Many of us wait our whole lives for an epiphany of purpose. I was lucky enough to get mine as the hulking gray cargo door began to open, letting in the cool white light.
Journeys have both figurative and literal beginnings. This particular adventure began 27 hours before, as I pulled back the curtain and climbed out of my hard steel rack. It had been a restless night; several times I made the five-deck, quarter-mile walk down ladder wells in the eerie red glow of an aircraft carrier at war. The flight deck had been smashing off planes until about 0200; trying to sleep to the chorus of jackhammers that are the catapults is simply impossible, when with each shudder the walls shake, and with the final purging of the jets, the entire world suddenly jumps two feet backward with earthquake force. The noise, the movement: these were old hat to me by now. It was the patient down in medical with the briny yellow glow, the temperature of 105.7 degrees, and the white blood cell count of 29 that kept my thoughts from their nightly caravan back around the globe, to my wife, and my infant daughter (whom I had only gotten to see for three days before this deployment had begun).
Pearce SM. Answering the Call of the Wounded Warrior. JAMA. 2009;302(5):471-472. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.999