Yesterday was one week since I signed out of the Army. So I thought I'd do a selfie shoot with my new uniform.
Sporting my UNH t-shirt, because I need some sort of organizational uniform, and, in case you missed it,
some new jewelry.
A little act of rebellion, I suppose. I jokingly told my wife I was going to do this, and she didn't strongly object, so I took that as permission and got these done on the way down to Ft. Sam Houston for a retirement ceremony for a former colleague. As you can imagine, the folks there got a good laugh out of it.
I almost didn't go through with it. The lady at the jewelry shop I went to was minding the store on her own and she kept having to leave me to go do something else - it almost seemed like a sign that I wasn't supposed to go through with it. Like Fate (or a bad comedy) was saying, "Are you sure? Are you really, really sure? Because if you do this, something bad might have to happen..."
Ignoring Fate, I indulged my hubris and got them done. I also sat there asking myself, why am I doing this? I have to admit, other than, because I can, I didn't really have a good answer.
The reaction I got at Ft. Sam was exactly what I expected. And I think that may have been exactly why I needed to do this. In friendly tones, my former colleagues said something to the effect of, "well, you're really not one of us anymore, are you?" I think I had spent the last week in a sort of identity limbo - not really sure who I was anymore. In a way, getting my ears pierced was a metaphoric burning of the ships for my identity. It's time to move forward with a new identity - there is no going back.
There really is no going back. I know a lot of guys (and gals) who retire from the military and then hang on to their identity as soldiers. I see that a bit like trying to keep hanging out at the frat house once you've graduated. The Army was a part of my life for 26 years. And now it's not. I needed to do something symbolic that made that point clear to myself. I'm not a soldier anymore. If the Army needs me, they can recall me, of course, and then I will be a soldier again. But that's highly unlikely, and if it does happen, things will be very, very bad. So I needed a symbolic act to put punctuation to my experience. Rituals are important, as I've said before. They act as the punctuation of our lives. They help us make order in the chaos of our lives. Rituals are a collection of symbolic acts. Symbolic acts are otherwise mundane things that carry deep meaning. Getting my ears pierced was not so much a ritual, but a symbolic act. It represented an intentional ending and beginning. An ending of my life as a soldier; a beginning of my post-Army life - whatever that will be. Civilians get to construct their identity much more completely than military people do. The military is pervasive in your identity. This is why many military people have trouble letting go of their military identity - so much of who you are is integrated with the military that untangling the military from the rest of you leaves huge gaps in your sense of self. Even after a week, I am already starting to see that. It's easy to talk about it, it's another thing to go through it.
So I've made a metaphorical stand on the beach, and I do feel a bit better. There's a whole wild jungle in front of me, and nowhere to retreat to now.