Life or Death

I am not sure exactly how it happened, but the fact of the matter is, it did.

Life and death decisions were not designed to be easy, if they were; if there was no struggle involved, the value of life itself would become non-existent. The very nature of things dictate, that we take these things seriously.

I am sure, that there are various “sorts” of life and death decisions if you really ponder it. We get in our cars and drive off everyday, and I suppose making a “mistake” at the wheel could ultimately be life and death. Maybe even walking down the street or crossing the road. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that each one of use makes life and death decisions every day, in a multitude of ways.

Today’s news reports include a Semi Tractor Trailer driver, apparently under the influence, drove off on the interstate going the wrong way. Now THAT is a life and death decision…clearly one not carefully made, or probably even understood. I imagine it’s not that difficult to get confused about which direction you’re going in, but there are SIGNS everywhere that say WRONG WAY or DO NOT ENTER. A mind that is muddled with alcohol or drugs has an even more difficult time, and there you have it. Life and death.

I think back to my childhood and I realize that I made lots of life and death decisions, and I wasn’t even aware of it. “Let’s swim across the lake” could have easily turned into tragedy. “let’s flip the boat over and swim,” “let’s take this old leaky rowboat out and now you’re headed toward the dam.” Even that time when we jumped off the barn roof to see if we could fly like Superman. An awful LOT of life and death decisions there, I’m sure my parents got it, but I’d never even CONSIDERED the possibilities.

If you were to put the words LIFE OR DEATH DECISION in big letters on a placard, and pull it out each time you considered something, I wonder how many times you’d make a different decision?

Life and Death is a pretty BIG thing.

I think we tend to think of those kind of decisions being made by Cops, or our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Naval war fighters. We think of EMS and other First Responders, Pilots, that type of thing.

I don’t think we ever really STOP and say to ourselves, hey buddy, THIS is a life and death decision.

I’m not really a drinker. I play one on the radio sometimes, but if you took all the alcohol I’ve had in my life, you couldn’t keep a buzz on for very long. I’ve NEVER done any kind of drugs, not once in my life. We see, all the time, stories about people driving drunk and killing someone, the drunk usually survives somehow. The Opiod epidemic and other drug overdoses come at a regular pace. People running around with guns and acting stupid, kids getting into a parents gun cabinet or whatever and shooting themselves or a sibling or parent.

These kind of things seem to pop up on our radar more and more. I recall a friend of mine who survived two tours in Vietnam, then came home and got killed by a drunk driver. 24 months of Combat, no scratches, one trip to work and boom, gone.

I can tell you that I’m fully AWARE of life and death decisions, and I have been since I was about 19. Since then, virtually every move I make is calculated and considered as a potential life and death decision. I don’t sit around and study it, but I know, full well, the CONSEQUENCES of life and death, I’ve seen it up close and personal, and it’s not something I ever want to do again. The everyday decisions are difficult enough, I never want to be in the position of having to make a decision that might take others lives, let alone mine.

So I’m probably more careful, more studied, that some. I am not risk adverse, in fact I will swing at the fence sometimes if it becomes necessary, but jumping in front of a bus just to see what might happen went out the door 40 plus years ago.

If you know me at all, you also know that I pull command decisions out of my butt with almost absurd speed. Simple things like what needs to be done, how should I do it, and a myriad of other more mundane things. When it escalates to life and death, I make the decision, but it’s almost like the entire process is playing out in slow motion and I run through the various scenarios, in my attempt to do the right thing.

I’m sure we’re all like this to one extent or another but like many of my Veteran friends, mine is tempered by the reality of having had to make a life and death decision that didn’t play out the way we’d all hoped, things went bad, and people died.

Play that 8 track tape in a loop in your head, and see how quickly you want to jump right back into the fray again. The FACT is, it changed me. It changed who I am. It changed the entire trajectory of my life, and it will ALWAYS be a part of me, for the rest of my life.

This is what is called PTSD. For most of us, we’ve no idea we even have it, and we rarely talk about how it might affect us. There’s a certain stigma to it, and in the Military, at least, having those four letters next to your name might well end your career.

I can’t imagine, for the life of me, how our Men & Women do it “these” days. With four, five and six rapid deployments to multiple combat zones, with short turn around in between. I can tell you, truthfully, that ANY kind of combat is going to leave a mark, physically AND mentally, and when you spend THAT much time “in the red,” you’re going to be broken.

Some of us get help. Some of us are foolish and wait 40 years. Some of us don’t make it at all, and some of us decide life isn’t worth it anymore, and end it.

These are TRUE life and death decisions. We see it, hear it, read about it almost on a daily basis.

I wonder if we’ll ever reach a point where we don’t have to inflict that kind of suffering on our younger generation. I wonder if we’ll ever see a time when combat is a word no one “gets” anymore? I wonder just how much death and destruction it takes, to make you understand that violence is not a solution to anything.

We talk about our “Greatest Generation” and they are. True heros in every respect. I wonder how all of their children and families would have worked out, if they hadn’t had to carry the scars of combat through life, making daily decisions, leading their families through good times and bad.

My own personal case found me turning “inside” in many ways. I can shout and dance with the best of them when the mic or camera is on, I’m NOT shy. But my real personal relationships have to deal with a “silence” that I never understood…but I’m truly TRYING to do so. I can communicate like nobody’s business on the radio…and then I shut down and go quiet when I go home. I’ve not a “small talk” champion. I don’t, and won’t engage in it. I’ll say Hi and then exit stage left. I’ve always been this way, and I had no idea why I pull inside my mental garage and leave the engine running. It’s truly odd for someone who can give a speech without any notice in front of any size crowd, about any subject, and feel right at home. It’s WHEN I get home, that the shutdown occurs.

I can spend whole days all by myself, without even batting an eyelash. Sometimes several days. I’m perfectly ok with it.

And then, a couple of years ago, I sat down to my keyboard, and I started writing. I’ve no idea what prompted it, but it just started coming out of me in ways I often don’t understand. Someone will say something and I’m off on some English language version of some new story or adventure. In all of the years I’ve run up and down the dial, I never once considered myself a writer.

Apparently, I was wrong about THAT as well.

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