I have some advice for you young folk. As you travel down the road of life, and you come upon an obstacle...when you're confronted with a burden you believe you just can't bear...know that you can...and will.
I have never set the record for the high jump, or ran a four minute mile. I never won "parent of the year". I never sought nor won political office. I never wrote a best selling book...or a poem that brought thousands to tears. I never won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I have only done what thousands of others have done; muddled my way through life the best I could..and tried to leave as little collateral damage as I possibly could.
And, yet, if you asked me now, years later, if I could do again what I've already done, I would probably say "no." And, in looking back on my life, I still ask myself "how did I do that?"
How did I do backbreaking field work under 100 degree summers, sweating out ten percent of my body weight as the sun set on the horizon?
How did I serve 22 years in the military? I still remember standing in formation in six week basic training, outside a chow hall at 3AM on a dark, lonely morning years ago, waiting to peel potatoes and scrub pans on KP, missing home so much it ached...and saying to myself; "how am I going to last another day?"
How did I survive three tours in Vietnam and two tours in Korea, away from my family, away from my love, away from a country I loved so dearly?
How did I have the patience to attend eight years of night school to get a college degree...and how did I have the perseverance to become a commissioned officer after having been knocked down and forced to get up and stumble forward, time and again?
How was I able to work in a Muslim country, and endure the isolation of my own culture and beliefs, and wander the rooms of a palatial but lonely house, and still keep my sanity?
And, when our son died, how did I survive the death of a child when all the world is telling you that you never outlive your children? How did I survive that first night of bone chilling sorrow?
And, nearly eight years ago, on the 4th of July, when I coughed up a piece of bloody lung into the kitchen sink, and when the ER doctor showed me the tumor on my lung, and when my primary care doctor only looked sadly at the floor when I asked about my chances, and when I went home and planned my funeral, how did I find the will to fight? To survive waking up in post op on a stainless steel gurney screaming my guts out by the pain? How did I endure that six months of chemotherapy that left me sleepless and hairless and hopeless?
Well, young folks, the answer is a simply; "ya do what ya gotta do." You learn to bear the burdens. You learn to absorb the blows, to face your sorrows, and you soldier on. Because the alternative is a pine box six feet under...or a straight jacket in an asylum.
So, go forth with your life... with a little less fear, because no matter how daunting the challenge, you can overcome it. And, in those moments of respite, when your burdens are a bit lighter, there are days when a swallow sings you a morning wakeup, when the sun shines warmly on your face, and cotton ball clouds dance above you, when the embrace of a loved one makes your endurance of all of life's storms supremely worth it!
And, one last reminder; you never do it alone. Those who raised you instilled in you a strength you never knew you had. And your creator, like forged steel, has honed and shaped you to withstand more than you ever thought you could.