“Against our deepest wishes, we become suddenly, inexplicably, committed to a path we have avoided, a line of thought we’d had no interest in.” – Zachary Lazar
Last year I wrote a post titled: “Five Years between T-Walls” where I talked about some of the psychological problems I faced working in Iraq, one of them is the battling destiny vs. choice dilemma.
After that post, some people emailed me back and asked if I was ok. Others wondered why I even stayed that long working in Iraq. Why did I sacrifice that many years of my life? Why did I miss all those special moments and holidays away from my family?
I wasn’t there for my grandmother’s funeral. I arrived in Chicago two days before my sister’s wedding. I wasn’t stateside when my first nephew was born. Two romantic relationships fizzled out. And, I flew back to Iraq the day my father was going through his cancer surgery. And many more milestones slipped by in my absence.
Why did I do all that? Did I love working in Iraq that much? Or did I love making money that much?
In this post, I try to answer these questions briefly. I will leave the long answer for, possibly, a future book.
When I read books that cover the past fourteen years of the American history in Iraq, I feel I’m part of those books. I understand it. I live it.
And, not like the way a physics teacher understands physics. But maybe the way a chemistry teacher lives through chemical reactions, or better yet, a boxer in a boxing match. I live in those pages of the American history in Iraq.
I was paid, (and paid well) to be part of history…from the first day of the American invasion of Iraq until President Trump’s travel ban…from the absurdity of it to the idealism of it all. In this sequestered life in Iraq, I feel at home. I feel I’m somebody. It gave me a sense of identity. I’m on the frontlines of American foreign policy.
When I ponder my option to go back to my normal life in the U.S., I get confused. I face uncertainty. I face another type of loss: prestige, status, income, identity… being somebody. Maybe it’s a version of “Into Thin Air”, mine is ”Into the Uncertainty”.
What will I do that is bigger and better than now? Be a business analyst? A consultant? A manager? A programmer? A falafel shop and maybe call it the T-Wall Kitchen?
photo credit: Diego Montoya
Five years ago, I was designing a few programming processes that would go into a new health care system for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. I was sitting on the sixth floor of one of the high-rise buildings in downtown Chicago. I could turn my chair and face Millennium Park. But I didn’t feel the purposefulness. I didn’t feel the satisfaction.
Some escapades in Iraq make me feel high like the satisfaction of climbing Mount Everest. I connect governments.
If I go back to the US, then I must go back to something even bigger than what I have now. I can’t move backward. My heart wouldn’t let me.
This is the toughest decision I have to make, to go home…to go from being somebody to being nobody. It will never be the same.
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Ninos, I totally get it. When I was younger and single I worked for years on the boats in Alaska, and even today I miss all that. Probably the only thing that keeps me with the family is . . . the family. Without that I’d never come back. I mean, why? Have a bunch of kids, though, and then it changes.
You right 🙂
I could understand where you’re coming from. You have missed out on all of the family events and gatherings and happy moments basically. But what you have built is experienced that no has done. And no onr can, this is not an easy work nor will it ever be easy, it takes a special someone to do what you have done. You have sacrificed years and have lost many family moments and few relationships have fizzed out and failed. But I think there was a purpose for you to stay in Iraq and do what you have to do.
Thank you Ann…Thank you for your kind words…Indeed, you are right!
I totally understand the situation you are in. I am ,however, not afraid of the uncertainty and may be you yourself weren’t, which is why you ended up working in Iraq. I strongly believe we are , as human beings, adaptable but if we fail to adapt to a specific situation, we sure are , driven by our innate Defense Mechanism, capable of redefining “being nobody” to “being somebody.” and live happily with our “illusion” near our loved ones. stay safe brother
Thank you Neiman…I agree!…not being afraid of the uncertainty is a big thing.
Fantastic blog and it struck a deep chord in me. As someone whose only job was as a member of the Armed Forces, I too wondered what I would do outwith the confines of a regimented life? My nirvana is this; working as a civilian contractor within a military environment. I can live the life and do not have to worry about weapons, morning parades, shaving every day and of course, the pay is so much better. Why am I doing this? Is it out of a sense of being a small part of the machine that is ridding the world of evil or for financial gain? Both actually; I provide for my family in order to ensure their future is safe AND secure. By God, I miss my children and will forever regret missing their growing up and discovering what life is. However, we all sacrifice to gain and in that respect, I can take some comfort. I will most certainly NOT do this to the end of my working years. As soon as I see that my childrens future is secure I shall go back and live my life by carrying out charity work. That is what would satisfy me. I have seen far too much death and destruction and by helping others, it would give me peace of mind and a renewed sense of purpose in life. My heart rules my mind and that is where it is taking me. What about you? You should delve satisfaction for your contribution to this mission and if that mental satisfaction is complete; look to the future and start a new phase in your life (marriage and children) that would be more fulfilling to your soul.
God Bless you and guide you.
Thank you so much for such a deep comment. It means a lot to me. Thank you! genuinely.
Thank you so much for sharing your true story with us. Well, this is the life.. No pain…No gain ….So if the gain worth to handle the pain, it’s ok, go for it and enjoy your life. Best luck with your choices and God bless.