It is the aforementioned that set the stage for what was about to occur, the reality that my dream of becoming a soldier wasn’t in the cards for me. You see during a routine walk home from middle school I unexpectedly had an epileptic seizure and from that day till my twenties would continue to have them periodically through middle school and high school. During this time I visited with neurologists and other doctors who were trying to figure out what was going on, my seizures were not enough to classify me as a full-fledged epileptic, the random onset of them during middle school seemed unusual to them. Through the probing and testing they also found I had an iron deficiency and smaller than normal red blood cells. It was decided that even though my seizures were not very frequent, on the order of only once or twice a year that it would still be safer, for which I agreed, to just have me on a minimal dosage of medication which eliminated my seizures all together. As is typical with most high schools, military recruiters began coming out to schools during career fairs and talks, naturally I gravitated to their booths and their talks and was more than ready to graduate to fulfill my dream of becoming a soldier. I still vividly remember, as a high school junior, walking into the Marine Corps recruiters office in the shopping center off of Pershing Avenue and March Lane and stating as soon as I crossed the threshold of the door “I am ready to work and to become be a US Marine”, I saw the Sergeant behind the desk smirk, and said “you think you have what it takes”, for which I replied with an enthusiastic “yes sir” and with a bit of cockiness, I stated I bet I can out pushup and pullup anyone in here. I am not sure if he was amused or annoyed at this point but he barked an order at another recruiter to jump on the pull up bar they had in the office; he jumped up and busted out about 27 of them before dropping down winded by the exertion. By this point in my life I could manage about 25 total, I jumped up and pushed myself hard to get in 30. I had their attention, which I thought would lead to the signing of some papers, but I was told to comeback the following week for the pushup challenge, at this point I think they were either having fun leading me on or simply prolonging the challenge to prolong the crap they were giving to the other recruiter whom I had just beat in the pull up challenge. During the course of this courtship I reached a point where questions where being asked, such as, have you ever been arrested, have you ever done drugs, and lastly are you on any medication, followed by, lying to any of these questions is a federal offense. Naturally I mentioned “tegretol” the medication I had been prescribed for controlling my epilepsy. Once the words left my mouth I could see the disappointment in the recruiters face, his only response was “you got heart kid but we can’t take you” delivered with as much empathy as he could muster.
His response hit me like a ton of bricks, what, this was my dream, my goal, my destiny. How could this be happening, life can’t be this unfair. I have no other provisions for what I will do next, you can’t do this to me. This led to a downward spiral of my spirit and character, I didn’t care about anything anymore except for maybe fishing and drinking, I had no idea how to deal with this setback. What was worse is that I kept all this information private, I told no one of my trip to the recruiter’s office that day, I told no one that I was denied military service, I simply walked out of that office that day and when I was out of visual range of the recruiters office I sat down on the sidewalk and cried. My only game plan moving forward was to simply stop my medication, not tell anyone and try again in a year, then when the question was asked again I could reply with a “no Sir, no medication taken here”. This worked for about 3 months, until I came down with a fever which then led to another epileptic episode. This was the straw that broke me, everything made me angry. I felt as if I was broken, a misfit amongst my peers, not worthy to serve or defend my country if the need were to arise. While this blog is much too long to go into the specifics of what turned my mindset around it highlights one example of how life is full twist and turns and littered with setbacks and unforeseen challenges. It is how you deal with these setbacks that makes all the difference and which is why as a parent I try and spend as much time as I can teaching my kids how to deal with fear and failure and with not getting what you want. Dealing with failure is in my mind a very important lesson to pass on to others, apparently I am not the only one who thinks so, there are now college courses on this very topic and many books have been written and sold on how to deal with setbacks and change, such as the book “mindset” to the classic “who moved my cheese” which I purchased a kid version to read to my children. So the point of this article is to realize that life isn’t fair, sometimes things don’t, wont and will not go as we planned, accept that fact and then think about what else you can do to learn from it to develop a contingency plan or help someone else learn from your experience. In the first couple of pages of the Dr. Spencer Johnson book, “who moved my cheese” is a passage that I just love, it is as follows:
“Life is no straight an easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must see our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us.”
Well for me, a door was opened and life hasn’t been better, I have a beautiful family, great friends and a great job in the service of our countries national defense. Now when I hit a road block, I pause briefly before dusting myself off again and keep moving forward, I will leave you with the words of Robert Burns “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men often go astray”. If you go astray or fall down, get up get your bearings, dust yourself off and keep moving! Oss!