T for Tom

If I Could Say Hello…

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on September 19, 2011

If I could say hello I’d reach out my hand and shake yours with exuberance, that same wry smile leaking out of one side of my face and eyes looking straight for the friends that I used to know, happy to see once again the people I shared so many memories with.  You’d notice that I’m still wearing that same college ring as we shake hands, and maybe a few of the other things that are obvious – I don’t have much hair on this head, which surely still brings me down every time I look into a mirror.  My jaw and cheekline are slightly straighter, more slim, and bearing the look of someone who’s getting older.  My clothes are slimmer, too, tighter fitting to a body that’s been working on improving, for the first time in a long time.  I don’t necessarily stand taller in these boots but I walk like it – because outside of the things going on you’d notice with your eye, there are changes inside that must be found with conversation.

Each time I see photos of home, certain cars driving by, hear particular songs, or think of special places, a person and a face cross my mind.  Bittersweet is a word that I so often try not to use for its cliche, but it’s possible that here for the first time it applies best in my life.  When I start to get things I’ve always wanted, traveling, spontaneity, new environments, different people in different parts of the world, I start to realize what the cost is – the people that have shared my life with me.  I’ve never been one to harbor any hard feelings for long, and I remember each and every one of you so well.  From the smallest conversation with a schoolmate to the longest relationship with a lover, each memory is special and important.  Without just one of those events in my life maybe none of this would’ve happened for me this way.  So I want to thank you.

What breaks my heart is that opportunity may never come for me.  All the children I knew from grade school that have already grown up to marry, start families, have children of their own and make a life before me have so much going on that I could learn from, and surely my life could teach them something, maybe.  All the wonderful students that I met at the university, watching young adults make mistakes and turn into teachers, engineers, salesman, musicians, biologists, lawyers, television reporters, and all around accomplish their dreams are surely people that I want to hear from – their ability to focus on a single goal will forever escape me, and I want to know that they are doing well in their life.  The friends that I’ve made through friends’ friends’ friends and only spent five minutes of my life with are equally important, and often had the most lasting impression on me.  It’s funny how in just one hour you’ll never get to know someone deeply and how that fact opens up the chance for a simply great time, and how their smiles will and jokes won’t leave my mind.  To the people that I’ve just said “hello” to on the street, or maybe met at the beach and shared a beer, I want you all to know that I’m doing fine for the first time in a long time and that it matters to me to hear the same for you.  What makes me cry is that I will never have that chance with most if any of you.

What I’d start to say is that in three weeks I’ll be moving to Germany.  It’s something that I still can’t wrap my head around.  I know that many of you have traveled overseas and seen amazing things, but I’ll be able to not only leave the country for the first time in my life, but as a working adult, living and laboring in a completely different culture on the other side of the world.  It’s honestly something I’ve always wanted, and though I got there by no means I could’ve ever seen coming, the end result is still the same.  I’ll be able to learn and educate myself so much on the way that other human beings interact, behave, invoke religion, and love one another, in ways that I’ve never experienced – what wonderful things I’ll see!  So much of my life has been spent watching the show unfold before me, more as a viewer than a player, that maybe now that the journey starts I might someday find the place where I feel I belong.  I can’t be certain if that day will come but the adventure along the way is more important.  So much of knows that 24 years is young and I can’t for one give into any account of the way this world should be lived – I’m doing mine, for me.

As I mentioned earlier, my body has been a focus of mine since joining the Army and I’m in the best shape of my life.  Perfect? Hardly, but well and improving, that’s what matters.  More amazing than my physical self has been my ability to focus on my mind.  It is unfortunate that this ability has been bore out of my frustration with those around me, but thankfully reading and writing have become a spiritual outlet for me, if you will.  It occurred to me not long after arriving in Virginia that here and now in my life I am the only responsible for gaining a further education.  I don’t mean in the literal sense, but more in the proverbial sense.  Though I cannot attend university courses in person and gain the benefits of rigidity and grade structure (that would necessitate my need to study), I can still read the classics and watch myself grow with knowledge.  I want to say that not much has changed, because I certainly don’t feel any different than the good old Tom, but there times when I know I behave differently – when pressured or frustrated I am much less likely to react poorly, when depressed or lonely I am much less likely to seek a comfort mechanism but instead write or work out, when confronted I never yell, when scolded I never make excuses.  This life has taught me that it too goes on, and each of these days will pass good and bad.

I can’t mean for this way of life to last forever.  Simply put, I’ve come too far and done too many things to settle into the Army forever.  I might like the corporate benefits and the stability, but I can’t stop this train.  I won’t accept quitting.  When I get out I hope to have many options unfold for me, hopefully all over the world.  Here I’m learning how to use my hands for the first time, rather than use my words; in fact it’s my words that get me in the most trouble here.  But each day I get to wake up, run a few miles, and then get to the hangar to step onto one of man’s most impossible inventions, a machine of flight, and see it carry out one of man’s oldest and most evil of inventions – war.  I may not agree with what goes on, but seeing the worst of man unfold before my eyes is a chance to grow that I need at this time.

And that’s the most endearing point I want to make: changing the course of your life is not a thing to be feared.  It’s only cost are the friendships I had.

So if I don’t get the chance to see you or call you often or send you emails or drink with you or even shake your hand, I want you to know that I really do feel awful that it won’t come to pass.  I wish I had enough time to sit down with each and every one of the thousands of people that I know and knew, and hear from you.  Surely some of you are married, some of you have kids, some of you are divorced, some of you are successful, some of you are broke and homeless, some of you are happy and some of you are sad, some of you are in school and some of you are teaching class, some of you are living back home and some of you are in Korea, some of you are dead and some of you are living.  Knowing that those encounters will never occur is growing up.  But each of you have something to share.  If you can’t share it with me I ask that you share it with the world.

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2 Responses

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  1. Miguel Corona said, on September 20, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Great writing, Tom! I can certainly relate to many of these sentiments from my experience living in Taiwan. Best of luck in Germany, and glad to hear you’re doing so well!

  2. Steve Maedl said, on September 29, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Hi Tom –

    I was so honored that you stopped by your old university classroom and news studio to visit with Kate and me today.
    It always makes me proud to hear about former students and where their lives have taken them after they’ve been through the program at UT.

    I am even more proud of you, in that you are following your own dreams and taking on new challenges that I know will lead you to experiences beyond what you can only imagine.

    While reading over several of your posts here, I can tell how much you’ve grown since I last saw you just a few short years ago. It only confirms in my mind that I myself, am right where I need to be – helping others to learn & grow – if even in just a small way. (Thank you for that.)

    Your last post even brought a tear to my eye, not a tear of sadness, but one of excitement. You are much more confident than I remember. I think that bootcamp had a lot to do with this. This is a good thing and will take you far.

    There is one thing that keeps me going as I get older, and that is learning that we never really reach the point where we can say that we are all “grown up”. The world is contiinually changing and growing and so are we.

    I will be thinking of you on your adventure in Germany and wish you all the best. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning of many “adventures” to come for you.

    Thank you again for stopping by. You “made my day” !

    – Steve

    BTW – You do walk taller now, and it isn’t just the boots. 🙂


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