When I was a Special Operations soldier, I was satisfied.
Putting a bullet dead center from greater than 500 meters away, that was my life.
Finely tuned and lethal; I could be underwater for hours in a Rebreather, or in the mountains with my face painted and unseen; I could traverse a desert solo, or survive in a jungle with my wits.
I was a trained killer.
I loved every minute of every day.
But it wasn’t Nirvana, and it was far from enlightenment.
It may not have been my Nirvana, but it was close.
My favorite moment in Special Operations was when I jumped from a plane into the inky, black darkness of the unknown. A red light would turn green, bathing the inside of the plane with a warm glow.
It was the signal that sent the first stream of adrenaline ripping through my veins.
It was the signal that it was time to go.
The cargo ramp would open with a long, metallic groan and a torrent of air would fill my eardrums no different than if it were a train rushing by. My heart would race; sweat would drop down the spine of my back.
Anticipation was my only drug.
Fear was my chaser.
The first step was always the most difficult. The first step separated my body from the plane, from anything physical, from all things real.
My body would plummet at near terminal velocity toward the earth, an earth that I couldn’t see in the midnight skies.
The cold from the high-altitude, night air would scratch my face, and the icy droplets of the cloud that I fell through would wet any exposed skin.
It was as close to enlightenment as I’ve ever been. It was how I imagined Nirvana should be: the world was quiet; my body was weightless, and all thoughts were gone. It was just the planet and I together in a poetic dance with physics.
I didn’t tumble.
I didn’t fall.
I just existed.
God only knows how much I miss those days.
Today, I am like most of you: I work in an office to earn; I work toward retirement. I get up and put on a pair of dress shoes to adorn the business casual attire required for any standard workplace. I fight traffic instead of enemies. I run on the treadmill instead of running through mud. I used to carry one hundred pounds on my back and a weapon in my hands, now I carry a diaper bag, an infant car seat (with the baby in it, of course), and my workbag. Instead of studying a tactical operation order, I plan out the best way to change a diaper, get a bottle of milk ready, and keep my one-year-old daughter amused while fighting traffic for the one hour it takes to drive to the day care.
I’m a trained expert in many weapons, but the only weapon I yield with any proficiency today is my 7-iron.
But I’m still chasing enlightenment.
Life can be quite painful; it can be as equally rewarding, too.
I’m nearing forty and have much to be thankful for in this life: great experiences; a great education; a fantastic wife, my best friend; a wonderful career, two extraordinary children, and not much for which I desire.
When I was younger, I had the energy to be an expert in Special Operations; I had the ambition to be at the top, to be better than the rest.
I’ve few regrets in life and a few things that I still seek.
But my life is still a journey.
Today, I read about a man whose journey is now over, whose life has ended. I read his eulogy and before its finish, I was in tears.
I think you would be too.
Before his death he had learned that a certain beauty in life was his highest value. To him, he believed that love happened all the time, and – I presume – that to love love is the most beautiful of things to do, the most beautiful quality to obtain.
And then he learned that he was going to die.
I can’t imagine what facing a certain, and calculated mortality must feel like; what it must do to a man. It would break even the hardest among us; it might break me. Most of us have the luxury of not knowing when our last days are going to be.
He knew that death was close.
If one were to taste the bitterness of death, I believe that all of those things that once distracted us; that angered us; that burdened and annoyed us would suddenly become excess noise, unimportant, and trivial.
As well, my hunch is that those things that once inspired passion in us; those things that we no longer appreciate each day – the forgotten beauty in a piece of artwork; the magnificence of a setting sun; the smells of freshly fallen leaves; the bond between father and son; the smile from my wife when she plays with her hair; the way that she holds my hand; the way that she loves our daughter; the way that she loves me – suddenly become accentuated, central, and important again.
My mind drifts to those first moments when I met my wife to be. Her hair was much longer, but her smile is still the same. I remember the way that she looked at me from across the restaurant, the way that I felt the first time we went out on a date. I remember that subtle, nearly coquettish, sway in her hips. I remember how it held my stare, making me want to flirt back.
I remember those long hours in sub-zero, arctic-like weather as we sat in her black Volkswagen with the engine still running and the heater on high not able to say goodnight to one another even though the next day was only hours away.
I remember loving love then.
I remember that it was the only thing I cared about.
Not money. Not ambition. Not success. Not status.
I just loved love.
It is nearly twelve years later, and our life together is wonderful.
Friends. Family. Success. Status.
We have it.
So here I sit writing about this man’s life, reading about the things that were most important to him.
He was an accomplished man; he was a man that will be remember beyond generations; a man that accomplished more in his too-short-lived life than entire populations will accomplish in aggregate.
He has won awards. He has been enriched.
But he still made it home for dinner every night to spend that time with his family.
He made the time to take walks with his wife.
He worried about who his daughters would date.
He worried about what kind of clothes that they wore.
He worried about his son’s graduation.
He was a man who sat with Presidents; a man who required foreign dignitaries to set an appointment; he was a man who could understandably not be interrupted when one of his children or his wife called him at the office.
But he always took their calls.
I’m a writer, not by profession – not yet anyway.
I write thrillers in the Sterling Novels series, and by most of my reviews I’m a reasonably good one. The problem, however, with writing is that it takes quite a bit of work to create just one book much less a series and, of course, without pay. That requires a writer to find an income elsewhere. Like most of you reading this, I have a career that pays me a salary, a career that has rewarded me well. As I mentioned a few chapters ago: I get up, I fight traffic, and I work.
The work that I do is rewarding and is certainly fulfilling; it is very possible that I will be with my firm until I retire – in twenty years.
As thankful as I am to be in the position that I’m in, writing is where my heart is. It is one of my great loves, it is where I find an unspoken beauty; it is where I seek enlightenment.
Earlier this month Mr. Steve Jobs passed away.
I was shocked by how his passing has affected me. Like most of you, I was physically saddened. The world lost a true innovator, a lover of many things. He was passionate about his love for his family more so than that for his career.
But it will be his career how the world remembers him and rightly so: what his career has given to this world cannot be quantified with any number, or conveyed adequately enough.
It is beyond our understanding.
Schools use his inventions to teach our children. Doctors use his inventions to heal our sick. Hollywood uses his inventions to entertain all of us. The Internet was created on his machine. His work has touched nearly every facet of our lives as well as having become the standard for others to reach and attempt to pass.
He was unique and apart from most of us, not because of his wealth, his status, or his incredible genius, or the value that he brought to this world in his far too short of a life, but because he could accomplish all of these things and still clearly see that it is to love love that is the greatest thing to obtain.
Mr. Steve Jobs was a renaissance man: a dreamer and a traveler. When younger, he traversed through India seeking, what I can only imagine was, some form of enlightenment.
His sister reported in her eulogy of him that on his deathbed, he gazed from each of his children to the next, that he locked eyes with his beloved.
His last words were: “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.”
And then he spilled his last breath.
I believe in those moments as he balanced on the edge of his last moments, as he etched into his eternal thoughts the face of each of his children, the beauty of his wife, of his loves, that Mr. Steve Jobs did find his Nirvana, that he did taste the sweetness of enlightenment.
If we all could be so lucky…
“Don’t waste your life living someone else’s.”
Posted by: Joseph Nagle, Author of the Sterling Novels
Books 1 & 2: