Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Posted by Doug White under Personal

I enjoy being around kids. Not always of course, they can be trying at times, but generally speaking I like spending time with them. My own daughters have been one of the best things that have ever happened in my life. I’ve loved watching them grow up and even though the teenage years have had their share of turmoil, I am not looking forward to the day where they each walk out that door on whatever path God puts them on.

Between my wife’s family and mine, I have eleven nieces and nephews, ranging in age from five to twenty-three, each of them unique and brimming with their own personalities. I have different relationships with each of them, but I care for them all very deeply.

I try very hard not to have a “favorite”. I love each of these kids and any time I spend with any of them is very special to me. But, I’m human and I have to admit, I do have one that I just seem to have a closer relationship to than the others. It’s my nephew Kyle.

I know that many will think that they know why I have a closer relationship with Kyle after the next four words. Kyle has Down’s Syndrome. “Well, of course, he’s your favorite, he’s handicapped.” you might think. And you may be right. Regardless, he and I are pretty close and I hope we always will be.

Kyle has been on my mind a lot in the last few weeks, specifically because the subject of Down’s Syndrome became a focus of a controversy recently. Richard Dawkins, scientist and author of a book disgustingly titled, “The God Delusion” came under fire for telling a woman – via Twitter – that the moral thing to do if she found out she was pregnant with a baby that had Down’s would be to abort it.

After being the receiver of quite a bit of understandable anger from people after this happened, he tried to justify his comments by arguing that he was talking about a fetus and not a person who is alive. Which even if I bought the argument that a fetus is not a person – and I don’t – his argument misses the point entirely.

Taking his argument at face value – if the “moral” thing to do is to abort a Down’s Syndrome baby, then the “immoral” thing to do is to allow it to be born. This indicates that he believes that all woman who don’t abort their Down’s Syndrome babies are by his definition, immoral. This isn’t just twisted logic, it’s flat out evil.

I remember when Kyle was born, in the spring of 2000. He was the second grand-kid on my side of the family, my oldest daughter being the first. My wife, daughter and I lived in Marshall, Minnesota at the time and drove to Lincoln, Nebraska so we could see this new baby that entered into our lives.

I remember going to my sister and her husband’s house that weekend and spending time holding Kyle and doing the traditional “oohing” and “aahing” everyone does over a newborn. Then, they sat us down, with my Mother, and shared the news. Kyle had Down’s Syndrome. I remember being in shock as I heard my brother-in-laws voice break. I’d never seen him that emotional before.

That night, I went to bed sad. I was sad for my sister. I was sad for her husband. But most of all, I was sad for Kyle. I had worked with mentally handicapped adults while in college. I saw the struggles they went through. I laid on my pillow and wondered what kind of life Kyle was going to have.

Not long after Kyle was born, he had to undergo heart surgery. Down’s Syndrome kids tend to have some issues with their hearts and Kyle was no exception. Fortunately, he pulled through that surgery very well and to this date, has not had any further serious health issues.

As the years went by, we’d come to Lincoln regularly and I quickly stopped worrying about what kind of life Kyle was going to have and started marveling at what a fantastic nephew I had. Incredibly outgoing, loving and so full of energy, he never stopped making me smile when I saw him. It’s an ongoing joke in the family, that although it’s been said that Down’s Syndrome people are very laid back and relaxed, that someone forgot to tell Kyle this! He is as energetic and playful as any of the other kids in the family.

Kyle is a very athletic young man. He’s played soccer, baseball and basketball and has held his own with kids very close to his age. He’s played in his school band for years and this year is a part of their marching band. He struggles to speak coherently, but he can read and write and academically is doing very well in school.

Kyle is not perfect. Having Down’s has not made Kyle faultless. He is at heart, a very typical boy. A perfect example happened recently. He took a picture of his sister, got onto his mother’s Facebook account and posted it, saying, “This is a picture of my stupid sister”. I bring this up, not to indicate that I think he did something awesome. I bring it up because it was sort of obnoxious, and if I would have had Facebook as a young boy, I probably would have done the exact same thing at some point. Because kids are wonderful and they can also be wonderfully obnoxious. Kyle is no exception to this. (For the record, his sister is far from stupid. But that’s a story for another day.)

I love this kid and although I don’t see him near often enough, I enjoy every minute I do with him. After the Richard Dawkins story, I had a strong urge to go visit my family in Lincoln and I hoped to get some quality time with Kyle. His brother was celebrating his birthday and wanted to go see a football movie. I’m not a big sports fan but I like movies so I went with them, their parents and another nephew of mine. Kyle sat next to me and I watched him, watching the movie. Which probably seems silly. But I watched him as the movie showed something he liked and how he would smile and silently clap. He got more out of that movie than anyone else in that theater. I’m sure of it.

Kyle is never going to be President. He’s not going to be super famous or become a neurosurgeon or something equally significant. However, neither am I. Kyle is going to be ordinary. Just like pretty much every one else I know and care about. This is not only ok, it’s absolutely wonderful. I hope I get to spend a lot of years watching him be ordinary. This would make me very happy. Kyle’s existence was not an “immoral” choice. It was the most moral thing that could have ever been done.

From Fear To Pride

Posted by Doug White under Military, Personal

After I completed boot camp, I was sent to Camp Johnson, North Carolina for admin school training and upon completion of that I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina which is literally in the same city as Camp Johnson was.  It was not much of an event for me to move to one base from the other.

My first job was as an orders clerk for the Headquarters Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division.  I remember having what was probably a silly feeling of excitement when I was given my own desk in the office where I was to work.  I’d never worked in an office before and something about that desk made me feel … grown up.

About three months later, I took Christmas off to visit my family in Rapid City and when I came back to Camp Lejeune I was pulled aside and told I was no longer an orders clerk.  Fortunately it wasn’t because I had done anything wrong, rather they needed a Marine to serve as a Chaplain’s assistant for the Division Chaplain.

There I was again, just a few months after arriving at my first adult job now starting my second one.  I worked with a Navy enlisted man and the Division Chaplain – a Naval Captain – and his assistant chaplain – a Lieutenant Commander.

I enjoyed the job quite a bit; it was much more informal than I’d been used to since becoming a Marine.  This could be the reason I made the error I did not long afterwards.

One day I was asked to go over to the Headquarters Battalion and get some signatures from the new First Sergeant there.  I walked up to his office and knocked at the door and introduced myself, “Good morning, First Sergeant, I’m PFC White and…”

“What in God’s name do you think you’re doing!!??” a voice bellowed from the office.

“Um, uh…”  I looked in and saw one of the biggest men I’d ever seen in my life.  The Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog and I swear that day I saw that mascot come to life – at a good six and a half feet or so, snarling and ready to tear me from limb to limb.

“Marine, is that how you enter a First Sergeant’s office?  Like we’re some kind of buddies or something?!!”

“Uh, no sir…I mean, no First Sergeant….”

“Get out of my office and come back when you learn how to present yourself like a Marine!” the man bellowed.

I did exactly what he said.  I left.  However, what he said was not exactly how I interpreted it.  Apparently, he had meant for me to stay outside his office and eventually present myself properly.  I made no friends that day by leaving.

By the time I made it back to the Chaplain’s office, a call had been made and I had been ordered back to the First Sergeant’s office.  With a distinguishable gulp, I knocked on his door and when told to do so I walked in at attention and presented myself to him.

As one can imagine, several of the next minutes were filled with various profanities and loud yells to intimidate me and put me in my place.  Both objectives were accomplished.  I feared this man more than I probably ever feared my drill instructors at Boot Camp.

Which taking that into account made my next mistake even more stupid.  Several months later, we had a Chaplain from Great Britain come to Camp Lejeune on an exchange program.  Because I was the Division Chaplain’s assistant this meant I drove him around the base, I was there when this Chaplain arrived and I got to meet him, his wife and their two girls.

Not long after that I got the nerve up to ask this Chaplain’s daughter to go out with me and we began dating.  One day I decided I wanted to buy her some flowers from the local PX.  I drove there at lunch to do so – but I did this in the Division Chaplain van.  When I came out a few minutes later, the van was gone.

It turns out that using military vehicles for personal use is a big no-no.  Granted, this should have been something I understood but looking back at it now, I’m going to cut my nineteen year old self some slack.

The First Sergeant was not as kind.  It wasn’t long before I was once again standing in front of his door.  Fortunately, by this point, I was well aware of how he wished me to present myself and did so accordingly.

There was no pleasure to be found in the fact I remembered our earlier lesson together.  More profanities and loud yelling ensued.  The First Sergeant decided I needed to be taught a lesson.  I had requested time off as I had planned to take my girlfriend to visit a good friend of mine in Washington D.C.  That leave of absence was revoked and I spent that time on duty.

As reprimands go, despite how unfair I thought it was at that time, it was a rather tame punishment.  In fact, I was able to get time off later on and was able to take my girlfriend to Washington D.C. after all.  I was pretty lucky to be honest that more hadn’t been done.

That makes the final thing I did the stupidest thing of all.  Another young female Marine had been moved into the Chaplain’s office.  I have to be honest; I didn’t like her at all.  She outranked me slightly – for most of the time we were the same rank but she was the senior of the two of us – and honestly I probably was threatened by that a bit.  Again, I was nineteen.

She and I had a lot of issues for the next year or so and I did not show her the respect she deserved.  It didn’t help though that she was pretty incompetent at our job.  That doesn’t excuse what I did however.

One day we were filling out performance reports for the Chaplain’s that worked under the Division Chaplain and she kept doing them incorrectly.  In the arrogance that comes so quickly to the young I made a big production of showing her how she was doing them wrong.

The assistant Chaplain at that time had finally seen enough.  He contacted Headquarters Battalion and asked to have me removed from the Division Chaplain’s office.  I had been, in essence, fired.

I was embarrassed and frustrated.  I knew I was good at what I did and I lost this job because of someone else’s incompetence.  That’s at least what I told myself at the time.  In truth, I lost it because I didn’t know how to work within the system.  I was trying too hard to fight it.

I expected to find myself before the First Sergeant again to be once more hit with more profanities and loud yelling.  Surprisingly that didn’t happen.  I was moved into the Logistics office for the Division and not much else was said of what happened.

I have to admit, I think being put into that job was a good thing and I actually enjoyed what I did.  We were responsible for keeping track of things the various units in the Division needed such as food, ammunition, etc.  I worked for a Gunnery Sergeant who was quiet and firm but pretty good to work with.

One day I was walking to my office when I saw the First Sergeant headed my way.  He was coming right towards me with a determined look in his eye.  I quickly thought back over the last few days and couldn’t think of anything I had done wrong!  What was he going to say to me?

He stopped right in front of me, “White!  I see you haven’t signed up for the football team we’ve put together.”

“Uh, um…well, First Sergeant, I’m really not a football player,” I began.

“White!  Did you hear me?  I see you haven’t signed up for the football team we’ve put together!”

“Well, uh, First Sergeant would you like me to sign up for it?”

“That would be fantastic White!  I’ll see you at practice!” With that he turned and left.

I stood there dumbfounded.  What the heck just happened? I guess I had just joined a football team, a MARINE football team, having never played a day of football in my life.  “I’m going to die.” I whispered to myself.

The next several days were brutal.  I practiced with fellow Marines who took this game of football, one I never understood and never thought made any sense, very seriously.  I would go back to my barracks after practice bruised and in pain but feeling something I hadn’t in awhile.

What I felt was that I once again belonged to this group known as Marines.  I wasn’t an outsider, I wasn’t a failure, I was just like them.

Silly as that might sound it was confirmed one night after practice when the First Sergeant took me aside and complimented me.  What he told me was irrelevant.  This man had spent every one of our encounters together yelling at me for something or another.  This time he was telling me I was doing well.  I felt a swell of pride that I hadn’t felt in a really long time.

Unfortunately we never got a chance to play any football games.  Not long after that, a dictator in Iraq decided to invade Kuwait and the world changed for everyone I knew.  My unit was in preparation mode to go to the Gulf.

I didn’t go with them.  I had orders to go to Okinawa and so I watched as many people I knew began the steps to go to war.  No one knew how long we’d be there or how serious the war would be.  We just knew we were going.  That would include a certain First Sergeant who terrified me so.

I don’t know what happened to the First Sergeant.  Considering how the first Gulf War turned out, I’m sure he was fine and continued on in his career as a Marine.  But I wonder about him sometimes.  I wonder if he continued to first terrify and then essentially instill pride into other Marines such as he did to me so long ago.

As for myself, I can’t honestly say I am happy I experienced all that I did under him.  I can say that I see now, twenty-five years later, that it served a purpose.  I made silly, dumb mistakes as a young Marine and I deserved every consequence I received as a result.  But what I also needed, and I like to think he knew it those last few days before all changed, was to feel like I was still part of this group I had joined.  If that’s the case, he definitely accomplished his mission.

 

The Secret Life of Doug White

Posted by Doug White under Personal

I watched a good, sweet and sentimental movie today called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Without giving away too much, the movie centered on a man named Walter Mitty who spent a lot of his life daydreaming about adventures and what happens when he stopped daydreaming and started living his life for real.

I went with my oldest daughter – who is sixteen going on twenty – and a young lady who has been a part of the family for years now.  The two of them were absolutely enthralled with the show and talked about what the show made them feel.  The urge to travel and explore the world and make sure they aren’t missing out on life was a common thread of the conversation home.

I get that.  When I was around their age, I couldn’t wait until I had left the nest and explore the world and find my place in it.  I joined the Marine Corps and every chance I could, I travelled.

I took a trip with a girlfriend of mine to Washington D.C. to visit my best friend.  We spent a day wandering the city that I remember with great fondness.  I travelled to Middletown, New York with my closest friend in the Marines so we could visit his friends and the place he grew up.

In my last year in the Corps I was ordered to go to Okinawa, Japan.  I actually didn’t want to go at first.  It was too far from everything I knew.  It turned out to be one of the best years I spent in the Marine Corps.  I met several great people and I saw a country that was small and yet filled with such intense beauty.  It is a year that will stay with me until the day I die.

When I got out of the Marine Corps, I went home to Rapid City, South Dakota and started college.  I took time again to travel once more – this time to Bismarck, North Dakota.  I had a pen pal while I was in the Marines and I travelled to see her and her friends.  It was a lot of fun and I met some really neat people, who I never saw again.  But the memory of it still makes me smile.

I then met my wife to be that fall and within the year we were married.  From there, I have stayed within six hours of my home town.  Some might say that once I married, the adventure of my youth was over.  I would heartily disagree.  The adventure took on a whole other dimension.

I watched the most beautiful woman willingly decide to walk down an aisle and willingly decide to spend the rest of her life with a guy like me.  I watched the most beautiful woman in the world give birth to the two most beautiful babies God ever put on this earth.  I watched my oldest daughter warm up a room with her smile and her laugh opened up a whole world of possibilities of joy into my life.  I watched my youngest barrel into a room with a sense of humor that made me realize that if she only knew how funny she was, the world would be in for a ride like nothing anyone has seen.

I watched my oldest rush off to her first day of kindergarten without so much of a glance back to her mom and dad.  I remember going for a walk at that lunch that day wondering at what point did that little five year old ball of energy get her hooks so deeply into my heart.

Every night when my youngest was young, I watched as she would crawl into my chair and sit with me and only then would she go to sleep.  I would kiss her on the forehead and again wonder how it is that I could love another person so deeply as I loved her, her sister and her mother.

I watched as my girls wanted me in everything they were a part of.  Christmas concerts, school plays, basketball games, movies, trips to the pool.  I watched as they grew and realized that they didn’t need their dad so much.  And while that sometimes is tough to take, I realize that too is part of this adventure I’m on.

Because while they both are trying to be independent and grown up, there are still days where my youngest will come to me and ask me to pray with her because something is bothering her or she can’t sleep or whatever.  And every once in a while my oldest will surprise me like when she sits down beside me on a couch to watch a show and leans her head on my shoulder.  They’re small moments of affection that I will always cherish.

To these two and to the girl I like to call our “college transplant”, this may seem boring.  This may not seem like an adventure to them at all.  To me it is everything.

I’m watching one lady – who while she isn’t technically ours, really is – blossom from a young girl who had a hard time interacting with others into someone who is an extremely self-sufficient young woman who I have no doubt will move onto great things.

I’m watching a child who has spent sixteen years of her life in a state of perpetual motion finding her focus.  Her love of music is something that pours out of her soul.  And when I watch her deep in the midst of that love, it is something that makes me almost numb with awe.

I’m watching another child who takes on the academic world with a fierce determination that is inspiring of someone so young.  Yet still so shy, she has taken steps to open herself up into new things and open her heart up to those around her.  She’s still so young and her path is undecided but I know it will be filled with lots of wonderful moments and adventures of her own.

I’m watching the woman I love taking these three under her wings, guiding them, nurturing them and every once in awhile smacking them in the head when they take missteps and I’m beyond excited to be on this trip with her.

My adventures in my twenties were exciting and different and wonderful.  As I hit my mid-40’s all I can say is that the adventures of day-to-day life with these people are never boring and never dull.  They are what I live for.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.