I spoke a few days ago with one of the junior Enlisted who felt very agitated and upset. Not long into our conversation it became apparent to me that nothing more than a rumor had occasioned his angst.
Soldiers seem to love rumors, from what I've seen.
These days I believe life is too precious and short to waste over mere rumors. Whenever I meet someone who's gotten revved up over the latest juicy one, I encourage that person to pause, breathe, and re-set.
Why get all worked up over something that's not true?
After all, if it's a rumor, by definition it's not TRUE. At least not to me. Not yet, certainly. Not right now. And all we have is right now.
My friends who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings have taught me that a great way to reduce the stress in my life is to ask myself, with some regularity, "What's true, RIGHT NOW? What do I know FOR CERTAIN, at this very moment?"
For example, last year when I was in Iraq, someone had started a rumor at one of the small bases that then-SFC McG and I would visit with some regularity. The "word" was that their unit was going to be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan in the very near future. They'd been alerted that they were going to move from that base to another one, closer to Baghdad, and they had begun to pack up in anticipation of that move.
But someone had come up with the conspiratorial notion that they *really* were going to be going, not to Baghdad, but to Bagram.
The 'word' flew on the wings of Pegasus, and soon it seemed as if everyone had an opinion, and tensions mounted. I urged one young Soldier, who was very upset, to analyze the situation, rather than just react to it.
"What's true right now?" I asked him. "What do your latest *orders* say?"
Of course, his orders had his unit in Iraq for a certain amount of time.
"Do you have in your possession, at this very moment, orders assigning your unit to Afghanistan?" Of course not.
"No!" I interjected. "There is no "but" right now. I want to know what your latest orders SAY. That's what's true right now. That's ALL that's true right now."
They went to Baghdad, and not to Bagram. Now they're back home, without ever having gone to Afghanistan.
They were upset about something that never came to pass.
I can get terrified, or angry, or lose sleep over something that isn't (yet/now) true -- and may never happen. What's the sense in that? Life is too short for that nonsense!
So as my buddies in those 'recovery programs' keep urging me, here's what I do these days when I'm tempted to buy into the latest rumor/gossip:
1) I ask myself, "Self, what's true RIGHT NOW?" It has to be concrete, incontrovertible, undeniable, and documented. Those are the only data acceptable.
2) "What's my part in it?" Is there anything I can/should/need to do in light of what's true right now. Very often, with situations that are beyond my control, there's an awful lot LESS that I can do than I'm comfortable with, but that just brings me back to the 'powerlessness' that those friends of mine are always blathering on about.
3) I make plans, but don't plan outcomes. Those plans are BASED ON WHAT'S TRUE RIGHT NOW, and WHAT MY PART IN IT IS. Sometimes this just means that I *wait* until the situation changes one way or another. (Have I mentioned that "waiting" is not my strong suit?) If I attempt to plan outcomes, especially based on what is not true right now, I'm setting myself up for a lot more stress and grief than I have already, and certainly more than needs to be there!
4) I remember that "'Messiah' is not part of *my* job description." Now, I happen to believe that job's been filled (big surprise, eh?), but even for people who don't think/live according to categories like that, this is an important point to remember.
If I'm deployed overseas, for example, and something difficult is happening back home in the lives of those I love, I'm simply unable to be in both places at once. For me to focus on beating myself up for being here rather than there, when I have Army orders placing me here (orders which I cannot change, or disobey), means that at some level I'm believing that 'Messiah' is or ought to be part of *my* job description, and I'm just making the situation worse.
At times like that, I find it very helpful to remember that, as much as I love those folks who are having a difficult time, I can have a God who loves them more. I can even get out of God's way and let that happen, if I so choose.
If God's not part of your experience, please feel free to borrow mine!
However, if I'm not convinced that 'Messiah' *isn't* part of *my* job description, I'm going to work at cross-purposes to everyone's best interest by making even more stress (my friends who go to those meetings would probably call it 'unmanageability', I suspect) than is already present.
What's the sense in that?
So when rumors are flying and tensions are higher, here's what's helped me:
What's true right now? What's my part in it? What plans need to be made (or not made!) in light of what's true? Can I remember that it's NOT all up to me?
I am, of course, speaking only for myself, and would never presume to speak on behalf of the Army in any official or authoritative -- or even worthwhile -- way. Please don't let the fact that I'm wearing an Army uniform "confuse" you on that point.
Now talk amongst yourselves. But only about what's true right now.
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ