(Nov. 20, 2017) I have a headache.
That’s neither here nor there; just thought I’d share it.
I don’t have a job, and as such have a very unique level of freedom as well as a rather steep learning curve adjusting to civilian life. I’ve spent half of my lifetime in thge very structured, fast-paced environment of the United States Navy. In one fell swoop I went from 120 mph to 0. Every external marker I had for measuring life and success and orienting myself was taken away all at once.
Every military member faces this moment, most especially those of us who retire. Unless a high-powered job is lined up and we can just walk into it, being suddenly bereft of uniform and purpose can make one feel washed up and broken down, just like an old, disused building I saw in southern Virginia as I left the commonwealth Nov. 18 for my hometown of Niceville, Florida. Niceville…where it all started so long ago…
I’ve come back to where it all started so that it can all start again.
With no job I have time, and a car, and a cell phone camera….and an entire continent before me. I’ve visited 22 countries over the last 20 years. Basically I’ve gone around the world twice. It’s an irony common to military people: we often see more of the planet than our own country.
So I’m going to see my country. I’m going to head to Ohio right after Thanksgiving to see family, then trek across the northern tier to Washington State. After that…I don’t know. If I can swing it—Alaska. If not, then I’ll swing down through the desert southwest.
Depending how this goes, I might be able to see all 48 contiguous states in fell swoop. If I can get to Alaska, then all 49 continental states.
It will be quite a journey and an education as I both learn to define myself simply as myself, and get to know this land I defended.
Maybe I’ll find something extraordinary. Maybe something extraordinary will find me.
Mostly, though, I’ll run into ordinary people; the kind of people who, if you just take a moment to throw a bit of light on them, shine with unexpected wonder. Elderly people and teenagers waiting for a table at Cracker Barrel in Burlington, North Carolina, or the young lady cleaning a gas station in Opelika, Alabama. I never had a chance to do more than observe them, but there is a treasure in each of them that only needs a willing audience.
There’s a story in everyone, and I’m a storyteller at heart.
I don’t have much of an itinerary beyond Ohio, and that’s only because of my family. I may spend a day in Atlanta exploring a city I’ve never really seen before I head to Ohio for a week. After that…well, starting in December I’m launching into the great unknown to see our country. I’ll come to many forks in the road, and it’s exciting to suddenly have the freedom to decide if I want to go left or right.
In a way I’ll be finding myself. Now, don’t go thinking I’m a lost soul. No. I know who I am. But the last “incarnation” of Nathanael was The Chief, a Navy Sailor defined by uniform, duties, and the remarkable team around me. This new “regeneration” of Nathanael is the same person…but the “what” has changed dramatically. I’m looking forward to finding out how this new version of me operates and where this new version of me finds a place in this world.
For the moment, I’m in Niceville, Florida. Tomorrow I’ll go hit my old stomping grounds of Pensacola. I might decide to settle there for a few years in the end. I always did like it.
So many forks in the roads ahead. This is going to be interesting.
I’m also on a personal mission for my shipmates from the USS Ponce (LPD 15). She’s decommissioned now, but I’ll be carrying her Quarterdeck flags and two slivers of her well deck with me. She spent 46 years at sea defending this nation. In a symbolic way Ponce will also get to see the nation she served so well through these artifacts traveling with me. I have many shipmates, some I actually sailed with, others whose bond to me is simply that we’re Ponce veterans. I’ve already been invited to stay with many of them as I travel. I will. After all—their stories are also fascinating and worth sharing!
And, just to be totally mercenary about this as well…nights crashing with my shipmates will save me hotel costs!