Appreciation for Life

I have deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the main things I learned from those experiences was to appreciate life.

This appreciation is almost an issue though because when I hear people complain about insignificant things, I feel the urge to throat punch them. (But generally, I pull out some politically correct smile and nod with a quick exit shortly there after.)

As Americans, we complain when traffic causes us to sit a little bit longer in our climate-controlled cars with pleasant music playing. We gripe if our fast food takes over three minutes to appear. We protest when our boss gives us a task we don’t like. And there is some global moan when our phones, cable or internet are not at full capacity. Sometimes it appears that we are never happy.

When I feel these complaints form in myself, I try to remember how lucky I really am. I recall the images from deployments to put those complaints in perspective.

I’ve seen villagers go about their daily business, children laugh in the streets and hope blossom in the midst of buildings splattered with mortar and bullets holes. In Sarajevo, there were people living in buildings that were missing a wall or portion of one. It was as though my humvee was a traveling television, and I was looking into people’s unscripted reality shows. They kept living despite the horrible events that created such a revealing shelter. They kept smiling and working. There was effort to rebuild.

I shared a meal with an Iraqi man once who told me how dangerous it was to work with NATO forces. He would have to take alternate roads to work and change his clothes before going home. He never knew if the terrorist would come get him or his family. He lived with the constant fear of threat. But, he worked anyway. He worked because he had hope in his country and saw foreigners making an effort. Why should he not make the same effort for his own country?

In Afghanistan, I lived in a plywood, bug-infested hut. As awful as that sounds, it was luxury. I had four partial walls and thus, had the plush accommodation of privacy. My bathroom was about 400 feet away on a gravel path and was not always filled with the aroma of spring flowers. Yet, this too was fancy living as I had running water and an actual toilet. While on patrols, I saw how some Afghan people had to live. They had no running water. Their toilet was nature. There was no Walmart in the mountain valley to get supplies from. What they had was what they used, and somehow they survived – many with a smile and good heart.

There is a theory that you can’t complain about what you’ve never had. Perhaps that has validity. If you have never experienced running water then I suppose walking to the stream to get some is normal. If you never had shoes as a child, it would not be irresponsible of you as a parent to let your child play in the street without them.

Living without certain luxuries may be merely the basic facts in different countries due to geography, economics, politics and culture, but seeing it changed me. I look around with a new filter. I can see how gracious God has been to me and think, wow, I don’t deserve all of this. If I can’t be happy with what I have, if I don’t take care of it, how can I ever ask for more?

In my opinion, I can’t. I have to embrace each moment I am given as I am not promised another. I have to be thankful for my boring job since it pays my bills. I have to refrain from grumbling about pet hair since I have a home for it to collect in.

I try seize each day by accepting what is in front of me and find the good in it. I notice the new flowers in my yard. I am thankful for my health. I am amazed at the wonderful people who remain my friends even though we are separated by distance and I am could do more for them.

Yes, I may really have to dig and be creative at times. It is not always easy to see the diamond when it is covered in trash. Like the $118 speeding ticket I earned. That took a moment to appreciate. But, as I drove to work muttering about how I was only going 55 mph on a country road, I came upon an accident scene that must have occurred minutes before. If I had not been pulled over, I could have been in the accident too…or at least that is what I was telling myself as I wrote my check.

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