Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scents and nonsense

Yesterday, when SFC McG and I were in the NTV (non-tactical vehicle = SUV) on our way back from another Camp on this mega-Post where we live, the thermometer in the dashboard read 46 degrees - Celsius. That's an easy 114.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

And it's only June.

At least we weren't OTW (outside the wire) having to wear body armor!

Some time ago he and I were out on a mission OTW, and it had already started to get pretty warm. We'd been waiting at the flight line, in full battle-rattle (as they say), for almost 90 minutes for the helicopters to pick us up, with nowhere to cool off.

Now, we we're quite 'stewing in our own juices' -- that starts happening at temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Isn't '120' a setting on some ovens?)

But it was pretty warm-ish, none the less.

For reasons unbeknownst to us, the people who schedule the flights had put us on a couple of birds that would make six stops to discharge and pick up passengers (plus a stop for refueling) before we'd reach our final destination. I wasn't particularly annoyed at this -- I know, hard to believe, isn't it? -- and in fact I was pretty stoked.

I love flying on Black Hawks!

It meant, however, that we'd be in transit for well over an hour (when a non-stop flight from where we were to where we wanted to be was about five minutes). Fortunately, my 'bribe' of M&Ms (or Skittles, or both -- I can't remember at this point, the days seem to blend into one another; in any event, grazie mille di cuore to all who sent goodies to share while I've been here!) had gotten SFC McG and me up front, so he was seated behind the gunner on the left, while I was behind the gunner on the right, with an empty seat between us.

This meant that we'd at least have air moving as we flew; in the back (eight seats: four facing the rear, four facing the front) when the doors are closed, and the windows haven't been removed, it can get pretty 'close'. It's a lot more fun when flying to be able to see out the windows, and when crammed in the back (often with other people's luggage (civilians) / gear (military) pile on top of us) it's sometimes not possible to see anything outside the compartment at all.

At one stop along our way, we had so many people and so much gear on the aircraft that SFC McG had to move into the previously vacant middle seat so that a Soldier could board, along with her very large Army-issued ruck sack. (They were loading from that side of the aircraft; had they landed in the opposite direction, I'd have had to move.)

I noticed the new passenger's perfume almost immediately. For one thing, not many Soldiers wear perfume over here Down Range. For another, the rotors of the aircraft were doing their thing, so there was (rather hot) air blowing in the gunner's hatch on my side of the helicopter. This meant she was wearing a LOT of perfume, it would seem.

Now, I'm not complaining, mind you.

There are very few occasions when things/people over here smell nice, so it was actually quite pleasant, if patchouli.

I'm old enough to remember patchouli from my youth in the 70s. Given how rapidly my memory is fading, I suppose I can be grateful for this.... (As a fun fact to know and tell, the oil comes from Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth, which grows in tropical, shady climes.)

Anyway, the young woman was only on the aircraft for a couple of legs before she dismounted at her destination, and we continued on to ours. While we were in the air, I could not detect the perfume, but when we landed, there it was again.

I'd made a mental note to ask SFC McG about the perfume, but then promptly forgot. (What was it that I just wrote about my rapidly-fading memory?) I did, finally, bring up the topic with him a few days later, and he laughed and said how surprising was the experience, but how welcome.

These days, I'm grateful to be able to live in the moment enough, paying attention to what's going on in and around me, to notice the small delights that are available to me, if I just advert to them. Paying attention, for an alcoholic such as myself, is the stuff of patchouli-garden miracles in my life, even (especially?) here in a place as drab and (for some) dangerous as Iraq can be.

Living a day at a time, in the present moment, is the condition of the possibility of gratitude. (Looks as though I've been reading too much philosophy with my Baptist Chaplain friend over here who's getting a doctorate in Thomas Aquinas!)

My time here, by and large, has been characterized by a heart filled with gratitude. I'm reminded of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. It was published in 1918.
Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
On an entirely different note altogether, that is to say, to move from the the sublime to the ridiculous: I decided, in inimitable "Tim" fashion, to send holiday cards (for a recent holiday) to several of my Army friends who outrank me by several pay grades.

It was rather cheeky, to say the least. I've only heard back from only one, who seemed only slightly annoyed and wrote, in part, "From anyone else... I would have been quite offended. From you… I just consider the sense of humor and don’t sweat it. "

Thanks, Sir! I knew you could take it!

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

Mary Coady said...

And why do I suspect that the holiday wasn't Father's Day?!

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