who are also geeks. Call it finding your tribe. We never really let go, no matter how much time has passed since last we spoke, much less visited. I identify Kurt’s family as my auxiliary family.

It was four days of truly odd human psychology – most of it, my own. As I sat watching the ceremony and the attention lavished on my good and deserving friend, I sat observing a life that might have been mine. *If only* I’d pushed a little harder, I could have squeaked into the Air Force Academy. *If only* I’d focused in, I could have gotten a degree in astro-engineering, too, and come at a career similar to Kurt’s from the civilian side. Even at the reception and party, I listened in fascination and in horror as I heard myself say stupid things like “I tried to be one of Kurt’s upper classmen. Washed out at the physical.” While strictly speaking, this may be true, why was I saying it at all? As if my life right now, the way it is, weren’t enough? What strange and remote human drive propelled me to make what amounted to excuses for not ending up in the military with a retirement ceremony of my own?

I suspect it has something to do with what Kurt said about making a difference. During Kurt’s career in the Air Force, he’s had direct and lasting impact on the security of the nation and on the safety of US troops. That’s a solid, shining example of making a difference in the world. I’m an author. And while I’d like very much to believe that the arts make a difference in the world, too, I have to be content with making a difference in one person’s life at a time. First, I aspire to write books that are considered ‘keepers’. Then I remember that maybe what Kurt and I do is related – auxiliary family after a fashion. Because people are willing to serve in the military, people like me get to write what we want (within non-libelous reason) and hopefully touch someone long after we’ve turned to dust.