Change is a strange thing. It happens all the time. We buy a new pair of shoes, or try a new dish at our favorite restaurant. Change happens, and sometimes it’s not so simple. We resist, imagining pain and suffering, which provides the illusion that change will not happen. Then there is change that truly is difficult. I’ll call this kind of change transition. Transition involves an alteration, an evolution, in the ways that our being is marked in the world…a change in our very being. Sometimes we are very clear about these things, and they unfold as simply as purchasing a new pair of shoes. However, more often than not, these are things that elude our conscious awareness for quite some time…the arc of transition is long and quite frankly a bit mysterious. These are the type of thing that we long for without knowing quite what they are. They pull us and push us, influencing our lives in a multiplicity of ways, and yet they are things that we can often only recognize in retrospect.
I recall being in elementary school, and regularly sticking up for classmates who were, from my youthful perspective, being picked on or excluded. Only a couple of years latter I joined my first team sport – flag football. The coach of the team was a middle-aged burnout from the 70’s, but hey, he was my coach, and what did I know at the time. Anyway, I recall playing a mid-season game, and my coach told the team that the game was over before the game was supposed to be over. My mother latter told me that he forfeited the game, because he felt the referees were treating our team unfairly. Keep in mind this was little league flag football – maybe not the most opportune moment to take a stand on poor officiating. Anyway, the game was over before it was supposed to be. My coach had quit. I was pissed off! I stormed away from the field, and down the road not quite sure where I was going, but I remember being utterly heartbroken by the turn of events. I did not understand why we quit the game. Nobody asked me what I thought about it. Did I mention that my parents divorced when I was three?
I also recall moving to Texas to live with my dad and his new family. I was still young, but old enough to have a vague notion of feeling out of place – or in a new place. This persisted through my adolescents, which I suppose is not unusual, but my response was to seek approval. For me this meant being part of the popular crowd, and in Texas this meant playing sports. I gravitated toward the violence of the football field, and other foolish behaviors. My search for approval got me sent to military school in my Junior year of high school, which provided me with a sneak preview of coming attractions.
I recall riding on a school bus in stone silence. Every seat filled with others just like me. It was early in the morning before the sun even dreamt about rising. The bus stopped, the door opened, and the craziest man I’d ever heard stepped on board and started yelling with such volume and intensity that we all began to move even though we had no clue what the hell he was yelling about. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, CA. I did not register this at the time, but I entered boot camp a very short time after the conflict in Somalia ended. I was honorably discharged in January of 2001 after my five-year contract was complete. I saw no combat during my five years, which is a minor miracle given our tendencies toward such things.
Interestingly, I spent my last year of service in Okinawa, Japan. There is a local guy on the island of Okinawa who, back then, drove a sparkly purple Honda Civic. This guy got himself a set of business cards made up with nothing but a phone number on them. Now, if you called the number, then this guy would drive to meet you at a designated location, and bring with him vacuum sealed bags of magic mushrooms, which he would exchange for American dollars. I ate a lot of mushrooms on the island of Okinawa. I was doing some searching, but for what I did not know.
Another interesting recollection of my time in the military came in December of 2000 – a month before my scheduled discharge. I had applied to Michigan State University, but I would not know if I got in until after my enlistment ended. In December, prior to flying back stateside, I was seriously contemplating reenlisting for another four years. Had I done so, I most likely would have seen the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq. At the time, of course, I had no clue what would happen in September of the following year. I just decided to take my chances with college.
After graduating from college I recall looking for work. None of it seemed even remotely interesting to me. I quite my first cubical job after checking my emails on Monday morning, and finding that over the weekend I had about 60 new emails in my inbox. What kind of life had I signed up for? Anyway, with uncertainty on the horizon I moved to California and worked on remodeling kitchens with a good friend of mine for a bit.
Feeling a need to figure out a plan, and not being clear about what to do with myself, I started thinking about where I wanted to be. I recalled feeling a deep connection with Northern New Mexico from an early age, so I started to check the Taos News for potential job opportunities. I noticed a posting for a ‘Teacher Mentor.’ The ad did not offer much more information beyond this, but I gave them a call. Turns out it was posting for a position at a recovery/life-skills program for young men just north of Taos. I asked them if I could have the job, and they gave it to me, so I packed up and drove to Taos. Within a month things got more clear.
Since then, I’ve worked in various capacities in the mental health field. I attended Southwestern College, and am nearing the end of my doctoral studies in clinical psychology. None of which I would have foreseen during the entire arch of my life up to this point. However, today I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. It seems to me that my life has been moving in this way all along, and I only woke up to it in the past 10 years or so. I’m glad I did.
A final thought on transitions and their workings – I think life unfolds the way it needs to, and you can either get on board or not. Things get difficult when you remain on shore instead of going to sea, which is not always a bad thing – there are very few absolutes. General wellness, I think, can be measured in large part by the degree to which one can first distinguish between shore and sea, and second recognize that it doesn’t really matter all that much one way or another – the destination is always the same.
— Paul King-Miller