Sunday, December 20, 2009

parties, gifts and holidays.

The economic downturn has taken a hit on the Harmon family. My brother-in-law works for AIG or some subsidiary therein (I'm not exactly sure how or what he does, but in the grand scheme of things, he gets his paycheck from AIG). I came out here to visit them and my mother, who lives with them. We've decided this year to NOT buy any Christmas presents. It was a decision I was, and am, happy with. There is no shopping, no crowds, no disappointment at not getting what you want, or worse, being able to give what you'd like.

My niece, Juliete, was born one year ago today. My sister is planning a first birthday party for her tomorrow, but trying to do it on a budget they can afford. Seeing the amount of effort and worry that has been transfered from Christmas to this first birthday is saddening. Holidays, birthdays and parties are supposed to be about fun and family and enjoyment. I don't mean that in the trite kind of lip-service sense either, I mean it quite literally. After spending a year without holidays (or, with holidays on paper, but no real holiday "cheer" to speak of, I can see this more clearly now. If we never give presents for any holiday again, I'll be happy.

My grandmother is in the hospital and near-death and I can't be there. Her last surviving children, however, are able to be there with her this Christmas. There is no talk amongst them of presents or cakes or parties...being together is enough. It should be like that for all of us, all the time.

I don't know if this is ironic or not, but I think presents are overrated for the Holidays, but underrated the rest of the year. What I mean by that is...if the 25th of December is a good time to give someone a card or present or phone call, then any day is. There's nothing at all wrong with giving someone a small present on the 2nd of June to say, "hey, you're a great person and I'm glad you're in my life." So...that's what I'll do. No more Christmas presents, but if I see something that makes me think, "oh man, my sister would love this" sometime in June, I'll get it and give it to her wrapped nicely with a card that says, "you're the best." What I won't do is create any further undue and unnecessary least, that's my plan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

conspiracy theory

A few months ago (weeks? I forget) I went to a Raw Food Potluck with my friend Sara while she was visiting Killeen. We drove down to a doctor's home in Austin where we met several Raw Food aficionados. (Unrelated, the first thing I noticed when I walked into the office was the most awkward painting of Jesus I'd ever seen. It was like GQ Jesus. He looked as he normally does in Western Iconography, but was painted in a way that looked like the cover of a romance novel. His torso was larger, his features MORE chiseled than usual and he was cradling a lone sheep in his arms like a male-model would were someone to hand a male-model a lamb and then say, "now give me it, work it...").

After meeting the people there, there was some small talk (What do YOU do? etc.) and then we ate food. Midway through the conversation and lots of food which was made of mashed nuts of various types, the conspiracy theories began. The people began to explain in hushed tones that, were the government not run by the various Republicans, corporations, conglomerates etc. etc., they could cure cancer by simply letting these people in the room do...something. They never quite said what it was (the closest I could pin anyone down was allowing them to sell non-pasteurized juices), but they were deadly serious that cancer, or the lack of a cure, was a conspiracy between the government and the drug companies.

Flash forward to my weekend in Pennsylvania. My friend David and I haven't seen one another in years and the last time I was in Duncannon was five years ago or so. While on a drive to the grocery store, I saw a building which I thought I remembered and asked if it was the pizza place we had eaten at. No, I was told, it used to be a car dealership. Then, his mom paused and explained, in a very familiar hushed tone, that the Democrats had closed it in punishment for the town voting Republican. David asked her if it was possible it closed because, between it and the other towns, theirs was the smallest and thus least profitable. Then later that weekend we went to pick up Davey's deployment gun, which he bought as a commemoration of his tour in Iraq. While there, his dad explained to me that there's a lack of ammo since Obama came to office. Why, you ask? Guess...yep conspiracy, Liberal conspiracy. Again, David questioned his parents, "Maybe it's not a conspiracy and, because when he came into office everyone bought everything they could, so now there's a and demand and all that?" Nope....

It's not only on the right or the left, these conspiracy theoriests (although there is no Glenn Beck of the left, unless you count Michael Moore...but he's not nightly, which is good). What is scary, however, is how far removed from reality these people are and how quickly they're willing to blame "the other" for the woes of the world. The Raw Foodies and David's family aren't bad people, they're just blinded by their own beliefs. Those of us who hope to change things for the better, we've got to constantly remind ourselves to see past our own biases...otherwise, we'll just keep blaming the "other."

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I flew from Vegas, where my grandma was, to Phillie to catch the Army/Navy game. It was a two legged flight and I almost missed the first leg...they held the plane for me and several other passengers who had been stuck trying to get through the metal detectors.

On the first leg, I sat next a young couple, maybe my age give or a take a year. They were nice and polite and the girl drank enough that by the time we landed, she was slurring her words and it took her some time to figure out how to unbuckle her safety belt. On the second leg, I sat next to a hip girl about my age who has ADD, so she knitted the entire flight and also drank quite a bit. I wonder if it's just a function of our age group that everyone I saw who was around my age was knocking back little bottles of alcohol or if it was a function of flying out of Vegas. Either way, I found it interesting.

When I got to the game, I met up with a buddy of mine who'd been at the same COP as I was while in Iraq. He had a full on tailgate with four or five vehicles and a bunch of our classmates were there. TR, another friend of mine, flew out for the game as well. He drank a bit too much though pre-gaming it and passed out almost before kick off. He took off pretty early into the game unable to continue. My friend Miriam, who studies down in West Virginia, came up for the game as well on a whim and she's pretty much Army's number one fan. Her sister graduated from West Point and two of her brothers are Zoomies...but she's still an Army fan.

The game was fun and much closer than the score indicated. It was still heartbreaking as ever to see the Cadets lose, especially knowing it was the last class of Cadets that I know. They deserve to know what it feels like to be happy. But alas, it was not our year.

There is a lot more to write, and there are a lot of things I've been thinking of since leaving Vegas, but I can't get my mind to function properly to write lately. Hopefully the writing comes again, otherwise, this blog will become very boring very quickly and I may stop again. (Then again, there's no reason I can't write on and's pretty much for my own therapy anyway).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Vegas Baby...Vegas

So the day I got to Disneyland, I called my family in California to find out if we could get together for dinner. I was told, however, that dinner would not be possible because my grandma is sick and has possibly terminal cancer. I sold my tickets to Army/Navy and gave away my hotel rooms and booked a flight to Vegas, where I am now.

There is a horrible sense of deja vu as I go through Oncology again with my grandma. The same feelings I felt six years ago when my father was sick. The same family is here by my side and the same annoyances and comforts that come with them again. I'm sitting in the hallway now, waiting to hear what the outcome is and hoping against hope that this Christmas, we'll all still be together.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Well written Cadet...

A Cadet, in reaction to the reaction to the audience the President's address to the Corps of Cadets wrote the following, which I ask you to read.

View From West Point: We Are Not The Enemy

The reaction of the Corps (from what I saw, and which I am open to correction) is in stark contradiction to when President Bush spoke at the Naval Academy. Upon the exit of Bush from the auditorium, he was mobbed by Middies with cameras trying to get a photograph with the Commander in Chief and every line he spoke was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

I am proud of how the Cadets conducted themselves. They were respectful, they were thoughtful, and they were professional. Everything one would hope for from the Officer Corps.

continuing on...

After trying to decide if I should or should not continue my blog, I've decided to continue it. I've been doing it too long to stop. I cannot, however, be as open as I once was. I hope to continue to write about things that are interesting though, and to keep your attention. That being said, what I am posting below is the last email I sent home from Iraq. It was written a month ago. I haven't changed it...even the mis-spellings or grammatical errors.

Deployment, it seems, is like putting ones life on pause, then
returning a year later. Wait...I backtrack. Imagine, if you would,
that life is a video game, one played and shared by everyone you know
and love. Now...imagine that video game is put on pause for a year
while someone hands you the controls to another, different game which
you play for a year. You then return to the first game, and no one
knows where you've been, what you've done, or what the second game was
even all about. The first game, in your absence, has continued, and
no matter how well, or how poorly, you did in the second game, you are
expected to pick up and continue in the first.

I'm sitting in Baghdad right now, waiting daily for my flight out
Iraq. I haven't written as often as I'd like, but I probably should
take the time now to consider the last year. In NOV 2008, I was
sitting in front of a ten by ten storage bin where I had put my mattress, bed, a borrowed dresser and many, many t-shirts.
The compiled effects of my 28 years alive. They didn't fill the ten
by ten room and I told my mom that, were I to die, that would be the
only traces of me. Nothing to be impressed with.

I looked forward to the year ahead, and yes, I was scared. I can
admit that...there's no lack of bravery in admitting one is scared,
but there is a lack of honesty in denying it in retrospect. I didn't
know what to expect, either from deployment, or myself. I had never
been tested in a way, or by a thing or event, which I didn't know
ahead of time I could achieve. Not just achieve, but excel at. So,
there I front of my things, wondering what would happen
over the course of a year. Would I come home, not with things, but
with experiences, stories, and personalities to share--to fill the
empty space that had accumulated while I spent years learning to be
the Officer that I was about to embark upon Being? Yes...I was

The experience was not--is not--what I had expected, but experiences
rarely are. And the challenges I faced were not (and will not be)
those I expected either. This, it seems, is a lesson I refuse to
learn, for as I look back, it is one that has tried to impose itself
upon me often, to no avail. In any case, that realization is the
simplest of those I have learned through trial and error. I've
learned some about myself, about my limits and my leadership--skills
which may or may not ever come in handy again. And I've learned a lot
about the Army. I lost my pride (something which I'm sure many of you
will consider a change for the better), and if I am to be completely
honest, my belief in my ability to achieve anything. I've lost my
dreams for the Army, and my aspirations therein...but I've maintained
my honor...and I'm told that is worth something. I've learned what
"alone" means, and I've learned how important family is (instead of
learned, I should specify, re-affirmed, for I've been lucky enough to
have familial bonds that many would kill for).

Salman Rushdie wrote, “Most of what matters in your life takes place
in your absence." So, I ask myself, what is it that happened in my absence? There were
babies and marriages--a niece was born, and a friend was married under
a canopy with ribbons of blessing from her friends and family.
Another married in the Philippines, where years ago, my grandmother
married and my father swung through branches, barefoot, not ever
thinking someday I too would wear the uniform he wore. There were
challenges and changes I could not be there to help through or share
with. There are friends I'll never see again whom I will Always
Remember standing in their Dress Grey with smiles and eyes looking
forward with excitement and pride in what they hoped to do. There
were legs and gods left behind, never to be felt again and there were
examples gained from men who will never know they've changed someone.

Deployment changes people, even if the closest you've been to combat
is a live video feed from an office. Deployment has changed me, that
too, I can admit. But sometimes failure is as important as success in
building up to who I am to become. That being said, a year ago, in
front of my consolidated belongings, I jokingly declared that
"success" for the year would mean that I would be 29, single, living
in Killeen, TX, and no one had died. And, by those metrics, this year has
been a success. And so I look forward to the plane ride home, and to
seeing my family again.

I apologize if this email is maudlin and semi-depressing, but I wanted to be sure I was honest about my year here and, upon my return, no one had illussions about what I did and what was done here...least of all, myself.