How we measure time tells a lot about our personal commitments and expectations from the work we do and the way we view our world. Today marks the one-month mark of my tour in this country and while it is crazy to think that only a month ago I was hucking an awesome windmill, drinking beer with two old Parachute Team friends, and getting driven in to work by another awesome former teammate, it is even crazier to think that this means I am already 1/12 of the way through this deployment. And I haven’t even really “done” anything yet except enjoy some nice paychecks which are helping to pay off some of the credit cards, eat pretty decent food, read an ass-ton of books (about 3 a week is my average right now), and get my platoon somewhat halfway ready for our missions ahead. In a few months, I will be able to look forward to a well-deserved R&R of which I hope to spend with a few awesome friends and maybe a nice exit point or two, and soon after that I will be able to count my time down to returning home—wherever that is—and continuing the rest of this crazy existence called life. Of course, all of this is dependent on my not getting shot or blown up which would likely result in an early departure from this warzone, but honestly the likelihood of that happening is so small that I am probably much safer here than at my favorite exit points in Europe of the USA.
Time is interesting in that while it is one of the few constants in our lives, the way we perceive and measure it is so incredibly diverse. As Americans, we have become used to the quick passage of time. We live and die by election cycles, fiscal years, sports seasons, market fluxes, and national holidays. Yet this is so ridiculously different and short sighted when compared to the understanding of time in many other parts of the world. While we measure our deployment cycles in months and weeks, the people working with us on this great Afghanistan project see this time as simply a drop in the bucket in reference to the long history of their country and the years of hard work and struggle ahead. Sitting down and talking with a few of our interpreters today brought this message bluntly home. We are the “new kids on the block” over here and they—as well as our enemies—are simply in the process of feeling us out. Many of our terps have served with US forces for at 5 to 7 years already. They have seen so many units come and go and with them the many changes in the security and development situation in their homes. As we look to make lasting change in this area—if that is even our goal at all—maybe it is best we do a bit less dictating and a bit more listening. And with our enemies, who enjoy the great luxury of strategic patience, maybe we should be doing a bit more to feel them out and learn from them and the way they seek to counter our neo-empiristic ambitions. While we measure our time in deployment cycles they measure theirs in generations…this disconnect should at least be a cause for caution if not alarm…
So how do we correct this discrepancy? What can make Americans view the world along a longer timeline? Surely, we have not always had such impatience in dealing with our foreign affairs and even recent history is full of evidence of this. How did we get so caught up in the world of today that we have begun to neglect the world of tomorrow? And how do you teach patience to a society that seems to be running at lightning speed with no signs of slowing down?
While the speed at which we are able to live our lives has brought great advantages to our society, particularly as we are connected to a rapidly changing global marketplace, our lack of foresight and investment in our future is not something that can truly be sustained as we consume more and more global resources and face a much more insecure and uncertain future. How much longer can we continue to mortgage our children’s society in order to meet our perceived needs of our day to day lifestyles?
One thing I’ve learned from my travels throughout this world is that sometimes, the best course of action is simply to sit down and drink tea. Few of the challenges of face are really the emergencies we perceive in our minds and a lot can be gained from simply slowing down our internal pace from time to time, gathering our thoughts, talking to a few people who can set our minds straight again, and simply relaxing and clearing our headspace for a moment. Real change in this world is often slow and almost imperceptible and it is only with a clear head and a bit of time to think that we can begin to see the realities we are creating at the present moment. For our work in Afghanistan and elsewhere, sometimes the greatest thing we can come to understand is our own impermanence within this society. While we will surely seek to do great things on this deployment, they can only be continued if they are designed to truly meet long-term local concerns and bring sustainable solutions to this complex and challenged part of the world.
For my life, while I have chosen to live at warp speed of my American culture, I have come to an understanding that my work is purely for the good of the next generation. My relative amount of time on this planet is so ridiculously short that it is only what I pass on to those who will surely outlive me which truly matters. While I am often caught up in the mini-emergencies and crisis of the moment, in the end it is the insignificance of such problems which brings me great peace and renewed energy to my work. While I may mark this deployment in months, I will mark my lifetime in years and decades. And ultimately my work will be marked in the generations that succeed me. Take peace in the insignificance of this moment my friends. Drink a bit of tea—or a beer or ten as long as you offer one up to me and the Airborne Ranger in the sky—in this day, enjoy the finer things in your life, and mark the passage of your own time in the work you will do for your children. Eventually we will change the world my friends…one moment at a time…
16 AUG 2011, 2220 AST, Orgun-E, Paktika, Afghanistan