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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Letter To My Children

Van and Eve, I want to write a this down for you so perhaps someday when you hear about what I did,  you will understand a little bit of why. You are too young to remember this, and that is one of the reasons I am going away now, and not in a few years when you may better understand.

It is important that we get this out of the way: this is not about money. Yes, the money is good, no denying that, this money will help us build better lives for you, pay off our debt so we don't leave you holding the bag, and perhaps even expand your horizons through opportunities like boarding school and travel. But this is about more than that.
This is about courage, conviction, commitment, change, and compassion. These five 'C’s' will serve you well as you grow older and I can only hope I model them for you throughout your lives.

Courage can be difficult. It is not about being fearless. Fear is a good thing. It keeps us safe, warns us when we are about to do something dangerous, and gives us an edge no matter what happens. Courage is about confronting the unknown, dealing with things bigger than yourself, and facing danger in a productive way. I am terrified and ignorant about what I will see when I get to Kabul. It is a war zone; people are being hurt daily and trying to hurt us. I have never really experienced immediate and lethal violence. I have studied it, I have done what I can to prepare through martial arts and research. Ultimately, however, I have no idea what is like or how I will react. I am going to Afghanistan to test my courage, face the unknown, and I want you to understand doing so is a huge part of living.

Conviction is a strange one. We are faced everyday with things we do not understand, things that make us doubt ourselves, and things that test our resolve. We can wax philosophic all we want about higher concepts but until they are tested they are lies. I am going to war because I think I believe in myself, my ability to help people, and my own moral and ethical fortitude. I want you to always test yourselves, push your limits, challenge your beliefs, and grow your will. I do not always succeed, but I try, and that is one of the reasons I am here... To try.

Commitment to one's goals, one's beliefs, and ones dharma can be difficult. Before you were born, I tried to go to the Iraq war and it didn't work out. I spent months working myself to some level of peace with my choice to go and when it didn't happen I really doubted myself. I decided to dedicate my career to understanding and helping the military to understand how its culture impacts the greater whole, both Americans and people everywhere. I could take the slow path, and stay where it is safe and warm, but the military doesn't do that and to understand it neither can I. Anthropology is about participating, and I have committed myself to that path as well, hell or high water as they say. I also committed myself to my family, and that means risking myself sometimes, and risking comfort, and providing a solid example. I hope that by doing this I can strengthen my commitment, to my dharma, to you, to your mother, and to the people with whom I have chosen to work.

Change is good. Even bad change is good. Having the ability to change means that if things change for the worse you can always change again. Ruts are bad. Comfort is bad. Coming to this job in Afghanistan is a huge change. I could have stayed in my very good job, gone to bed every night with my family, made good money, and stayed there as long as possible. But it was time for a change. Van, your arrival was a harbinger for improvements to our lives. You shook us out of our complacency and reminded us that life moves forward. Yes, risk is involved, but bringing in a new life, moving to a new house, taking a new job, and going away for awhile are all good changes. Even when they make us sad, we should take consolation in the fact that because we can face change, we become stronger and better people for every time we try something new.

Finally, this trip is about compassion. Remember to have love for everyone and everything. To have true compassion, I believe we must have three things: experience, connection, and proximity. I am going overseas so I can help people. Help people find nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts, reach their goals, and end this war. In some small way, I hope to protect Americans from harm caused by ignorance and callousness, protect Afghans from force used out of frustration and alienation. We must experience what others experience, connect with them through common goals and desires, and be close to those with whom we want to have an impact. We must seek to understand their dharma and think of it in relation to our own, and not in competition with it. We should strive to understand why people do what they do, from their perspective as well as ours, so we can find common ground. We must, in the end, become involved, even when sacrifice must be made to do so.

Eve and Van, I struggle to live up to these lofty ideals I have set for myself. That I have set for you. It isn't something to be done; it is something to do, actively and in the present tense every day of our lives. We should accept that we may never fully realize these concepts, but in the act of trying we become better for it.

We are connected to all things, and their suffering is our suffering, our strength of character is their strength. We can make the world a better place, simply by trying. In the end, all we can do is try. And that is why I am going to Afghanistan, if for no other reason than to let you see me try.

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