SUFFOLK, Va. (Feb. 20, 2017) – It has been a highly kinetic week at work before this holiday. I’m not merely the chief of production at my command; I’ve taken over as chief of operations too. The assumption of additional responsibilities happened while I was in Naples, so I had to hit the deck plate running and have had no time to write a proper wrap-up to my Naples adventures until now.
Naples. It’s always Naples.
Third day in Naples I get word that my application to the doctoral program in history at the College of William and Mary was rejected. The conventional wisdom that permeates the Department of Defense dictates that I re-enlist and stay Navy a little long than merely 20 years. I am not here to diss, dismiss, disparage, or denigrate conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is conventional precisely because it applies to the vast majority of people in a culture, career, or organization.
And then there’s MY life.
An old friend once told me I was his “personal agent of chaos.” He said the normal rules of life often did not seem to apply to me. He’s right.
I own a house that needs some serious and expensive work on it. New roof, new windows, new cabinets, and new faucets…all are needed. Following my divorce two years ago, I still have a lot of stuff I’m sorting and downsizing. I have a rather large extended family made up of blood and chosen relatives…but most of them aren’t in southeastern Virginia. Moral support is wonderful, but carrying the physical load and juggling the many things necessary to make this work will be a challenge I have to sort by myself.
Conventional wisdom says to stay Navy; use the sea pay I’ll get to fix up the house and all before renting it out or selling it and then move on.
So, you might ask (and it’s a legit question), “Why not follow the conventional wisdom, Nathanael? Three more years in the Navy would set you up financially for a much easier transition to retirement.”
True enough, and I concede the point.
But…there was that little moment in an abandoned 18th century house on a cliff I waxed eloquent about on Feb. 9.
When I took that moment by myself to stand inside that house and pray (my companions were outside talking with those two French girls we met), that is when a vision of the right path came to me. Granted it has taken me a while to sift through everything and see the guidance for what it is, but it came to me in that quiet minute in that old house.
I cannot refute the logic of staying in one more hitch. I can only say that it is not the RIGHT thing for me to do. Conventional wisdom—the nice, smoothly paved sidewalk in the town at the base of the cliff—provides a wonderful path to walk on and find food and rest and even time to heal injuries. However, conventional wisdom is often safe. “Safe” usually does not provide opportunities for growth or the chance to extend one’s reach. You must look elsewhere for that.
Sometimes you have to risk. Sometimes you have to climb nearly 1000 and walk rugged, ill-defined trails with no guard rails to find your path. It is when we risk that we find out who we are and where we are going. I learned both long ago, but I also learned that the learning never stops. Those who stop learning stop becoming, and when one stops becoming their spirit slowly ossifies until they are but a living a statue just waiting to run out of heart beats. They’re not really living anymore.
Odd, when I enlisted in 1997 I told my old pastor, Breck, I knew it was time to leave Tallahassee because I’d hit my limit. If I stayed in Tallahassee I’d have had a good life, but I’d have been nothing more than I was at that moment. Now it’s time to leave the Navy for the same reason.
Yes, the Navy is a challenge. The Navy is full of change and travel and adventure. But it is also an organization of rules, ranks; a carefully orchestrated life structure existing to perform a dangerous mission while bringing its Sailors back alive. This next part of MY life story must involve a shift away from such external brackets and structures. I have no logic to defend this argument; I have only my faith in Jesus and certainty I’m right.
I thank God for the U.S. Navy. The last 20 years have been the adventure of a lifetime, and provided me structure, discipline, and direction when I was completely rudderless. The Navy taught me to stand up as a man. Now it’s time for me to leave the Navy nest, as it were (if you sense a parallel to a parental relationship here, you are right on the money) and set my own course. Once again a moment in Naples and its environs provided the opening for God to show me the path.
Maybe I’ll get lucky and land a government job in Naples for a few years? That’s be a neat parallel. My first assignment in the military was overseas in Europe. It’d be a cool bookend if my first civilian job after the Navy is overseas, and I love Naples a great deal.
This is not going to be easy, or even necessarily fun. However, it is the right move to make. I’ve learned who I am living as a Sailor for 20 years. It’s time to find out who Nathanael is without the uniform.
Naples. It’s always Naples.