Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Failure...F*** that!

 Training ruck...
Zoom in; this is what it looks like to stare failure (or my I-phone) right in its dirty face!

Let's talk about the "F" word. No, not the one you are thinking about. Well, okay first we will talk about the one on your mind...

When I was a kid, I had a pretty bad potty mouth. It was so bad, that one day at school, my friend Tiffany pulled me aside during recess to talk to me (it must have been fourth grade). Tiffany was a good Catholic girl and was concerned about my language. She told me that sometimes when she sinned, she would visit church and go to confessional.

"Everyone sins Jaala, there is no reason to be ashamed of it." She stated.

I listened intently.

Tiffany told me, "As long as you confess your sins to God you will be forgiven."

Considering the information, I asked "So swearing is a sin?"

She looked at me and smiled sweetly, "Yes it is."

I asked, "But what if I do it, just when I really mean it and need some strong words?"

"It is still bad Jaala." She explained.

"Okay." I said softly.

Thinking she had convinced me, she asked, "So will you go to confessional?"

I paused for a moment, then replied, "F*** that!"

Yes, it may have been completely inappropriate that I had such a sailor mouth at ten years old, but I was a precocious girl with an analytical mind. I didn't want to be like everyone else, and I sure as hell (see what I did there) did not want to stop swearing.

Luckily, everyone around me let me be the tenacious person that I was. My attitude, as expressed by my words, was that I would never let someone else tell me what I could and could not do if I was passionate enough about it. Apparently at age ten, I was passionate about using explicit language.

Over the years, though I've tempered my mouth (well, not really but in public at least) I have not lost my determined spirit. I refuse to do what others think I should do; I live life hard and choose the tougher route 9.9 times out of ten. Life is much more exciting this way. 

So what am I getting at?

This: (Thanks Adele)

Hello?

SELECTION?

Its me.

I was wondering if after all these years

You'd like to meet.

To go over...

Everything....

They say time supposed to heal...

And I'M DONE HEALING; LET'S GET THIS SHIT DONE!

After not finishing GORUCK Selection two years in a row, many people may think that it is time to move on to something different, but me, I am not done yet.

To paraphrase my friend Grant, he says:

"If you are not failing, you are not setting tough enough goals."

I believe him.

But, I also believe that if you fail at a tough goal and you learn from that failure, you do not have to reset this goal or adjust it lower. On the contrary, you must move through the failure and use it as a tool to succeed at that once unattainable goal. Because if you actually learn from failure, you grow. Then scary things become less scary, tough things become easier, and before you know it you've hit your mark.

So, though I have erred, my methods have changed and I am smarter now. I have not adjusted downward, things will not get easier, but I will not lose sight of what I want to achieve; I keep driving forward toward that goal of finishing GORUCK Selection.

I'm staring failure right in the face and, in the words of my youth saying:

Failure...Fuck that.





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Thursday, December 17, 2015

In Afghanistan, Predictions Come True

Me checking on students in writing class; Kabul Education University 2011

Award ceremony Kabul Education University (me in the green chadar!); 2012

Three and a half years ago, before doing my last teacher training in Afghanistan, I wrote about my expectations in the coming years. Many of the teachers I worked with have since completed their master's degrees, the country has become more volatile, most troops have left. These predictions came true. On the other hand, I never started my doctorate, but took on other endeavors. Life goes on and takes twists and turns; it is nice to look back and see what was, and what can be.

June 24, 2012

It starts as a low drone. Echoing baritones in the distance, haunting the morning. After one mullah starts the call to prayer, all others follow. One mosque, far away begins the wave of all other mosques in town singing Allah’s name until the mosque across the street from my apartment joins into the chorus. The loud speaker faces my window; I cannot ignore the song. Though I am not Muslim, the call to prayer is in my heart. Every time I hear it, I sing along and know that at that moment, I am probably singing with thousands of others, about to get down on their knees and offer their prayers to God. Here, the holy is in the air; I breathe it in everyday and wonder what affect it has on me.

This is my third time in Kabul and I am still amazed at the place. Each day I encounter the kindest people, the friendliest and most devout hearts. Though poverty abounds, people offer anything they can to make me feel at home and comfortable. My friends are happy and my students are ever curious. At the present, life is good in the city.

But when you dig a little deeper, you can see that it will not be this way always. Most of my friends and colleagues agree that as soon as ISAF forces draw down, the country will become much more violent. Though I know that the troops will not completely withdraw, I feel worried for my friends; I feel like their future is so uncertain. I know that the U.S. has to leave some time, but I wish that stability could be created by the people and by the ANA before the US and other nations leave.

I also think that this will be my last time in Afghanistan for a while. Though I love coming back here and teaching my friends, with the addition of the MA program it seems as though I am no longer needed here. This is great for the Afghans. It means that the educational infrastructure is developing and that things are getting better. I no longer need to come back to do teacher trainings because now the faculty is being trained in a new degree program. 

I also will not come back because I think it is time for me to move along with my life. I want to stay at my home in my country and make my own life in America better. I don’t want to have to come to Afghanistan to make money, I want to make money for myself in my own country. I want to go back to school and get a doctorate. I don’t know when the best time will be, but I am sure that will be revealed. 

I am hoping that this time in Afghanistan goes well, and that the teachers are satisfied that I have dedicated a small part of my life to being here. I hope that they are appreciative of what I could offer. Though it wasn’t much, it was part of my heart, some of my skills, and a little love.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Fire, Then Life




At the same time over 12,000 acres of land was on fire in the Sequoia National Forest last summer, my life was burning too. 

As flames threatened the Giant Sequoia National Monument, headlines proclaimed that many of these trees that had lived thousands of years were in danger. If we didn't take action, these pieces of natural history would be lost. 

"We must stop the onslaught of this natural disaster!" Shouted reporters.

Eventually the fire subsided and something amazing happened. The trees that were actually injured by the heat and flames of the fire were able to produce "stump sprouts," new life from the very place that the fire touched. Instead of being destroyed by the disaster, the Sequoias were able to produce life and grow.

I took this to heart and told myself to look at my crumbling life as an opportunity to create something better.

After being in a long-term relationship with a good person who was wrong for me, we ended it and decided to move on.  As we broke up, we changed the structure of our small business into a silent partnership (I becoming the silent partner, he becoming 100% manager). We also decided to split time taking care of our lovely dog 50/50. Things seemed to be amicable. I breathed a sigh of relief…

…Until the fire started.

The fire came in the form of love; not only did love ruin a pleasant ending to my previous relationship, it created something new in my life that has enhanced and rejuvenated me beyond anything I could have imagined. 

The thing is, I fell in love with someone on the heels of a broken relationship.

"How can love happen that fast? You must have cheated on me." Reasoned my ex.

True, it seemed to have happened quickly in his eyes, so when he read my e-mails and saw that I was in love with another man, he reacted. His reaction was the spark that started a fast-burn.

As it was unfolding, I shouted alarming, sometimes opposing things in my mind; I was on offense, then submitting, questioning my worth, then on defense:

"Attack and fight!"

"You must stop this from gaining ground!"

"Give in and concede!"

"How could you let this happen?"

"Defend yourself from this disaster!"

In the end, all I could really do was wait and let the fire burn itself out.

What happens after everything that your life was, is gone in the end?

What happens when the man you once loved, the gym you once spent hours a day training and coaching at, is no longer part of your daily routine?

What happens when you disappear from countless people's lives without an explanation?

This.

I have mourned, gotten mad, felt extremely sad, asked countless questions, felt sorry for myself, felt sorry for my ex, cried, felt relieved…and done it all again, and again, and I still do it all; sometimes in the same night. 

But all of those feelings have burnt themselves out to some degree too. 

Giant Sequoias reproduce best by becoming "injured," by losing a limb or getting burnt by a fire. They create something new from what many see as a natural disaster.

Now in my life there is space where disaster once was. I, like the Sequoias, take these losses and use them to create something new. The love that has sprouted from a disaster has made me grateful for all that can come from an ending…a beginning.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Marked by Life

Can you see all that I've done, all that I am? Just look at the marks life has left...


Before she noticed the sun's signature on me...

Last spring, after an amazing day playing on Coronado Island with my brother's family, we crammed ourselves into a rented Prius to head back to the hotel for dinner. Happy to be with my family, I sat in the backseat between the kids and felt the warmth of their sun-tanned bodies against me. Emory, my niece, picked her nose and wiped it on my leg. Nolan yelled with excitement and told Em that friends don't wipe their snot on other friends. I giggled and left the boogers there.

We drove slowly, through mid-day traffic, across the bridge towards downtown. Em and I laughed at the wind blowing our hair all crazy this way and that. I tried to fix my hair as Em watched me. Then she said something that surprised me. She said, "Aunt Jaala, why do you have a mustache?"

I thought, "Oh shit. Why do I?"

But instead of saying that, I asked her what she meant.

Emory said, "...your skin, it is darker by your lip, it looks like a mustache...and a beard!"

A little taken aback, I considered my answer carefully.

I thought about how I could explain to young Emory that although I'm a little self-conscious about my skin, it shouldn't matter that much.

I said, "Em, this is not a mustache, it is called sun spots. When people get older, sun tans go crazy and sometimes go darker in some places than in other places. Because I am always outside playing in the sun and enjoying nature, the sun leaves its mark on my face. This mustache is part of me, it shows where I have been."

Emory thought about the answer.

Then she said, "I like your mustache, Aunt Jaala."

And my happy heart melted a little.

Though this is a sort of superficial interaction about flaws and what we make of them, lately it got me thinking about flaws and weaknesses on a deeper level.

There are moments in each of our lives when we realize our flaws and weaknesses, and decide to do one of two thing: We either deny them or accept them. In denying the flaw or weakness, time waits for another opportunity to present this thing we have denied, and the Universe waits for the time we can accept the lesson it offers. In accepting the flaw or weakness, we learn a lesson; hopefully it enriches our character and we become better at life. We evolve, we reflect, we move forward.

This year has been tough and enlightening; I've experienced things that I never envisioned I would, but I try to take each experience in stride.

Though it wasn't so serious at all, Emory's comment about my skin was the tip of the iceberg, a moment for me to see that outer beauty in life, something me and so many women are obsessed with, is fleeting. We grasp tightly this form of beauty and sometimes forget that the beauty is in the flaws, the ones that we never intended to acquire.

What do the spots on my face mean?

Well, to me my skin reflects my life.

It shows that I live life hard and fast and appreciatively. I throw myself at life (with not enough sunscreen apparently) and I expect it to throw itself back at me.

I fuck up.

I get selfish and greedy.

But I always try to learn from my own flaws, from my mistakes, from my self-indulgence.

This year has stripped me bare and maybe added some spots to my aging face. But I accept each one of those spots as a mark of experience; of living. I know that these outer indications of a life lived are attached to my inner self. A growing, thriving, ever-changing light lives within me. Maybe it is just trying to get out via my face? I don't know, but I'm willing to accept whatever the reason is that I change and become more weathered each day. It is an honor to be marked by life.



Monday, September 14, 2015

Coming out of the Night, choosing to Fight

Reflection of the smoked out sun; Murphys, CA


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

We all brought our own demons into the night. Some of us feared getting lost in the moonless, starless expanse of the forest, some of us were already lost in the dark when we arrived.

The Endeavor Team Challenge was more than halfway over when we set out on the "night land navigation" course into the actual night. Smoke from the Butte Fire blotted all light from the sky and filled our lungs with pieces of everything that had burnt before that moment. As we headed out onto the course, compass and maps in hand, I thought, "Maybe I'm breathing pieces of exploded stars?!"

I probably should have been thinking about pace counts instead, but off we went.

Moving through space with zero illumination and a dim headlamp is challenging enough. Add a treacherous jeep track filled with loose boulders, air thick with smoke and dust, and the skill of navigating and you have quite a task on your hands. Thank God for smart friends! My partner Paige is a navigatress (queen of navigation); finding points, for her, seemed second nature so we were able to find the mandatory points assigned to us, plus a couple more.

While Paige was focused on navigating, my mind was wandering in and out of lucidity, battling with itself to think about the terrain and my pace count, to trying to ward off dreamy dreamland thoughts. Since I wasn't superbly amazing at warding off fantasy land, the dreamy dreamland thoughts often filled my head. Every so often, our head lamps would illuminate large black spiders (about the size of our palms) resting on the trail. At that point, the deep black skin of the spider would remind me of the darkness of the night, which would in turn remind me to recite the first stanza of "Invictus," a poem by William Ernest Henley, that we were tasked to memorize and repeat upon command (we had not yet been required to recite the poem).

Whenever I saw those spiders, I'd say: "Out of the night that covers me..." and mess up the rest of the stanza with my own lines: "Black as..." that giant spider on the ground...holy crap, that thing is huge...I hope it doesn't jump...or crawl into my mouth while I'm sleeping...I should not step on that spider!

Practicing land navigation sans nighttime...and spiders...and fire smoke

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloodied, but unbowed.

After hours and hours and hours of walking among dust, smoke, spiders, mutes (aka Tim and Grant), and through silent moments that went on for longer than the time that accompanied them, we finished the night navigation task. It was three in the morning, and both Paige and I were sleepy enough not to be completely in control of our capacities. Of course, this was the moment we were asked to recite "Invictus" from memory. We were told that until we could recite the poem perfectly, we would not be able to rest.

Though I didn't know the second stanza completely, we had been practicing the poem all day so I knew enough to help Paige through this part.

Earlier in the day, Paige mentioned that the poem was taking on meaning as we went over it more. I agreed with her; though I already had it written on the wall in my kitchen (REALLY!) it was taking on meaning out there in the woods as we repeated it over the course of the day.

Listening to Paige recite those words, in the middle of the darkest night I had ever seen, I thought that this poem is a metaphor for this event, and our lives, of course.

Though we were beaten down at that hour, we were still moving forward...we recited the poem and accomplished the task.

Though I've been beaten down at times, more recently than ever before, I've fought and continue to move forward.

Rhythmically and deliberately, Paige said the third stanza:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

Though I was listening to her, I was inside of myself, telling myself that there would be so much more after this night; so much more to experience, do, and see in life and that I should not forget this pain, but appreciate it and move through it; I should not forget this moment, in this place, because this is right where I was, and am, supposed to be.

The event was not yet over; but it was time to sleep...

We woke to a smokey, quiet morning.

Our final task was upon us.

Paige and I grabbed our bricks (we were each given one to carry throughout the event) and water bottles and got ready for our final movement.

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,

Ambling through the forest, scrambling up rocks, swimming across Lake Alpine, Paige and I caught up to our friends, Chris and Leilani. As we all walked through the forest, Chris and I talked about what it means to accomplish something in this type of racing. He mentioned that as long as you are giving it your all, as long as you finish and at that point know that you had nothing more to give, that you tried your best and enjoyed the experience, then you have won and should be happy.

This, I know is true:

At Endeavor Team Challenge, and in life, those of us that gave our all, and give it everyday, are right.

I am the master of my fate,

Whatever situation I find myself in, I have a choice to make. Whichever decision I take, whether to fight, and work, and help, and give 100%, or to ignore what needs to be done and be weak, is up to me. I can choose to be lost; I can choose to crawl into the darkness and let it consume me. But I won't. I choose to fight.

I am the captain of my soul.



Leilani, Chris, Jaala, Kent, Tim, Grant, Paige; people who choose to give 100%.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Universal Conspiracy: Afghanistan, Selection, and a little Fate?

No I did not have a camera in the bathroom during Selection. I returned a few days later to take this picture.

On September 12, 2001, I sat in a field at University of New Mexico and thought about my life. I wondered if I was headed in the right direction and if what I would do later down the road would have an impact on the world, and help prevent 9/11 from occurring again. I felt an extreme sadness and confusion about what had just happened, but what was clear to me on that day was that somehow I had to learn more about Afghanistan. Someday I would go there.

Ten years later, after a lot of living, I went to Afghanistan to teach. The twisty turning road of my life took me to many different countries as a teacher; I went through highs and lows with sports; was married and divorced; and eventually had forgotten about my earlier need to see and live in Afghanistan. When I was offered a fellowship there, however, all of those feelings resurfaced.

I wondered, "Will I die there?"

It turns out that most of my family and friends thought of that too.

A few days before I left for Kabul, my friend Nick asked: "Jaala, are you ready to die teaching in Afghanistan?"

I took a few seconds to consider this question and said, "Yes. I am." 

He asked me to explain.

I told him that ten years ago I knew that I would go to Afghanistan someday to learn about the place and to teach. I knew that I would be such a small piece in the larger picture of what was happening in the world with regards to the war and the fighting and the danger of the place. But I was willing to go there because it was right to me. Not only would teaching affect maybe one person and make a small change, but my heart had called me there years ago, so I would listen.

In the book The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho says, "When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny."

Ironically, it took me about a week to accept the job.

Then...

I went, I lived, I thrived, I saw, I taught, I learned...and I returned many more times.

My life changed in a multitude of ways before, during, and after my time in country. I'm still not sure If I have uncovered all of the lessons therein. I'm still learning day by day what being in that place means to me, and what it means for my future. Even though I am not there anymore, pieces of me remain.

My friends have grown, changed, gotten more education, expanded their families, and I've gotten to see it all happen. My Afghan "sister" becomes more beautiful everyday; I want to hug her and tell her I love her, because part of her spirit lives in me.

And now friends that were lost have been found again, and live in me here in the states in the strangest of ways. Just when I need them the most, little signs appear showing me that their love follows me on my journey through life. 

Though this was not going to be a story about Selection; the event is woven into the fabric of my life, so what isn't a story about Selection these days?

During Selection in Bozeman, in between the 5 mile run and 12 mile ruck march, I had a chance to use the public bathroom. I ran into the stall, focused and tried to move quickly. When I was doing my thing, I looked up at the door to the bathroom stall and saw lyrics to an old Beatles song, "Blackbird" written there.

At that moment I knew that I would be okay, no matter what happened during the event. To me that song reminded me of a special person in Afghanistan; I had already been singing the lyrics that weekend, and to see it scrolled there on the bathroom wall in the middle of Montana in a public restroom, I knew that I was moving in the right direction.

I'm not sure if I fully understand life yet, but I do know this is for sure: When something is right, when something is meant to be, just like Coelho said later in The Alchemist:

 "... todo o Universo conspira para que você realize seu desejo.
...all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

I desperately want to live a life full of challenges, love, and growth. I want to constantly be moving forward, yet serenely taking in all that this time and space has to offer me. I want to meet the challenges as they come, inspire others to do the same, and have a positive affect on the world.

These days it seems to be that the Universe agrees with my wishes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Meeting the Challenge: Fields of Flowers and Selection 017

 Calm before the storm; getting ready for the PT test at GoRuck Selection 017
Why am I here?
 Story time; the after party
My buddy, Jason


It was 2003 and I had claimed my very own seat on a city bus in Chengdu, China. I had already won a small battle; this was the first time I wasn't stuck under some sweaty shirtless man's armpit standing pressed against another 100 people trying to see the street from the fogged up windows.

Even before I landed the seat, I was feeling quite proud of myself for being able to read the sign that said this was the bus that would take me home. Though it was headed in the wrong direction, I thought that since the roads in the city ran on a ring system, and I was on the other side of the ring from my house, it didn't really matter which direction the bus was traveling; I'd get there eventually.

I was a bit wrong about this. Careening through Chengdu City on that gray afternoon, just before my usual stop, the bus took a sharp turn off of the main road. I yelled at the driver to stop, but he smiled and had no intention of pulling over. The next stop was 20 minutes away, through rapeseed fields and on the outskirts of the city. I had no control of the outcome; we finally arrived at the city bus depot.

Sitting in the back of the bus crying, not understanding anything anyone was saying, I was literally lost. I had no idea where I was and no idea how to get back to where I was going. The bus driver dragged me off the bus and told me to go away. I stood in a dirt parking lot, wondering what to do...

This is what was on my mind for a moment when I was sitting in a truck, recovering from hypothermia at GoRuck Selection 017. 

Just moments before, I heard someone yelling in my face "Stop f'ing SHIVERING!"

I remember rolling back and forth in the freezing water, doing some inch worms, getting farted on in the face, standing up, pressing my ruck over my head, then...nothing.

Later the cadre would tell me that we were taken out of the water to run around and get warmed up. However at the end of the run, I stumbled in a different direction than the remaining 8 candidates. The cadre chased after me, basically carried me to a truck, then tried to warm me out of my stupor; they wanted me to go back out there and rejoin the welcome party. It was't meant to be. After 45 minutes, I finally was aware of my surroundings.

But by then it was too late. The welcome party raged on and I found myself shivering and eating a chocolate chip cookie in a 100 degree truck cab. I cried.

How did I get there? Where was my ruck? Why were my boots on the dash?

This reminds me of that time on the bus in China...

I looked through the windshield and saw fields of yellow flowers. I was a bit confused as to why I was back in China.

I brought myself back to reality.

The fields of flowers were actually street lights on the other side of the pond in Bozeman, Montana where we were doing our welcome party. Finally, I understood that I was done with Selection 017 and didn't even have a choice. This outcome was out of my control; just as the outcome of that bus ride through Chengdu city was.

After it was all said and done, I reflected on what Selection meant to me, and what I could have learned; this is what I saw:

Though the end came swiftly, the prologue was much more extensive and interesting. Though the result seems sudden and certain, it wasn't a result at all.

This Selection meant more to me than any other event I had ever trained for.

I spent two years honing my body and mind to handle the stresses I would undergo during the 48 hour Selection event. My life changed drastically; I both gained and lost immeasurable things, all of which were necessary to become who I am today.

And so I see that the journey is not over.

Though I took a sharp turn away from what I saw was the initial end point, that turn was out of my control. What lies before me, and the choices I make to deal with it are all up to me. I can be disappointed for not finishing Selection, or I can see this experience as more training to finish the next one.

Will I be at Selection again?

Well, I like to think about a conversation that my good friend Chris Holt and I had about mountaineer George Mallory and why he climbed Mt. Everest multiple times. Mallory said:

"The first question you will ask and that I will try to answer is this: What is the use of climbing Mt. Everest? and my answer must be: it is of no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go."

In thinking about all that lies ahead, I'd like to meet the challenge. I'd like to meet it because my heart calls me there, not because of what I'll get when I have reached the goal. So will I be there again?

How can I not?











Monday, October 27, 2014

A Scar Etched by Sand




A Scar Etched by Sand

It happened so quickly.

One second I was face down in the sand, crawling back through the water towards the other candidates telling Cadre Bert “NO WAY, I WILL NOT QUIT!” The next second I was walking towards the dunes, tears mingled with salt water and hiccups of defeat.

GoRuck Selection 015 came to an end for me around 14 hours when I voluntarily withdrew. To most, it may have looked like I quit because I couldn’t drag dead weight through the sand. But to me, there was more to it: years of preparation, life experiences, and reflection were tied up in that moment. 

Before explaining the end though, I’ll have to explain the beginning.

It was seventh grade and I had just injured my elbow arm wrestling. The doctor made a joke that I’d be fine, but I could kiss my career as a Navy SEAL goodbye. Not liking limitations, I asked my swim coach what a Navy SEAL was, and if I could be one. Always encouraging, my coach told me that SEALS were elite warrior swimmers, but that no women had yet become one. I told him I’d have to be the first; he smiled and agreed.

Life unfolded for me in other amazing and challenging ways and I followed the path of competitive swimming and teaching. I travelled all over the United States in my youth racing other water babies and ended up swimming in college. In adulthood, I chose a civilian life over a military one and travelled the world learning and teaching. All the while, I never forgot my athletic ambitions; though I was done with college sports, I believed that my best days were ahead of me.

After college, I taught in China, Micronesia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and finally Afghanistan. During my sojourns as an expatriate, I lived in simple villages and huge cities. I lived under monarchies, communist regimes, socialist and coalition governments, and chiefdoms; I lived in police states, places at war, and areas that hadn’t seen fighting since World War II.

No matter where I was, I searched for competitions so I could continue to test myself and push my body. However, the places I lived had better ideas. Many times I tried to compete, women were completely barred or when I showed up, an excuse was given as to why I could not be there.

I opened my eyes and learned hard truths, that women were by no means equal to men in most places in the world. During those times, I took everything as a grain of salt, adjusted, and knew that I came from a place where women could be and do anything they pleased. I was thankful that I was born an American and vowed to never take for granted the freedoms I enjoy everyday of my life, because life could be so much worse.

Back in the states, when a friend told me about GoRuck Selection, I immediately wanted to do it. “My standards would be the same as the men?” I asked. “Yes, definitely,” he said. “I get to run and hike and do stuff in the water all night?” I asked. “Yep,” He said. My friend tried to warn me that I should probably do a “Light” first to see what GoRuck was all about. I told him that anything with the word “light” in it was not for me. 

After reading all of the Selection after action reviews and basically anything that was ever written about Selection, I knew it was for me. I admired the cadre for their service to my country and the finishers for their determination. I wanted to be a part of that group of people whom I respected. 

Before I actually entered, I thought about this endeavor deeply. Why was I doing it? If not to make amazing friends and hear their stories, it was to test myself and feel alive. I wasn’t afraid of the physical tasks at hand. I was afraid that by not doing Selection I would never know all of the people tied up in it; I would never know if I could have finished. How would I ever know what could break me if I never was in a situation where I might be broken? I figured the cadre were professionals so they would do their best to teach me this lesson.

In the end they did.

But it was not the end yet.

During our 12-mile ruck march, a blood moon rose over the Atlantic as I quick-stepped to the song in my head. My steady breath mingled with the waves knocking on the shore; run, walk, run, walk, runwalkrun, runrunrunrunwalk. Though I had practiced this many times before, still I doubted my speed and forced myself to run, crunching shells, dodging waves, and passing others, knowing that this was just the end of the beginning. I was in the zone and barely noticed when I ran upon green lights and the cadre lining the beach.

We had finished the PT test.

After that, our “welcome” was warm.

This is what it looked like:
Water.
Sand.
Water.
Sand.

During the “party,” this is what I was thinking:

Keep going. You are strong enough. You trained for this. Whose legs are those? Keep going. Nothing they say can stop me. I’m the girl who chose the baritone saxophone in sixth grade because it had the biggest case. I’m not afraid. Holy shit, I’m afraid. They have weaknesses too. Whoever has his foot on my pack has no weaknesses. Keep going. I can do any of this all night, forever. Put me back in the water. Keep going. There are shells in my ears. Keep going. Get me out of the water. Keep going. Life could be so much worse. I like this sand. He has nice feet. Keep going. Am I ripping his armpit hair out? Run! Keep going.

Then something unexpected happened…
I couldn’t keep going.

When I came to a task that was a bit too difficult, and the cadre said something that really got into my head, I stopped to think. I forgot to tell myself that I was good enough, and that I should just keep going. I forgot that life could be worse, and that this was an opportunity to test myself. At that moment I let my mind wander to the philosophical side of things; I lost focus. By the time I was done thinking, I had uttered the words I never thought I’d say, “I’m done.” The end had come.

Two weeks later, there is a scar on my hand, etched by sand. Though there are other scratches and bruises that linger, they will go away and only these lessons, and most likely the scar, will remain…

I learned that if I give my 100%, it may not be good enough for someone else. This is true in physical events and in life. No matter what we do, it may not be good enough for someone. The choices we make, however, should have reason and behind that reason there must be a drive to follow thorough, carry on, and keep going. 


When I look at the scar on my hand, I remember the lessons I learned at Selection 015 that I could never have taught myself. I thank the cadre, selection finishers, and the candidates for helping me become a better person. Know that I am not done yet; know that I will keep going, and know that the scar on my hand is the shape of Montana.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

That is not Palestine; That is not Israel...THIS is!


This is Ramallah, Palestine; 2010
This is Jerusalem; 2010
This is Jerusalem; 2010
This is Ramallah, Palestine; 2010
This is Tel Aviv, Israel; 2010
This is Ramallah, Palestine; 2010
This is Hebron, Palestine; 2010

Today I walked into the coffee shop to buy my morning cup and glanced at the front page of the New York Times. I saw a picture that at first, looked pretty. With my terrible eyesight, I saw a few kids on a beach. It could have been any beach...the white sand looked rocky and the water was glistening. It was uncrowded and serene.

"That is nice" I thought.

Then I got closer. I noticed that the child laying upon the sand was dead. His legs were splayed about his body in an unnatural way. Behind him, a man was carrying another dead child, looking at someone or something I could not see.

I instantly knew this had to be Gaza. I felt like throwing up; I felt like yelling to the other customers, "Can you believe this!?" I wanted to shout, THAT IS NOT PALESTINE! THAT IS NOT ISRAEL! But it is. It is the abhorrent reality today. The murder of innocent children, the constant fighting; an eye for an eye. That is what is happening now.

Instead of shouting at strangers, I cried a little and headed to school. When I got there, I showed the picture to students. The reaction from the teens whom I teach ranged from sadness to confusion. One 17 year old Chinese girl said, "It sounds like a terrible argument and someone should tell them to stop." Yes child, I agree.

The situation is complex, the history is deep, everyone has a good reason why they believe this or that...but I think we can all agree that children dying over the matter is too much. Can't we all decide to lose a battle, or to concede something so no one else has to die needlessly?

This morning I I wanted to talk to all of my friends in Palestine and Israel and tell them to keep living their meaningful lives, and not to give in to this violence. I want them to know that although this is the reality right now, I know THAT IS NOT PALESTINE and THAT IS NOT ISRAEL...My friends and their families are better than what is being portrayed. They all live meaningful and purposeful lives and do not condone this violence. To all of them, I send my love.

 
 This is Hebron, Palestine; 2008

This is East Jerusalem; 2010