Moments of Transition: Moments of Revelation
Moments of Revelation come in the most unexpected places to those who are watching, including “Coca-Cola” vending machines. Commercial chrome can sometimes reflect the future far better than any mystical practitioner’s Tarot card set.
A character born of a great writer’s mind once said, “All of life can be broken down into moments of transition and moments of revelation. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.”
These moments of revelation often pass unnoticed as we rush about, keeping up with the Kardashians, scraping out a living, and thoughtlessly insulting our political rivals. Life easily slips by until something makes us stop and listen—Selah, in the Jewish Psalms. A pause, a moment preparing for the next verse or to stop and consider what has been said.
Writers often notice these moments with a little more frequency. After all, a writer’s purpose is to tell a story, and the closest story at hand is one’s own life.
In November I will be 45 years old. I enlisted when I was 25. Do the math—I have been wearing my country’s uniform for just shy of half my lifespan so far. Or, to approach the equation from another angle: I have spent pretty much my entire, autonomous adult life as a Sailor, operating in and part of the all-encompassing culture and structure of the Navy.
I am about to leave that world for…the Great Unknown.
This is a transition all military personnel face regardless of service length, but I have made a decision that makes this all the more interesting. Contravening conventional wisdom, I have decided to retire despite being offered the opportunity to stay in longer. This year I was selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer. I will shortly be putting that uniform on and officially promoted to Chief. This means I can re-enlist and stay in past 20 years…
…If I want to.
I began to realize something was amiss as I sped towards the completion of my master’s degree earlier this year. I found I was becoming more excited by the idea of opportunities outside the Navy than in it. I also found I was chafing at simply letting life happen to me. I’ve been, in many ways, very passive in my career (to be fair to myself that was the only way I could survive a great deal of what I’ve been through).
The wheel has spun around, however, and it’s time for me to take more control of my own destiny (as another great storyteller wrote, there is no fate but what we make). The Navy provided me the guard rails I needed to really grow up. Its culture and structure were the training wheels allowing me to learn how to live as an adult and finally become a man, but one cannot use training wheels forever.
Last week I attended the required “Transition/GPS” class. This is designed to prepare military members for their return to the civilian world. For three days my class wore civilian business attire. Slacks, collared shirts and ties were the usual order for me as we developed resumes, sat through mock employment interviews, and learned to “translate” our military experience to “civilianese.”
And this is where the Moment of Revelation occurred.
On Thursday last I was in the break room in my suit while younger Sailors from other classes were there in uniform. I spent a moment looking at these young men and women, recalling how I felt as a new Sailor back in 1997 when the world was going to be mine. I realized how much I was going to miss being part of this special fraternity—the active duty Navy.
And then I caught sight of my reflection in the chrome of a soda pop machine. I looked at myself standing there in a civilian suit among the uniforms and, to put it bluntly, I recognized myself. In that one singular moment reflected in the shiny chrome of a well-placed “Coca-Cola” vending machine I saw who I am while realizing the uniform no longer fits me. I am more comfortable in a coat and tie than in dress blues. My deplorable excess of personality no longer fits in the Navy; it’s time for me to inflict myself on a wider, less constrained world.
Many transition are still to come as I begin the retirement process in earnest. I’ll be writing about them here in this “Moments of Transition” column. Perhaps others will find guidance as they approach their own separation. If not, perhaps I can at least provoke a laugh or two.
In any case, this is how I know my decision to retire and not continue on is the correct for me. I have outgrown the uniform like a teenager graduating high school outgrows home and is ready to move on.
All of life can be broken down to moments of transition and moments of revelation. This truly had the feeling of both. I’m going to miss the Navy deeply, but I also can’t wait to see what’s coming next. It’s like the end of an era in “Doctor Who” when you know who the new actor cast to play the Doctor is, but you are still an episode or two away from the actual regeneration scene. The old actor is finishing his time in the role while the audience bids him a fond farewell…but are also eagerly waiting to see what the new actor will bring to his incarnation of the character.
Petty Officer Nathanael Miller, United States Navy, is shortly going to “regenerate” into, simply, Nathanael Miller. No guard rails, no training wheels, no limits. Therefore, a warning is in order:
Brace yourself, civilian world—Nathanael Miller is about to land with all the grace and subtly of a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal!