I’m packing a lighter load

If you go to the beginning of Ten Days in the Sand and scan through my posts you’ll see a progression.  A progression of thoughts, reflections, and actions needed to prepare for a trip to Afghanistan.  The nature of this blog is to capture ideas and feelings as they materialize.  It’s scattered on purpose.

To get to Afghanistan from Minneapolis I could have flown towards either coast.  I chose the trans-Atlantic flight because I’ve never crossed the Pacific; I think crossing the Pacific would mess with my sense of time more than crossing the Atlantic does.  Because I could have gone east or west I’m pretty sure Afghanistan is just about as far away from Minnesota as I can get.  For you Cliff Clavin fans out there,  according to a cool ‘tunneling tool’ found on-line, Minnesota’s opposite point on the the globe, or antipodal, is in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  Turns out I never would have gotten to China had a kept on digging.

Before a trip like this,before I head off to a different hemisphere, before embedding with a group of Minnesota National Guard Soldiers in Afghanistan, before I say good-bye to family, friends and loved ones I will have spent a lot of time reflecting on my story.

A trip like this will challenge me.  It will test me.  Will I be able to keep on going?  Is there down time?  How reliant will I be on adrenalin?  Does the military energy-drink du jour taste like chemicals and medicine? Do I dare drink the coffee labeled ‘strong’? Will I have trained my mind, body and spirit well-enough to do what I need to do?

Since October a day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t thought about, read about, or studied Afghanistan.  Where I am going? What stories will I tellHow do I tell those stories?  If my mind isn’t ready now, it never will be.

Since October I have spent more time in a gym than I have since I was in college.  I will never be a world, city, or even neighborhood-class athlete but I think I’ve spent enough time with weights and on treadmills to allow give myself a good chance of not wearing out while I’m with the ADT in Zabul.  If my body isn’t ready now, it never will be.

Since October I’ve spent time focusing on my family.  What will happen if the worst-case scenario were to occur?  I’ve spoken about this with my Pastor and with Minnesota National Guard Chaplain Lt Col John Morris.  To prepare I’ve had to do something I think we all should do at some point.  I’ve had to spend time thinking about and planning a memorial service, not a memorial service my memorial service.  It’s a daunting, yet important, topic to think about.  I don’t know if, in spirit, I will ever be truly ready, but having this piece in place helps.

John Morris

Chaplain John Morris in a Humvee (John Morris)

Chaplain Morris and I met over coffee this week.  As we were talking about Afghanistan and what my expectations are he told me that he thought I ‘have my head screwed on right’.  This means a lot coming from a man like John Morris.  He is a  career military man and Methodist Pastor.  He has a world-view, a biblical-view, a practical-view of what I’ll see.  Having his support, having his prayers, having his thoughts with me as I travel will make a difference.

When I returned to the office after meeting with Chaplain Morris I had an email waiting for me from one of my oldest friends.  “Luke”, he wrote, “will you have an MP3 player with you?  I want to make a mix for you, what do you want to hear while you’re in Afghanistan?”  It should be noted the guy who wrote this e-mail has managed a record store for years and has a music collection that fills multiple hard drives.  This simple gesture of a friend saying, ‘hey man I’m thinking of you’ will make a difference.

Conversations with friends and family, quick moments of appreciation, simple acknowledgment of what’s going on in my world…they’re all appreciated.  Carrying your well-wishes across the miles I’ll travel will lighten my load considerably.