Last night we had dinner at the home of a person who was from my hometown. I didn’t know him well. He was in the same class as my brother who, with our spouses, attended the meal as well. For several hours, we discussed high school friends and events in a small town in northwest Indiana. It was a good evening of face-to-face conversation.
As the evening passed, the conversation became more intimate. Our host shared his experiences from a career with the United States Marine Corps that included active duty in Viet Nam and the Middle East, and more recently, as an outside contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. His life was in jeopardy on several occasions, and he also had the opportunity to save the lives of others in difficult situations. Over time, his rank grew from corporal to colonel and he developed close relationships with several peers who are now working in high levels of our government.
He also shared his grief about the death of his wife from a medical situation that over twenty doctors and two exploratory surgeries were not able to discover. And there was more grief about the fact that he was in Afghanistan for months trying to get home while she was in pain. But there were good things too.
They had two sons and both were healthy and doing well. He had developed lifetime relationships with people both under and above his command. He had engaged the trust of several people who are doing their best to try and keep our ship of state afloat in chaotic times.
Sometimes we think because we shared a locker room with someone in junior high or they were our chemistry lab partner in high school that we probably have some insight into who they were becoming. What I continue to learn in face-to-face conversations with almost everyone I meet is how complicated and unpredictable our lives are.
Everyone is grieving something. Everyone has lost someone important to them. Everyone is somewhere in a maze where there are thousands of paths, some of them filled with interference and some of them lit with grace. The impressive thing is that we go on. And if we are lucky we continue to take risks, develop hope, and on occasion have an intimate conversation which can be as important as oxygen to our being.
— Terry Pettit