During the past few days I have spent a lot of time with my grandfather collecting and sorting through shells. Personally, while searching for shells, I aimed to collect the most perfect shells, no matter how tiny. I intentionally neglected to hang on to shells with chips, cracks, or too much erosion. My grandfather, on the other hand, would hand me the most odd, broken shells and say, “look honey, isn’t that neat?” His point of view about shells got me thinking about myself, people I have met along my travels, my friends, my family, and most of all, veterans. Shells remind me of people because, no matter how broken they are, they are still something special to someone. The way one person sees a broken shell is completely different than the way another person does. I have found many broken conch shells that I just loved, several I even kept, because I appreciate their structure. Sometimes, I think they’re even more beautiful when broken because I am able to see the intricacies of how they were formed. Some shells are fragile, but still manage to hold up in the tumbling surf; some shells are extremely strong but still crack and chip. No matter how a shell looks like it should hold up, it can always turn out differently.
I have friends that I love because they are amazing people. They are amazing because, no matter what, they live to better themselves and be better people in the world to others. I have family that, even when they’re hurting, they still outwardly work hard for family and love those around them harder.
Lately, I’ve thought a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans, mostly because I’ve been spending time around my grandfather, the retired Navy SEAL. During his time serving in Vietnam, he completed missions that, to this day, he can never speak about. Most of the missions he was on have been declassified, but not all. When we were walking on the boardwalk in Beaufort, North Carolina, we had a conversation about PTSD, the military, and how every soldier will always have a different experience in the military than other soldiers. My grandfather’s biggest piece of advice was to take every opportunity in the service to grow – a piece of advice several other military friends have suggested as well. They say do everything you’re offered, whether it’s more school, a change in training, or moving up rank – do it. I worry that after all of this, I will become more of a broken shell than I already am. What if I lose friends in battle? What if I’m injured and won’t be able to do things that I love to do now? My answer – who cares? I know that I can be a weak shell, but no matter how intense the surf will be, I will persevere, just as I always have. I have lost friends before, I will just be sure to put everything I have into the most important relationships in my life as I continue forward and have no regrets to look back to. If I happen to be in active combat – which is seriously unlikely as I’ll be working in support – and if I happen to get injured, oh well. I have broken bones before, doctors fix them. Anything worse, doctors can fix them now, too. I may become a tougher shell, as I’ve seen many soldiers become, and I may become more fragile than I look, but I’ll still be me and I’ll still be amazing to those that matter. Of all the friends and family I know that have served, the only injuries they’ve come back with were those in the mind; fortunately, I have a strong head and good mind. I’m not worried and you should not be either.
If something does happen to me, just remember the seashells. They are still amazing and beautiful to someone, you just have to see things from all perspectives and appreciate the gifts that God gives to us every single day.
If something hard happens in your life, do not sit around and take your anger out on others. Do something to make a change, don’t be frustrated about things you can no longer change. I have been visiting a friend out here in North Carolina and whenever we visit his work, I hear another one of his coworkers complain about something pointless like being sore after wrestling a buddy, or someone didn’t restock the supplies for the morning crew. Guess what? These are little things that don’t make or break a day. These are things that we should be thankful are our only complaints for the day. Take joy and pleasure in those around you and be grateful for all the things you have, big and small. And if your life really is that hard or terrible, you’re the only person that can get off your butt and do something about it.