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Why I quit my job and moved to war to find myself

My Midlife Afghanistan Crisis

I was 38 years old, single and living in a college resident hall for the past 8 years.

My eHarmony wasn’t doing that hot with that description.

I was a Resident Director, helping students develop and grow while they attended college. I arranged programs so they could learn about diversity, responsiblity, and academic success.

I also dumped out their beer and called the cops when there was marijuana around. I was really popular.

So one day, a friend of mine offered me a job to teach soldiers in Afghanistan. I think he led with: it’s great money.

I was in education all of my life—that was the best way for me to go to war—offer me money. Well done.

So on April 17th, 2012, I landed in Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base Fenty. And with zero military experience, I started living on a base.

My first two months were rough. I was away from everyone I loved. When people would ask me what Afghanistan was like, the only answer I could give them was:

Afghanistan is like Mars—only 300 years in the past.

There’s no potable water, the internet is like AOL circa 1988 and everything is just difficult: making a phone call, getting from here to there, etc. I have nothing else to compare it to.

Plus, people are actively trying to kill you all the time.

Afghanistan made me a bit fearless.

I was the guy who was afraid of everything, even for being a Dungeons and Dragons World Champion. I was afraid to really pursue the love of my life. I was afraid to start a business or try something that put some kind of risk into the bloodstream. The bravest thing I had done so far in life was to join a Crossfit gym. (Seriously, that place is no joke.)

But seeing Afghanistan from a chopper, boarding a C-130 at 3 AM to get to another base, diving underneath a tank as a missile goes over your head, well, that makes everything that much easier. I can now take a challenge and not be crushed by it. I can see that if someone turns me down for coffee or a hand-holding session that I won’t die.

Two of my chums from Bagram Airfield

Afghanistan made me appreciate today.

I know the current trend on Pinterest is to remind us to keep appreciating today. It’s sappy. There are these sunrises and flowers that tell us “Embrace today!” “Live simple!” “Chew your food more!” and I used to roll my eyes at that.

But Afghanistan clearly taught me to not look forward to tomorrow, to not even worry about it. Because today, this very moment you are experiencing is all you really have. When I would take a convoy to Kabul (which is the opposite of fun) I would think, this could be my last day. This is how people die in this country.

I no longer look forward to lunch tomorrow or that trip to Vegas. It’s not even in my head; it takes zero room. I’m not looking forward to seeing that movie and even a preview makes me shrug my shoulders because today is all I really have. There are no guarantees.

I left Afghanistan on April 17, 2013. I landed in Dubai and hit the hotel. I was so grateful to have a bathroom that was indoors and actually connected to my room. They had an open bar. I may have taken advantage of it.

As I look back, now that I’ve been in States a bit, I realize how much fear will rob of us if we allow it, how much fear promises and never delivers, and how this life, this beating heart, is precious and should be something constantly celebrated.

Title Photo Credit: flickr

Written by Ryan Mcrae

I lived in Afghanistan for a year to reboot my life. I’m back now. You can find me at ryanmcrae.net

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