They’d just finished each an MRE. Then they sat on each a rock. They were high on the mountain and the sun was nearly set. The valley below, straight down, was red. Everything was red, or chocolate brown. It must look like Mars. There are parts of the green and blue planet that resemble Mars if you’re willing to go to those parts, as a few people are.
This ritual, after dinner and before dark, sitting on the rock is helpful for thinking differently about familiar topics. The sun gets low and big and shines bright on the whole valley that in the day is harsh and filled with responsibility. Then it cools and falls down to bed relaxing for a minute between the harsh reality of the day and the cold disappearance into night.
“Sergeant, what do you think is the root cause of all this?”
“Sir, it’s just life. I never want to overemphasize life.”
The sir was always struck by how easily the sergeant partook in these discussions. Like he’d already been sitting there contemplating a topic at least touching on the random thing asked.
“It would be like discounting your truth. All this creation we can see from this rock is a product of faith in the value, inherent, in life. Life, you and I included, and the dead life we just ate, is just another element. Like tungsten. Tungsten must have traveled from somewhere to get here. It traveled through space and time from ancient facts. Life is a combination of forces that themselves carry histories a bazillion times a bazillion units of time in the making. I think we’re here to do our part in the perfection of life the way a little fact did its part in the creation of tungsten somewhere sometime.”
Inverse to the sun’s demise a wind picked up reminding the sir of the harsh facts of life as he pulled his beanie down tighter and farther.
He believed the sergeant was right. He also believed that nature, in creating life, responded to stimulus, favoring negative stimulus. Positive stimulus was only reinforcement and thus holds no genius, which is just another word for discovery.
“What will you do after this?”
“Sir, I try not to think about that. I got word a good friend of mine lost his leg yesterday morning. I just try to focus on what I can do to help him by doing my job and being as good at it as I can. It’s great if I’m enjoying what I do.”
The other members of the small unit were getting some sleep before the night operations. The sir was the odd man out. His job was like a rule that is useful only in that it sets boundaries. He was a walking chalk line, requiring only the awareness that he could do infinitely more harm than good.
“Not that I think my job satisfaction will make one iota of a difference in the completion of this training op. I would trade a lot for happiness but not that. I like my job, I like it a lot, but not that much. The mission comes first. I sit here trying to think about my buddy and his wife and family and how he lost a leg two days ago and I’m here sitting on this rock and I try not to feel like a piece of shit.”
“You’re doing your job. And I would be lost with these guys without your expertise.”
“I appreciate that. I know my buddy did his job. I know it couldn’t be any other way. But it’s funny to think that the way things are couldn’t have been otherwise but at the same time realizing that the way things will be is somewhat in our control. That, sir, is life in a nutshell.”
A massive explosion breaks the oppressive silence of a purple sky and the sergeant picks up the radio and rogers up the eyes-on. The moon breaks out and all is quiet again from the dark valley below.