25 years ago a white Army van dropped me off on the corner of Division and Faith.
I was 25 years old and had just come on Active Duty with the military after experiencing the most difficult year of my life. In the previous year I’d lost my father, a marriage and my job and I was looking for a fresh start. A new direction. A rebirth.
I had just been assigned to the 14th Combat Engineer Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington and the 14th was garrisoned on the corner of 3rd Division Drive and Faith Avenue.
My room, my office and my life were planted precisely on the corner of Division and Faith.
When I first arrived at this unit I was nervous. I didn’t know anybody and they didn’t know me. I went through all the motions of being a soldier: PT in the morning, chow in the mess hall, hanging around the day room or my bedroom at night.
But every weekend, as soon as we were released from duty, I left.
My brother and his family lived 45 miles away. I’d hop in my truck, turn down Division, and leave because I didn’t know anybody.
By the end of December I thought joining the Army had been a big mistake. I was lonely and felt disconnected from the swirl of soldiers around me. I wasn’t like so many of them, especially after hours – I didn’t have any interest in going to clubs or bars at night, I didn’t own a television (on purpose) and I was 3-4 years older than most of the other soldiers that lived in the barracks, which doesn’t seem like much now but in our 20’s that can be a significant age difference. I was not one of them and it was easy for me to find justification to maintain that separation. It was easy for me to think that they were beneath me, because I didn’t drink alcohol very often and I read books instead of watching television and therefore, somehow, I was better than they were.
At the exact moment I needed others most I was finding it easy to build walls to keep them out.
In early January, though, a thought hit me right out of the blue. I had one of those bright moments of clarity that smacked me right in the head:
I was leaving every weekend because I didn’t know anybody but I didn’t know anybody because I left every weekend.
I stopped heading down Division after that and turned back towards Faith. I turned around, opened my arms (and my mind) and decided to embrace the community that was right in front of me.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
I started approaching people and started setting up things for us to do. Go to movies. Visit Mount Rainier. Explore Tacoma and Olympia. And within a very short time I suddenly found a group of the best friends I could have ever hoped to have. We all made friends with a group of girls from Olympia and formed a close bond that gave me exactly the sort of healing and connection I needed at the time I needed it most. I’m still in touch with them today and they mean the world to me.
And it happened because I quit embracing Division and turned towards Faith.
25 years later I find that I am healed but our country feels broken instead. We seem fractured and angry and more polarized than any other time I can recall in my life. I listen to and read so many conversations that hinge on casting others as unintelligent, malicious or suffering from what my father called “cranial-rectal inversion”. I sometimes stumble and add to these comments then later regret that I added fuel to an unhelpful fire.
25 years ago I was deposited on the corner of Division and Faith.
25 years later I no longer literally live at that location but every day I wake up and know that I live at the intersection of Division and Faith and know that I have the opportunity to decide which path to take.
25 years later, as I look at the community and country and world around me and see the anger and hurt and loneliness ripple through so many, I know that the answer is to not run away, to not shun those I don’t know for the convenience and comfort of those that I do, to not find reasons to build walls or cast other opinions and behaviors as lesser than my own.
25 years later I know, in my heart and my experience and whatever wisdom has been given to me, that the answer is to turn, open my heart and mind and arms and embrace the world before me, even when it’s uncomfortable and unknown and a little frightening. I have faith in this because it worked so amazingly well for me when I put it to the test so many years ago.
I live on the corner of Division and Faith.
And I choose Faith.