Life has its own way of coming round full circle. Anyone who has made it beyond about middle school has at least one experience, one instance, when he has lived through the whole circle, when she finds herself all the way back where she started. Though it all may appear distinctly flat, we are going round and round and round in a circle game.
I was reminded of this earlier this week when I was asked to give the invocation at the a Transfer of Authority ceremony for the Legal Operations Division, a group of US service members from across ranks and branches who have, like many of us, stopped off in this corner of the world. Perhaps it is because I always thought I would eventually go to law school or because, during the holidays, their office moonlighted as Afghanistan’s very own FAO Schwarz with electric train sets and Christmas caroling figurines, but I continue to find myself gravitating there.
It was truly an honor to take part in their ceremony and even a little surreal. After all, the Justice Center in Parwan, which our legal division supports, is at the vanguard of justice in Afghanistan. I was placed at the front of the hall with the general and his outgoing and incoming legal directors, apart, even, from my own commander who was seated in a multinational sea of US, Afghan and coalition partners. I know he must have been shaking his head at least a little. Here I was, not quite a whole year of service in the Army, a part of the official program, speaking just before our three star general. Maybe it was me who was reeling with a little disbelief, finding it hard to imagine how I arrived in that space, too.
And, it is not just when part of a ceremony that I feel this sense of awe, this sense of age that has come upon me without my noticing. At least once a day, if not more times, when listening to a person reveal their innermost secrets or simply being present in the face of vulnerability, I wonder how all of this happened to me. When did I grow up? Was it graduating high school or college? Was it standing before a freshly dug grave, pronouncing a benediction? Was it when I went to the principal’s office to sign as “guardian” for one of the girls I was working with in South Africa? Was it when I realized the cost of loving someone other than myself? I haven’t the faintest clue, but somehow it happened to me. Somehow this happens to all of us.
The ceremony ended with the playing of the Army, Navy, and Air Force songs. I hadn’t heard all three of them played together since I was a pre-teen, participating in a local children’s choir. Standing there and listening to these once familiar melodies, surrounded by a few hundred military personnel and a good handful of our Afghan counterparts, I found myself overwhelmed. For better or for worse, this is the a piece of our nation’s history, and I am standing in its epicenter. On most days, there seems to be very little distance in time between where I am today, deployed to Afghanistan, and where I was then at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, wearing my concert uniform, singing words that had little meaning for me, and worrying about making friends with the popular clique.
While at least fifteen years have past, I still remember all the words of these military songs, along with their first soprano descants added on by our musical director. These lilting notes have not faded away over time. In these years, their choruses have floated in and out of my head, remaining a part of me. Without even knowing it, because of the twists and turns of my own life, joining the military and now spending a year in a combat environment, I have come to live out their words in ways I never dreamed. Maybe this is what struck such a deep chord as I listened, the realization that our memories take on new meaning every day. They are woven and rewoven into the very fabric of our being and in ways that we can never predict or expect. Even when a thread has been buried deeply, dormant for years, these threads have a way of rising again to the surface, reminding us in this circle game that nothing is ever fully lost.