We find ourselves just 12 short days from finishing what has been an extraordinary walk. On February 1st, we will find ourselves at the shore of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, CA, no longer looking West for our future. Rather, we will turn around, begin our drive home, and look East for progress for the first time in five months.
Lately, many people have broached the topic of “the end.” How do we feel? What do we think? How do we look at this trek in the context of a life achievement? Many questions about the trek and how it has influenced us. Unfortunately, there are few answers at this point to some reasonable questions.
When I think about where I am at now as opposed to five months ago, I feel markedly better than before. Physically, mentally, and emotionally I feel in a much better place. That said, I recognize there is still much work to be done to achieve the personal goals I set for myself. The excitement of nearing the end does not cloud the reality I see in front of me. There will be difficulties in coming home. I made the connections before we left that preparing for this walk was very similar to preparing for a deployment. In the same way, coming home will be like returning from a deployment. My concerns do not rest in adjusting from combat. Rather, my concerns stem from adjusting to having lived again for the first time in several years. The people in my life–friends and family and coworkers–have known me as a different me. Who I was prior to Iraq changed dramatically upon my return. There was a learning curve that went up, exponentially, every day with me. Neither I nor those in my life anticipated the ride that coming home from Iraq presented. I don’t know what they expect now, either.
The experience of coming home now is something I have no experience with. Yes, I’ve come home from two deployments and made successful and not so successful transitions. This, however, is completely different. And it makes me nervous. How will I be received? Will there be an expectation that I’m “all better” now? Will there be an expectation that all those things that bothered me before are now gone? I can say that while I feel as though I am in a much better place, I also understand that having completed this trek and moving beyond it is still on ongoing process. The walk will be over, the work is not.
Before the walk, I wondered if I’d ever get over the issues that influence my daily life. Would I ever be able to not be angry? Would I get to a point where I could feel appropriate emotions at appropriate times? I’ve come to see that I can get beyond those things, I can experience real emotions outside those negative anchors that weighed me down for so long. But, the same vigilance required to make certain you and your buddies are safe in combat is required for your own self care. Feeling confident that you’re on the right path is good. Feeling as though that being on the right path at the right time is all it takes is akin to the same complacency that you consciously avoid in combat to keep yourself alive. I recognize that the progress I’ve made can erode just as quickly if I feel I’ve accomplished my mission and begin to get too confident.
I have been telling people lately that the excitement I feel for nearing the end is tempered by the reality that the end is near. It seems as though it was just days ago that we found ourselves walking across the wind swept acres of Nebraska or the rolling, green cornfields of Iowa. Now, we are in the dusty, dry Southern California landscape. Just beyond the mountains in front of us will be the chaos of Los Angeles and the beauty of the coast. To see it in the manner we will will certainly feel good. I still don’t–in any way–feel a sense of accomplishment having come the distance we have. But I do feel a sense of accomplishment in having taken the chance to re-experience life again, to put myself back out in the world and try, again, to meet the expectations I have for myself. For far too long, I let myself feel as though the anger, disappointment, sadness, and frustration were earned from the misdeeds of the past. This walk has not been any sort of penance for me. It has, however, been a chance to say that those feelings do not need to last, are not deserved, and can serve as the starting point to begin again. It isn’t often that people would say to build a foundation for change on the negative. I can say that despite the hardships those feelings placed on me and those around me, they will serve as the benchmark for progress moving forward–they just don’t have to be the standard by which my days operate.
At some point, I’ll finally be able to articulate what this trek is/was/will be. For now, there are still too many miles ahead to write about the end in the present. But, presently, I find myself looking at the end as a beginning. And that is the most positive thing I’ve said in almost 10 years.
See you on the trail,
Anthony and Tom