Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
There are things in this world that, if I think about them too long or too deeply, bring tendrils of dread curling through my chest like smoke from a smoldering fire. None of them qualify as any more than the shared banalities of human existence, and on good days I can view them as milestones or at least merely the normal challenges of life. But at other times the passing of those moments feels like an implacable narrowing of possibility, as if time itself were coming at me like a Great White, eyes rolled back, hell-bent on the gross consumption of the things I most treasure. It is my far more prosaic version of William Styron’s “storm of murk” and it seems to come more regularly as I become fixed in this new phase of life called middle age.
Just a moment ago, my child was a ringlet-headed moppet with a firm belief in fairies. Now full of opinions and ideas, few of them the unhinged hilarity of childhood or even particularly constrained by my own obviously correct opinions, I know with penetrating clarity she must someday leave us for her own life. It will be a good one I am certain. But the inevitability of the precise objective of our parenting brings an awareness both exquisite and excruciating. I watch my elders age and as I seek to manifest the wisdom I once held as solely their province, I suddenly understand they too were just making it up as they went along, that eventually we all become the one wondering, “What now?”. I hear the damnable clock tick that is the background rhythm of life with good dogs. From a place of both love and self-centeredness, I think that as surely as my remaining opening days are diminishing, theirs, ebbing ever more exponentially, are what make my own worth having. It’s a notion that supports my growing belief that our singular human awareness is as much a curse as a divine gift. But occasionally life offers you an opportunity to place into perspective the challenges you face and while it never wholly mutes the fury of Styron’s storm, it may blow it into the distance.
Recently, fresh winds arrived courtesy of Task Force Dagger, a veteran’s charitable organization that gave my buddy John Dailey and me the opportunity to travel to Guam for seventeen days to SCUBA dive in search of World War Two artifacts with the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center (SRC). The SRC is a traveling team of underwater archaeologists and expert divers who help preserve and protect America’s cultural heritage in our National Parks, much of which is found underwater. On Guam, at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, the SRC is conducting the first comprehensive survey of submerged magnetic anomalies associated with the Asan and Agat invasion beachheads. Using a magnetometer and side scan sonar, the SRC found more than 300 “targets.” Many of the targets are old pieces of ferrous metal of no clear provenance. But some are 120mm mortar shells lying in a trench just a breath-hold beneath the azure surface of the Philippine Sea. Some are old anchors, perhaps of Spanish design, dropped sometime before 1898 and now concreted into the reef. Some are expended machine gun brass, rolling with the tide since July 21, 1944. Identifying and cataloging the items requires the eyes and hands of the SRC and volunteer SCUBA divers. That’s where John and I came in. And that’s where Styron’s storm broke.
Time underwater, even while engaged in swimming precise search patterns with metal detectors and cameras, gives me time to think. Lulled by the rhythmic hiss of my breath through a regulator followed by the explosive burbling of my exhalations, I thought about the storm clouds obscuring the sun in my life. Then I thought about what it might have been like to be 19 years old, wading ashore under the barrels of entrenched artillery in 1944. I thought back to standing in the cupola of an armored vehicle twenty years ago and looking down at another 19-year-old Marine as he closed his eyes and crossed himself before stepping onto a dusty street in a no-name village. Swimming through those canyons of vibrant coral, I realized that I am blessed in many regards, not least by my storm clouds.
If I am melancholy at my inability to periodically freeze my child in time, at least I am blessed to have this time, and this child, at all. If I am bewildered to find myself no wiser at fifty than fifteen, merely confused by a new set of questions, I am blessed to still be here to face them. If I am struck tearful at the depth of love I see in a dog’s gaze and the contemplation of its inevitable absence, at least I am building the moments I’ll be able to smile about in retelling a story about a damned fine dog. And I am blessed to have married a woman with whom I can weather any storm.
Perspective is sometimes hard to gain. It is perhaps harder still to keep amid the “storm of murk.” The clouds roll in, dimming the light by which we see our lives illuminated. Winds blow. Rain howls. Night falls. But if we hold on to who and what we can, and if in turn, we can be the rock in someone else’s windstorm when needed, the sun will rise. I promise you; the sun will rise.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor in Chief, Tom Beckbe