I'm a day late with this post. The past few days my dad and I spent hanging out with my nephew Quinn (Dad's grandson) before he deploys to the Middle East. His twin brother, Lane, started Ranger school on Sunday. I wanted to share (with his permission) the letter I wrote to him this morning, before he left.
24 April 2018
I’m glad we had a chance to spend some time together before you deploy. While I will be concerned for your safety, I’m also excited for you, because I know you are excited to have this opportunity. During our conversations there was one thing you mentioned that I thought was important to both acknowledge and also address.
You mentioned in passing that there are some things you only discuss with others in the military, because they are the only ones who really understand it. That’s true. Each world of work has its own lingo, its own culture, its own rules and experience, and no one who isn’t in it truly knows what it means. Anna can never fully convey to you what it is to design a dress and see a model take it down a runway, Your mother can never fully convey what it is like to face the empty page and bring characters and a story to life on it. Your dad, Hattie, even Lane, who will have and already has had different experiences of becoming an officer than you have – all of them, all of us who were there last night, on Sunday, each have our own worlds in addition to the one we share and interact in with family.
At the same time, each person in your military world, even the people you work with every day, has a different experience of that world than you do. Even when we are most connected we are also most separate. That’s the human condition. We all feel a range of emotions, have a range of experiences, yet no other individual will experience them in exactly the same way you do. So things like a good musical, a good book, a good movie will tap into a universal experience of love or grief in a very specific way, like Rick in Casablanca, and though we are not Rick and experience love and grief in our own ways, we understand his and feel for him.
Whatever experiences you have, we can’t ever know exactly what that will be like for you. What we can know is what it is to feel completely alone and isolated, and that no one in the world can really understand what we are going through. That we all know at one time or another. As close as you and Lane are as twins, he can never fully share your years at West Point, you can never fully share the Ranger training he is going through right now. What you do share is the experience of being tested and pushed to the limits, and the comradeship you have with those who are with you in it.
Dainin Katagiri-roshi, a Buddhist teacher who taught several of my teachers, wrote that when you go deeply into practice, or any experience, you feel more connected to people and the world. At the same time, the deeper you go, the more alone you are. I suspect your faith will help to carry you through your life, and I also acknowledge that for some people, their faith is not able to sustain them. I don’t know why it is different for different people, but it is. What I do know is that if you are aware of the universality of the sense that no one can understand exactly what I’ve experienced, that awareness is already connection. At the times of greatest distress and despair in my own life, that awareness has kept me going, sometimes one day at a time, but always still going.
Safe travels and lots of love,
Carol (Doc) Dougherty
An avid reader, writer, and student, with a penchant for horse racing, Shakespeare, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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