I watched from a distance. I watched as the tears ran down their faces. I watched as they wept over my lifeless body packed away in a pine sarcophagus. I watched as they grieved my resolution to their actions. Having taken my life to relieve the pain. To inflict upon them but an inkling of the pain they inflicted upon me. To force them to confront the image in the mirror. To stare upon a lifeless child who chose death out of necessity and, if I’m being honest, spite. Sometimes, I watched as they stood stone-faced, emotionless to my lifeless state of being. Sometimes they never even cared enough to show up.
I played this image through my mind over and over. After every beating, every day I was left and forgotten, every day I was ignored. I played it over and over with a smirk. A smirk that always quickly vanished. It vanished as I looked upon the weeping faces of those who did care. The tables quickly turned as my eyes welled with tears. I bore witness to the grieving siblings I so desperately wanted to protect, to save from the pain I endured. A task, despite my greatest efforts, I miserably failed at. It was in these moments my life was saved. It was this reality that gave me the purpose needed to endure such pain.
The apathy towards life also fostered a new vision. One for which my life might actually have some purpose, some actual meaning. A vision of a man lost in battle. To be nothing more than one more name of a fallen soldier. To be an all-but-forgotten name on some memorial. To have given my worthless life meaning and sacrifice it in the stead of another.
The truth is, I joined the military to die. I joined to give my life a purpose in sacrifice. I joined to give my worthless life so the worthy could live. War does not work in the realm of such visions. It is not the world of fairy tales. One cannot simply ask the gods to take one life over another. War is a complex game where no matter the level of skill, sometimes chance still wins. War can take the worthy and leave the worthless helpless to that reality.
War turned my worthless life into a worthy one. It gave me a debt owed: a debt owed to the worthy lives lost. A debt owed to all those I failed to protect. In war, I found my purpose and the meaning of my life. I joined to die and I left to live.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.