It has now been one week since I returned from the most amazing opportunity for service of my career. Reading back through all of my US Troops blog posts I am amazed by a few things:
1. How utterly scared I was upon leaving my family and home
2. How little I know about life or have paid attention to the world, the news, the media
3. How it felt as if the hand of God rested upon me as I wrote, as I believe it was the best writing that’s ever come out of me
Upon my return home we were greeted by a group of family, with signs, flags, posters that said, “I Love You Daddy”. It was a heroes welcome for 4 guys just trying to give what little we can to the true heroes that serve every day. I admit, it was nice to be welcomed home that way, but it also made me realize how few are applauded as such upon returning. Even when they are greeted in such fashion, it isn’t but a few minutes that the newness wears off, you walk to the car, kisses and hugs go from every second, to every minute, to every hour, to once a day in a hurry.
I’ve never been in the car with our children, 8 yrs and under, where the DVD is off and they are dead silent (the only time they are quiet is watching a show with headphones on, otherwise it’s mayhem). Silence is how the drive home was. They listened to everything we talked about. Intently. It was amazing and beautiful. I told them how much they had changed, being so good and respectful, and it was so different. I didn’t really notice anything outside of the car, just drove on autopilot. Once our 30 minute ride home was over, we opened the gifts of scarves, rock chess set, handmade jewelry box from Afghanistan, the necklace and earrings from Kuwait, the Military coins from every base, and spent the next hour getting ready to leave for the weekend to our family Ranch.
As I unpacked one bag and packed another, I felt a sense of slow motion all around me. Nothing added up. I hadn’t slept in days, although I thought I had rested on the plane, but I wasn’t jet lagged, I was in a fog. The only way I can describe the feeling is when you’ve rammed your head against a wooden beam after forgetting to duck, or the sensation I used to experience of slamming my head into the stage after nearly every prat fall during my now retired Jim Carrey Subway routine (did the bit over 2,000 times over a decade).
Wandering through the house, seeing the changes they had made in their rooms, watching the children talk like grown-ups compared to the babies I had left behind….I could’ve sworn I heard my car start up and saw my 2-yr old pulling out of the driveway. It was very much like a dream, like I had been in a coma and was coming back to a world that had gone on without me, even though they missed me I realized life goes on whether you’re there or not. Thank goodness it does, but it just makes it that much more surreal to be reintroduced to everything.
The most bizarre moment was opening my own fridge, seeing fresh fruit from the farmer’s market, surrounded by items to reheat, and wondering, “Where’s the mess hall?”
Walking into my office there was really nothing for me to do there, I didn’t want to go in and face that mountain again, so I shut the blinds and locked the door behind me.
As we drove to our family Ranch in the mountains I began to see something I hadn’t experienced in my entire life. Looking up at the mountains there were explosions of colors. I spotted every American flag flying proudly in the Salt Lake Valley, as if radar was at full force. I noticed the politeness of the drivers compared to Africa, even though SLC is considered by many to be the rudest drivers in America, this day they slowed down to let me in. Every little thing mattered. My wife’s hand in mine, the importance of the rear view mirror as I watched my children talk and smile at Daddy sneaking a peek at them, the taste of the water we filled our water bottles with at home, the coolness of the 95 degree air….
Pulling into our Ranch there are more dashes of brilliance, the trees, the green, the wind blowing the leaves as carefree and beautiful as a Willa Cather novel.
I was home. It felt amazing.
Embraced by extended family at our annual July 24th celebration bonfire, it was something amazing to realize I was in Africa the day before, Kuwait before that, in the war zone that is Afghanistan less than 72 hours earlier. The banner on my Mom’s house was a bit over-the-top and embarrassing, as having missed my birthday due to the trip she had a 12-foot sign made that said “Happy Birthday Jason” next to an American flag that said, “Welcome Home!” As silly as it was, I also appreciated it, she’s a sweet and thoughtful Mother who had my brother risk his life from a 20-ft high ladder balancing on unstable rocks to hammer it in place.
My wife, as always, did her thing and did it beautifully – like a choreographer running a show, everyone knew their place as she prepared for my daughter’s baptism coming up later that weekend. I just observed and asked what I could do. I was told to just relax, which, I am incapable of by design, but I tried.
And I stood awkwardly off to the side, watching this world revolve in fast motion all around me.
I passed out by 10 PM, wide awake at 5 AM.
Upon awaking I say, Oh my goodness, I’m back in Utah. I’m home. What am I supposed to do today?
If you know me, I’m a very busy, motivated person, on and off stage. I love to help, serve, do the laundry, clean the kitchen, take the kids places, put them to bed, and run my business. But up here, in the woods, at my Mother’s home, I was quite useless. I went for an early morning walk before anyone woke up. The smell of the trees, the rushing wind up the valley, the spirit of Pine Valley came pouring over me. It felt as if I hadn’t been home in years.
I had only been gone for 3 weeks.
And that’s when it hit me: The Troops are gone for 6 months, sometimes 8, even 12. Some reservists are gone even longer!
How on earth do they come back to a place that was normal but has little to no structure like they experienced, no riggers comparatively, no real demands such as “Wear this 90-lb armor and helmet in case you get shot at…” and instead you’re just left wandering around wondering what to do once home?
Tinker in the garage?
Go for a walk?
Take the kids for ice cream?
I feel guilty even being here with them because my buddies back there can’t be with theirs, and some of those dads and moms aren’t coming home. How do I embrace the fact that I’m here and they’re not?
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is real stuff.
I was gone 3 weeks. Within 15 hours of being home I was feeling a serious depressive state coming on. I knew it was a choice so I quickly snapped out of it and got my head back in the game, as I’ve battled those feelings at other times and been able to stay busy enough, feel loved and needed enough, to not have them take over me.
But what of those that return after so long and have the real problem that is depression, such a suffocating, suffering feeling?
Everyone ONLY wanted to talk with me about, “Hey, what was it like over there? Did you get shot at? Were you safe? How did it feel? How does it feel being back now?”
And oddly, I wanted them to ask, but I didn’t as well. Such as it’s nice to acknowledge that I was over there and doing a service but don’t pretend like I did any good compared to the real people that do things that protect us everyday.
And so, as I said at the beginning of this post, I felt as if God had His hand upon me as I wrote my thoughts while on the trip, just in case it was my last and final post, were some crazy thing happened to me….and now….I really don’t feel that urgency of living anymore. I don’t feel that focus. I don’t feel that sense of value and worth as much as I did over there. Not because of anyone here, it’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just my perspective. Yes, I had what I would consider the greatest moment of my LIFE this past Sunday upon baptizing my daughter, and it lasted about 5 minutes, and was the most joyful I think I’ve ever felt – because I made it home to baptize my daughter and I really wondered if my trip would be the last time I saw my family. My only goal was to make it home to baptize her. And I did, and the rest of the week I’ve been ….
And the busy pushes out the noise. The fear. The unknown. The idea that if I walk outside I may be in harm’s way. Cement walls 15 feet high don’t flank the hotel I’m sitting in right now. The standing ovations I’ve received from the audiences here in America, the love and appreciation, it is all so wonderful, and yet I feel a longing to go back, to the Troops.
I wasn’t in battle, but it was a band of brothers, it was camaraderie. We were all in it together, the audience, everyone, in harm’s way, and we knew it and respected each other for it.
I am back on the road doing my corporate gigs. Some audiences can feel kind of Taliban-ish, but not the shows I’m doing this month. I packed August full with happy, Multi-Level audiences, crazy happy ladies that scream for free mascara and jewelry kind of gigs, because I kept July open for my annual month off in anticipation of traveling with the family. And then the call came to go serve my Country, and I dropped everything for the honor. Less than a week back and I’ve done 3 gigs, have about 15 more this month. It’s crazy. Life goes back to “Normal”.
But it will never be normal for me again.
Colors are brighter, smiles are wider, the clapping is louder, the empathy I feel for the mothers that come up and hug me for the US Troops Tour are deeper, the tears shed for my heroes over there burn saltier.
I am THRILLED to be back in the USA. There is nothing like this country. There is nothing like being home, having my children gather around me, rather than over a bad connection on SKYPE, and feeling their embrace.
But God has afforded me a true taste of the feeling when our Troops return home. And it is the deepest kind of depressing I’ve ever felt.
These are more fatal to our servicemen and women than bullets and mortars, IED’s and war. “Bring Him Home” is one thing, but keep him sane is another.
This is a real problem. I don’t know what I can do about it, but I’m working on it.
My goal is to be funnier, to bring such joy, and relief, to help infuse belief of the importance of life, the need to stick around and be our best regardless of how tough it can be to cope sometimes.
My goal is to, as Dan Clark reminded the Troops, not just help others feel LOVED but more importantly to KNOW they are NEEDED.
My goal is just that. To help everyone I come in contact with, US Troops or snot-nosed neighbor kid, to feel NEEDED.
I have not done as good of a job at this before my US Troops Tour and if you have been a casualty of my not making you feel needed I apologize. It is my new quest, having felt what I’ve felt, having seen what I’ve seen…
And I haven’t seen anything compared to what those guys have seen.
But this is my goal:
To let everyone on this planet with whom I come in contact know that they are ESSENTIAL, that WE ARE ALL NEEDED.
What are you going to do? I hope you’ll join me.
I Love You