an other-than-honorable veteran

Sam was just here asking questions so he can tell my Navy AWOL story as a speech in his English class. It was interesting to try to boil it down to a 5-minute presentation, and make it understandable for high school students. The message, I think, is that the courage of taking a stand has to include the courage to take the consequences.

I also thought of this story this week because of Veterans' Day. I guess I'm a veteran, though I don't deserve any honor (or medical benefits) for it. Here's the story I wrote about my leaving the Navy, "A conscientious objection":

I was walking alone along the road outside a monastery in England, thinking about where I was. AWOL in a foreign country. I'd gone on a two-week leave several months ago, but instead of driving back and reporting for duty on the aircraft carrier I had boarded a plane. It felt like the only thing I could do. And I didn't think I deserved to be punished for it, so I'd fled.

These weeks of walking the Scottish moors and visiting monasteries to rest and pray had soothed some of the turmoil inside me. But still I didn't know where I was going. The initial gut-wrenching fear had eventually settled into the thrill of a new adventure, but it was now threatening to sink into dread. What would happen if I stopped running? Was my life ruined? Turned inward, I didn't notice the trees around me or the ancient stonework of the monastery. Was this all a terrible mistake?

That was when I first felt it. Deep inside, down in a dark part of myself where I never looked, it felt like something was moving. Like the stirring of a hibernating animal, something large. The slow uncoiling of a hidden predator. I couldn't see anything clearly, but it felt real enough to inspire awe at the power of the thing. It was enough to frighten me, yet the deep sensation was not fear. I remember thinking: Not yet. But it was coming. And it excited me.