Sunday, January 04, 2009

No good deed goes unpunished.... (part 2)

I can't sleep in a moving vehicle unless I'm driving.

This has proved to be both an annoyance, and a danger. Fortunately for everyone else Down Range, I don't do much driving myself!

Unfortunately for me, I've spent many, many hours in moving vehicles during my journey back home for leave, which means I found myself wide awake while most of the other people around me were snoozing, or snoring at the threshold-of-pain decibel level.

Speaking of snoring, I suppose it's because of living in a religious community for the past thirty years, and therefore having a room of my own for all that time, that I find it difficult to sleep in multi-person accommodations. The couple of nights I spent in the holding tank I was in a 16-person tent, which proved to be problematic in terms of my sleep patterns.

Granted, this time I was able to snag a lower bunk (hooray!!). When SFC McG and I were on our way Down Range, and had to spend the night in the holding tank, I was relegated to an upper bunk. At my age, with my arthritic knees and well, everything, clambering up into a top bunk is no mean achievement! And not one I care to repeat soon. Or ever, actually.

Much to my delight (if there's anything at all delightful about spending the night in the desert in a tent that's occupied by snorers, with dust and sand blowing in, so that there's constantly a bit of grit in the mouth and on everything), I got the last available lower bunk when I showed up in my assigned tent at 0245 Tuesday night.

What with the snoring, though, I didn't sleep all that well. It also didn't help that one guy in particular was up every 30 minutes (it seemed), and had a special knack for shining his flashlight directly in my face as he moved about. Wednesday evening (New Year's Eve), a couple of the guys decided they were going to laugh and chat until the wee hours of the morning, and I wanted to be up at 0530 to make sure I made the 0700 "hard time" with no problem.

At least I was able to sleep, however fitfully, in a prone or supine position while I was there in the holding tank! Once I was up at 0530 on 01JAN09 (6:30 p.m., 31DEC08, California time), I didn't get to sleep again until just after 9:00 p.m. on 02JAN09.

They put us into lockdown at 1245 on 01JAN09, as I mentioned yesterday, and had us go through a 'customs shakedown' -- some poor Navy dude physically having to handle absolutely every piece of everything (except the clothes I was wearing) I would be taking to the U.S. with me. It had taken a while to cram everything I was taking home with me into my two backpacks, so repacking was tedious and under a time constraint.

I'd planned on watching DVDs while waiting until our plane left at almost midnight, but discovered I'd somehow managed to leave my electrical adapter in the tent, so that meant I was unable to plug anything into the 208V outlets. Fortunately, I'd brought along my iPod, and was able to recharge it when necessary, by hooking it up to my computer. The extra computer batteries I'd brought along came in handy!

Once we finally were (almost) ready to move out, we got to stand in formation outside in the rather noticeable cold for an hour. I was grateful for my fleece jacket, the neck gaiter I'd brought along, and my gloves. The 80-minute bus ride to the airport took place sans iPod (at least for me; I noticed others had decided to ignore the directive to turn off all electronics), so I stared rather blankly out the window, but the combination of desert and darkness proved decidedly uninteresting.

I guess because I'm a Chaplain someone decided to let me sit in the front of the plane (the seats were no different, so it didn't seem to be that big a deal) where the Important People were seated. I found one row, near the back end of that section of the plane, with only two seats in it. I took the seat on the aisle. As it turned out, no one sat next to me, which proved to be one of the very, very few empty seats on the aircraft.

It looked as though I might be able to stretch out a bit. Nice.

There were two Soldiers in the row behind me, the last row in the section, and three Soldiers in the rows ahead of me, with four Soldiers in the rows to my right. In the row just in front of the back bulkhead of the section, just to my right and back one row, a very tall Soldier was crammed into the aisle seat. He'd been hoping for more legroom, but was unable to find a better seat.

As I sat listening to my iPod, to the soundtrack from "Les Miserables," the Bishop's song caught my attention:
Come in sir for you are weary
And the night is cold out there
Though our lives are very humble
What we have we have to share
Rats! I was *so* looking forward to stretching out a bit on the long ride to our intermediate destination and then home to the U.S. I'd already allowed two Soldiers to place their backpacks under two of the three seats in front of me, so they wouldn't have to become checked luggage, meaning I couldn't really stretch my feet out unless I was taking up both seats. On long flights I really become aware of the arthritis in my shoulders, knees, and feet. Stretching out helps reduce the stiffness which can accompany the arthritis.

All that notwithstanding, however, I got up and tapped the tall Soldier on the arm to ask him if he'd like to change seats with me. SGT A looked as though he was trying not to appear too eager, but was having a hard time with that canard. He was ecstatic, and didn't feign disinterest well or long. He immediately stretched out on both seats and fell right asleep.

I, on the other hand, was now wide awake next to a Soldier who clearly could have used some pointers concerning personal hygiene in a crowded environment.

It was a long journey to the U.S.

Blessings and peace to one and all on this Tenth Day of Christmas,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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