Note: some may find this offensive. Contains straightforward anatomical references appropriately in a medical context.
What follows is the fundamental, the existential. I offer it first deliberately, in the spirit of candor and transparency, as a potential show-stopper for potential acquaintances, to save your time.
The merely important (if I even know what it is!) is soon to appear. Watch this space.
I feel military to the marrow. Ever since the very beginning. I entered this world, so I am told, at Madigan Army Hospital, Ft. Lewis, Washington.
What defines me first and most, as I see it, is military veteran. Daily, this definition helps save my life.
This, notwithstanding, I spent but a fraction of my life on duty. See, among the biggest things saving my life are the most basic military disciplines. These disciplines are known to every recruit of only a few days’ active duty. They are not rocket science. These disciplines were tatooed on my chromosomes in my youth during my two tours of active duty.
There is another source of my deep sense of military affiliation. This is my Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability-classification (details following).
Through that, I am gifted with a glad sense of camaraderie with my disabled sisters and
brothers, of belonging, of home.
Moreover, veterans beyond a particular threshold of disability also are issued an identification card by the service in which their disabilities occurred. Tangibly, the card isn’t much. It’s just for “morale, welfare and recreation” stuff: the BX, commissary, theater, you get the idea. The serious stuff like pension and medical care are provided by VA.
But intangibly, as symbolism, the military I-D card’s significance is huge. It imparts an uplifting sense of belonging, of being welcomed “back on the team”. That is a huge and healthy boost to my sense of identity and being. This hugely compounds that good feeling of camaraderie and belonging and home. The Air Force issued it. It reads, “USAF”. It lists my my rank. So, I figure, though I’m not retired military, I am entitled to refer to my status in present tense.
And often I feel my anachronistic, modest military rank, and old bits of silk or paper or brass on the wall, documenting my anachronistic, modest, military contributions, are all I have left.
So. “Living in the past?” Another pathetic old guy who can’t get beyond what he did or did not accomplish in his youth? Maybe. But I can’t afford to care because I know this whole military thing grounded, yes, in my youth is, nonetheless, decades later, one of the biggest gifts helping save my life.
I am a survivor.
I am able to carry-on despite chronic mental illnesses, obesity, alcoholism, childhood abuse, adult-life setbacks I consider significant, and several birth defects I think serious in anyone’s book.
How or why this is so, I do not know.
I am one who is fortunate.
Odds are I belong in
- the underpass,
- Atascadero, or
Yet, here I stand. I am able to live in autonomy and comfort. My medical care and every other tangible need are well-met.
Because of my mental illnesses, I receive benefits, compensation, and medical treatment befitting classifications of permanent and total disability, incapacity for employment. These classification are justly and accurately made by both the Social Security Administration, and the VA.
Yet, I well know, in the scale– terribly unbalanced– with me are thousands with my diagnoses and worse. They have not received the same justified and accurate classifications I did. They daily confront thirst, hunger, homelessness, exposure, violence, institutionalization, incarceration, and death. A great contrast with my fortunate circumstances.
I have been gifted with the commitment to cooperate with my mental-health treatment regimen. This is a large measure of my fortunate circumstances. I am positioned to take life at the pace I can handle it. I am positioned to take stress at the level I can handle it. In these circumstances I have the opportunity to continually seek the goal of the highest functionality of which I am capable.
I have been gifted with the desire and capability to stay clean and sober since Aug 6 2006. I do not know how or why I have a healthy liver.
I may be headed back to childhood obesity. But I am delighted to be able to say I have found several isometrics that shave the fat off my gut and legs. In late 2012 I suddenly lost my situational awareness and aerobic respiratory capacity. I dismounted the bicycle for the final time after 13 years of active urban and road riding, three years exclusively without an automobile. Consequently, I gained 18 kg. Then a normal degenerative orthopedic condition began that is aggravated by even swimming. In one year I went from riding a bicycle exclusively, to walking with a cane and driving a car. I have successfully fought the necessarily-ferocious battle against obesity twice in my adult life. But now I feel far too-tired for that fight, especially as, at this age, my metabolism has slowed to a crawl. So I owe a debt of gratitude for the new isometrics.
As for the birth defects: I am told I showed up with a remarkably-twisted leg, an undescended testicle, and crossed eyes. Now, a question: what percentage of Americans born in 1955 with those defects would you bet had them corrected, liberated from their stigma and severe limitations? I would not bet on a large percentage.
Yet I was born into a circumstance where corrections were available and so accomplished. To this day, I cannot tell you which testicle was the hang-fire or which leg was twisted. The after-effects of crossed-eye correction faded decades ago. I was able to pass not one, but two military-induction physical examinations. I find this remarkable good fortune in light of the state-of-the-medical-arts in 1955.
I have been gifted with survival of setbacks both personal and professional.
As for childhood abuse, beyond my survival, that is not up for discussion in this forum. Everything else is up for discussion (not debate. I got out of the issue-poster-child, debate, persuade biz years ago).
So, all-in-all, I am in a fortunate minority. I do not know how or why I am here.
I consider myself Christian. Many would disagree, however, given the contemporary American connotation of “Christian”. I won’t define what “Christian” means to me because:
- I can’t think of a way to do it concisely without resorting to labels (including denomination), which I hate, and
- my object is to inform, not persuade or debate (like I said, got outta that biz…)
I was born in the shadow of WWII, the year 1955.
I am a father. To my knowledge, I have five children, born or adopted in wedlock ranging in birth from 1981 to 1992. It is more than I know I did not leave behind a child in Southeast Asia. Forty years later, the awful feeling of this possibility occasionally haunts me.
I believe I love my children.
I consider myself available to my children.
I certainly do not want to be a new father.
(as you’ve read this far, probably you’ve noted fatherhood is not near the top of my list of sense of identity. Doesn’t look pretty. But there are deliberate reasons for this I consider accurate and reasonable).
I am a divorcé. I was the respondent in a divorce after 31 years of marriage. I may or may not be “looking”. Now there is a definitive statement, no?!?
I am an American. My birth certificate shows a U.S. place of birth, and at least one parent I know with certainty a U.S. citizen.
The sociologists consider me a “Baby Boomer”. However, I’ve long been uncomfortable with that designation simply as
- I am too young to have been drafted for Vietnam, and
- I am improbably young to have made my own way to Woodstock.
These may seem meaningless if not humorous if not ridiculous. But they are big criteria for me. Anyway, I describe myself as a Baby Boomer because succeeding generations agree with the sociologists.
And what’s all this talk about “saving my life”? Like I’m in constant peril? Like I’m…suicidal? This is up for discussion. Also perhaps the topic of a later page.
So: I see myself as military, a survivor, one with disabling illnesses, one who is fortunate, a Christian, a father, an American.
This is who I see in the mirror. This is my story. And I’m stickin’ to it.
© Landis McGauhey