It seems like I just arrived.
Or maybe like I’ve been here forever.
The passage of time is a fickle and unreliable thing in our brains. When I talk to old friends in far-off places, it seems as though I only left last weekend, but as I sit in my worn-in coffee shop (okay, one of my worn-in coffee shops), it feels almost as if I have been sitting here forever. What an odd thing, the brain. Fortunately, we have things like celestial movements and other natural phenomenon that mark seasons and days and hours and the lesser units of time. And lately the myriad mechanical devices in my life that modern wizardry have constructed to harness the vibrations of minerals or the movement of constellations are all conspiring to tell me that I will shortly be required to move to Colorado.
Gracefully summing up my experience in A-school has consistently shown itself to be an exercise in futility, but another interesting function of brain-workings (I’ve noticed) is that graceful summaries offer less meaning than the stories that made the experience real to us. Maybe it’s more of a heart mechanism than one of the brain; it’s fortunate that we have both.
I stayed in the barracks on the training center base, a building called “LaFayette Hall,” after a French General that assisted the Revolutionary War effort (or so I’m told). I was in a room built for four, but there were only three of us: myself, a guy from Juárez named Javier, and a dude from Southern California named Kendall. Javier’s wife was pregnant when he got orders, so about midway though the class, he flew back to El Paso for the birth of his son, and then back for more of the learnin’. Kendall was just coming from the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, which sails out of Honolulu, and he is going back to work at a intelligence center in Hawaii. I guess he didn’t get enough the first time. The least I could say about these two gentlemen is that I could not have asked for better roommates. They were simply awesome.
I was here at the right time.
We started our running regimen in gloves, hats and sweats, and will be ending it in shorts, sweat-soaked shirts and a profound desire to get into our air-conditioned classrooms. We’ve run out the pier (above, but during the day), through the base, and all around the battlefields. We’ve run down to Yorktown beach and done sprint relays on the sand. We’ve run up ramparts and around cannons. We’ve sang cadences, we’ve stopped traffic, and generally put down more miles than any other two a-schools on base.
The academia here is odd. Before going to Yorktown, people asked me what an Intelligence Specialist really is, and my honest answer had to be that I simply did not know. But now, at the end of school, the answer still hasn’t changed much. The best way I can describe our curriculum is that they taught us the vocabulary and rules of the specialty, so that when our supervisor at our next duty station tells us what our job is, we understand the words he’s using. Sort of like knowing that “RBI” stands for “runs batted in,” but never having the experience of making contact with a pitch.
I went and saw the Virginia Symphony Orchestra a couple of times. The first time was in the middle of “trombone week.” Through a connection our training center band leader had with an individual at the venue, a classmate by the name of Brad Weatherington (four syllables; just like it sounds) and I got dressed up and played with a trombone choir in the lobby before the symphony. My stalwart compatriot departed and I lagged behind to claim a free ticket to the symphony, which was sublime, even from my perch in the nosebleeds, one step in front of a gaggle of freshmen fulfilling a music appreciation requirement. The playbill contained roughly a billion pages of fluff and advertising around the page and a half that told the audience what music was on the players’ stands, but I honed in on one nugget: a schedule for the VSO’s upcoming performances, one of which featured violinist Joshua Bell. I had previously heard of this individual through a Washington Post article a few years back, and the magnanimous language used to describe his playing ability and his instrument piqued my curiosity. So a couple weeks later, I jumped into my bravos, endured some confused questions from some sailors either departing for or returning from various debaucheries, and drove to Norfolk. Words cannot express this man’s skill. If you’ve ever seen a man or creature acting according to nothing but instinct and long years of honed skill, doing so perfectly, effortlessly, and even a bit playfully because the technique is so well formed, then you’ll have some idea of what it was like to watch this guy play violin.
I met some awesome non-Coast Guard people here, too.
I’m going to have to subtitle this section “God’s persistent provision,” because it seems that wherever I land, there’s always someone there to talk with, to remind me of what is right and true when such things are actively being assaulted in my day-to-day. So before coming to Virginia, I used the “nine marks” website to find a theologically solid group of wretched sinners (for such am I), and landed at Peninsula Community Chapel in Newport News. They were bigger than I expected, but I picked up a pamphlet for “home groups” and decided to make an effort to attend one. And so I landed at the home of a Navy LT with a group of twenty-ish people, including trumpet players from both the Army and Air Force. All we needed was a Marine. So that’s where I met Keith, Matt, the other Matt, Tanner, Aaron, Carl, Liz, Amy, and about a dozen other people who I wish I had more time to really do some life with (an expression that I will use in defiance of its co-option by CCM radio and horrendously dangled participle. Three people out there will understand that. I’m sorry.).
I was also given the chance to meet and have dinner on a few occasions with a fine gentleman named Brett, who works in Colonial Williamsburg as a shoemaker, and if you call men of his profession “cobblers,” he will sternly educate you in the finer points of colonial language, particularly that cobblers were mere menders of shoes; the fast-food workers to his gourmet-level shoemaking. I saw this re-education given by a young reenactor no less than five times at the front door of his shop. I didn’t actually meet Brett at Williamsburg (which was a bit too pricey for a mere E-3 with an expensive bullet habit), but at a coffee shop near the base (I know, I know). One Saturday, as I was ordering a cup of coffee, I noticed a pamphlet for an Anglican Church meeting the following night, and I commented that Anglicans aren’t seen much these days. The barista was ambivalent to my comment, but the Anglican pastor and his wife standing right behind me in line were more than willing to engage in lively discourse on the merits of Anglicanism and my attendance the following night, secured by the promises of tasty things and free coffee. So I attended, and was marginally disappointed, as it was not an introduction to potential Anglican neophytes, but an exploratory meeting for any (already) Anglicans interested in starting a congregation in the area. And as their projected dates for starting said congregation were a month or more after I was scheduled to leave town, I attempted to make small talk with the people at my table and enjoy the coffee (which, truth be told, was fairly adequate). I was at a table with Brett and his wife, Wendy, and after we parted our ways, I marked an interesting trend in my life. Whenever I talk for too long with a married couple older than, say, 35, I inevitably get an invitation to a home-cooked meal. This might just be a spiritual gift of mine, or maybe I exude a “lost puppy” aura, but whatever it is, people are perpetually trying to feed me. And that’s all right by me, because Brett and Wendy and their five kids live in a Colonial house in Williamsburg and are some of the most delightful, literate, and polite people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, to say nothing of Wendy’s homemade guacamole (a traditional colonial recipe, I’m sure).
I had a good time here. I flew kites, I found good singletrack, I was thrown off my bike on said singletrack. I lost a great knife. I saw a couple of good friends on a long motorcycle trip. I read books and wrote letters. I received letters which buoyed my spirit on the days when I had to stay on base. I made friends and acquaintances, I watched movies and listened to sermons. I was shanghaied into an Easter lunch by a random guy at church. And so I am glad to be leaving, but only because my time here has proven over and over again that wherever I go, there will be God’s people; the ones I already know and love, and the ones that I have yet to meet.
Wherever you go, go in peace.