Each drop seemed to bring a sense of chaotic peace. It seems to always take me back to another time in another life. I sat and sifted through my thoughts. In the past few years so many fresh faces have asked about my journey, advice, and how to live the life I once lived. I have spoken to many who want that life I once lived. Those thoughts, those drops, in that chaotic peace, I looked out onto the gym floor and I realized at that moment how unique my journey has been. I thought about my own fresh face, going through each school not really understanding where I was going, or even what I was really doing. All the stories, research, PowerPoint, and advice could have never prepared me for the journey ahead. The only way to truly understand it is to live it.
I thought back, what do those words really mean? What did they mean when I embarked? When I lived it, and when I left it. What do they mean to others? Is it hope, is it a dream, a nightmare? What do others see when they read those words? When they hear the words, “Ranger,” “Special Operations,” “SEAL,” “Special Forces,” and a whole lot of words representing a group made of so few?
My dream started so early, my mind never looked back. I never quit, I never thought twice. I only drove on. To me, I was never enough. I never got a “mustard stain,” I never got to experience OIF, and I was never a JTAC. In my eyes there was always someone bigger and better, someone I would never be. Yet out here it is I who seems to be held on some pedestal, despite my best attempts to hide in the shadows.
I am proud of that life. I am glad I lived it, and some days I cannot help but look out and see the obvious truth: We are so different. I wonder some days if most of us were made, if we already existed, or if we just needed someone to show us the way. Why do people look at me differently once they know? I think about so many others who feel so different, and why so many struggle to find their place in this “real world.” Today I realized our lenses are a different prescription. Our threshold for life is skewed, our idea of “hard” is beyond normal comprehension. The idea of loss, of sacrifice, the notion of what is “right” and “wrong” is so rigid yet so fluid.
I look in the mirror and wonder what others see. Why when they find out the life I have lived their eyes change, and what they see in those words. I look at that reflection and wonder what makes us so different than those in the “real world.” What makes us so different in our own branches? I see such a simple reflection, a man’s face, one like so many others.
I guess I know how many others there are. I know how many men have paved the way and who have done more than I could ever hope to do. To me, I am nothing but the bottom rung of a ladder so few ever see, and maybe therein lies the gap. While I have been nothing more than a bottom rung, I have been a rung on a ladder so few will ever know–and because of this, we will always be different.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.