Guest writer Sean shares:
I never learned to soldier. I learned it was valued to those I let nod in favor of my choice. A soldier goes forward, against the barrage and in defiance of the scrupulous crime that brought him to his field. He forgets the careful reason, a now pointless why, and knows only forward fight for the sake of the person at his side. Forward, in a flawless line of will drawn with a steady hand of abnegation that erases itself as it inks, forward. Death is not the failure. Failure is to curve from the path passionately courageous and necessarily blind.
Some weeks ago the New York Times published an article about the place of coffee in the Civil War. “Coffee,” the author writes “was often the last comfort troops enjoyed before entering battle, the first fight of safety for those who survived.” I was drawn to the quote attributed to an anonymous diarist: “Nobody can soldier without coffee.”
I have experience to understand that–to a point. I remember the taste of MRE instant coffee packets throw to heat in the plastic cauldron of a JetBoil askanced on a drawn and frosted tailgate. Firefighting was something like soldiering. Yet fire was never the enemy, but the inspiration. Boredom was the enemy, indifference its collaborator.
We never cut straight through the forest. Even in directness we meandered, following the contours and caprice of the beast we never felled. It slept when it was ready, and we only suggested where to lay its head and sink into the loam of ashen dream. I never so much needed coffee my cup as I did the sight of the fire’s terrible joy in my eye.
I never learned how to soldier. I learned to sit and sup and let coffee’s voluble smirk become mine. I taught myself much but I learned the best from someone better. In the competition we created, the winner was who finished their coffee last.
I would say that coffee still helps us to soldier even without a war; that boost, that lift, that heat traversing us before a day debased or already denied in the gray regretted. That would follow if I still saw life as a struggle against which we could only fortify and in last inevitable dredges of blood’s grain long for the righteous satisfaction of believing everything black and bitter. If.
I could never soldier because I can never travel straight to and through. Even when I thought I knew that the straight was true, always the required tensions of that true bowed that try. Drawing back, I can see the subtle bow becoming a larger curve. Farther out still, from a vantage pulled to the point of fray, the bow circles and come back around to where I began. A circle, the vessel that cups a life, never a line that only cuts it.
What I forget remembers me. What I know forgets me, and frees me to start anew. I don’t finish, I fill and empty and fill and die and heal, always drawing and drawn again into the shape that keeps the warmth of living for the sip I’ve been needing.
I cannot soldier with coffee. I can only drink of the conversation it slies and accept the contrary to being circumscribed; the shape is a space to share, not a boundary to exclude. Not drawn to separate but drawn to hold. Never to return for I have never left. I will never soldier, but with you, I’ll sit. Victory is not even finishing last. Victory is choosing to play. Victory is lovingly cupping an unexpected hello and warming it between our hands. Victory is living the warmth when it’s gone, the cups empty in the bin.