Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Finding My Way in the Darkness of Afghanistan

Afghanistan can be a dark place. I’m not talking spiritually; I’m talking actually dark. I was recently at a FOB (Forward Operating Base) that is lights out. This means that they have no lights around the base at night, barely any.
It gets pitch black. You can barely see you hand in front of your face or whatever cliche you pick. Why do they do this you ask? Because they don’t want snipers to shoot you.
Yay for darkness!
I went to the MWR (place where the internet and TV live) and worked on my writing and reading (update: kindle broke. Ruh-roh. I have to send it to get fixed. Ugh.) When I exited, I had a small flashlight and poor sense of direction.
Above me were stars, more stars than I’ve seen on my short trip here (A MONTH!) and far into the southern horizon, a storm was approaching. There was lightning every 5 seconds and somewhere I took a wrong turn. Surprise, surprise.
I started to panic and I looked around and saw nothing familiar and there was no one around.
But I had a paved road underneath my feet. This was the key. I knew that if I stayed on it, I could find my way back to my tent. So I just walked and looked occasionally for a familiar view. After about ten minutes, I saw the Eye in the Sky, a large blimp they fly to get aerial views of the surrounding areas. That was my landmark.
So I walked towards it, found my tent, and headed to bed.
I tend to panic when I get lost. I tend to just take the next turn and get frustrated. And soon despair arrives. I refuse to stay calm and think.
But in the darkness, with only a small light, looking for my bed while a storm approaches, the Psalm just writes itself. I’m learning to not depend on my knowledge or my plan. Well, I’m lost. Let me look around. I’ll just keep walking. If I stay on the paved road, I have to run into it. I can’t get out of here, so I’ll eventually be where I need to be.
One of my spiritual disciplines while I’m here is writing out the Psalms. I’m writing them out, meditating on and journaling about them. And I constantly see how God is our stronghold, a place to dwell.
I picture His stronghold like a huge fortress, something out of a Tolkien dream. I picture my stronghold like a wet cardboard box with crayon cannons drawn on it. So as I wandered this military base, this highly fortified structure, I thought, why should I be afraid. Where could I possibly go? (I know you’re thinking, um, you wandering around with a flashlight in the dark in Afghanistan. . . disaster. True.)
And I’m hoping when I return to the states I’m less fearful. Right now I’m facing my “mentor” in this job relocating and I’m going to be training soldiers by myself. I’ve been nervous about that. Scared actually, but where can I run to now? I can’t quit and just get a job at Barnes and Noble (which might be fun). I have to stick this out.
But I’m getting less scared of this place, (not less careful), but I don’t feel this overwhelming dread. I’m starting to get a hang of the place, the rules and culture, the community and people.
I make sure that I say hello to every chaplain at every FOB. They’ve been a great asset and I know where to go when I find myself troubled. (Plus, they like the fact I have an M.Div. It’s like high level chaplain clearance here.)
I’m hoping this slow ebbing away of fear gives room for bravery to show up. I’m hoping I’m brave enough to use this money I’m earning to start a business, get a place to live and start it all up again. Turning 39 has certain rocked me a bit (where has the time gone?) and I want to really fashion the life I want when I get back, not what I’m conformed into, not whatever is second place.
I’m not scared of the dark here in Afghanistan anymore. The panic doesn’t grip my heart. I’ll find my way back. And I’ll just follow the road laid out for me, ahead of time.
But let’s be clear, I’m no fool.
Wherever I go I have my flashlight.

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