18
February

On Love

15 Comments

Pat Rothfuss recently wrote a beautiful blog post on love. Go read it, then come back here. I’ll wait.

The thing I like so much about that piece is Pat’s expansive definition of what constitutes love. The problem with culture is that it is in the business of sketching clan boundaries. Tribes, states, clubs and even genres define themselves by negative space. They are who they are largely because of who they are not. I’ve never liked that, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t buy into it. I’m an SF/F dork. I’m a writer. I’m an American. I’m a military officer. All of those things have fairly strict tribal boundaries. There are things that people wearing those labels aren’t supposed to do.

And they all tell us how to love. In fact, dictating what does (and more importantly, what does not) constitute love is a huge priority of every clan identity I’ve ever encountered. It bugs the hell out of me, because I firmly believe that the more love the world has, the better it is. I want that definition as expansive as possible. And Pat believes that. And I love him for it.

This makes me think about the military, of course. Writers, documentary film makers, journalists, hordes of folks speculate at great length on why we do what we do. I hear theory after theory. Some posit that people join the military because they have no other socio-economic option, or because of family legacy, or to exorcise demons arising from chaotic pasts, or to feed the fires of a killer instinct. Some ascribe noble virtues, the protean concept of patriotism, or to position oneself for career ambitions, future politicians or civilian government officials.

Nobody talks about love.

I’m only supposed to speak for myself, of course. But I know plenty of men and women who gladly risk their lives every day out of love. The truth is this: flawed as it is, the United States is a nation free enough and prosperous enough to give birth to a unique cultural ferment. There are folks who consider themselves citizens of the world, who eschew the idea of nationalism. More power to them. I love this country, and when I say “this country,” I mean the people whose glorious striving makes up its ever-shifting identity. I love them with a deep, mad love. They have given me everything. I am a writer because of them, I am an officer because of them, the slightest concept of decency is due to them. There are legions of doctors, teachers, firefighters, police officers, artists, political activists, volunteers and parents who have carried me, inch by inch, across the years. They have made me the person I am. Without them I would be nothing. Without them I am nothing.

Wilfred Owen called it “the old lie,” Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It has never been a lie to me. I love my countrymen in their aggregate millions. I love them enough to fight for them. I love them enough to die for them.

One of the greatest gifts Iraq gave me was crossing that Buddhist line and finally comprehending my own insignificance. There was a moment in my 3rd tour when I finally accepted the possibility of my own death, came to terms with it. In that moment, I gave up fear, angled toward meaning. If I was to die, I would do it in a manner that flared briefly with the pattern of the person I so desperately want to be. I would go down loving.

I mean no martyrdom or melodrama in this. I would die to save any of you. No matter who you are, no matter what you believe. I would do it without hesitation. I am not such a fool to think that whatever I’ve achieved in life makes my long-winded old age more valuable than yours, that somehow I need more years than anyone else. I am not worthless, but neither am I some scintillating human jewel, except to the extent that we all are, in our own way. And this, more than anything: I would die for you because I can, because I have the training and the ability to make that death mean something, because I can do it effectively. I am no weakling suicide, but rather striving to exist in a state of readiness, enjoying a life as I simultaneously accept the flat reality of its end point, my blood singing with the motto of the Air Force Pararescueman, the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer: So Others Might Live.

I am not unique in this. I work with men and women every day who quietly go about their business, ready to give up all that they are in heartbeat because, to quote Pat, “this too is love.”

George Orwell is generally attributed with the quote “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

Look around you, at your police officers, your service men and women. We are the “rough men.”

And we love you.

  • We (read: I) love you to Myke. Truly.

  • casz brewster-rothe

    I’m speechless. Thank you for your service and for showing that mine also was based in love.

  • casz brewster-rothe

    I’m speechless. Thank you for your service and for showing that mine also was based in love.

  • I know you do. (father was a veteran. Older brother was a veteran. But I’ve told you that already). And I appreciate it, I truly do.

  • anon

    This may or may not be the forum for this, and you may reject any questions asked in this manner, and if that is the case, please disregard.

    I wanted to try and catch you during your reddit chat, but I was working shift that day, and we had what seemed like 15 calls during the time frame you were answering questions.

    See, I’m trying to figure you out. i like the books, but I’m having a tough time with some of your back ground. Your posts and essays make it seem like you were at one time an operator or infantry guy, yet I see that you post Coast Guard reservist as your Military background. Your MOS (or whatever they may call it in the Coast Guard) states you are an Intel Operator doing some CNA/CND stuff, and may have moved onto some LE/SAR fields, but hardly tip of the spear actions, right?

    I know that this really has no bearing on you as an author, but it gives me some context in which to take your posts. Are you speaking for experience when talking about general ass kickery, or is it an act to sell books?

    I’m not sure why this bothers me, but for some reason it does. Be happy being in intel guy, or go for selection. You can’t be both.

    Also, why no enlisted protagonists?

    Feel free to disregard this, or call me a dick and be done with it, i’m just curious as to your background, it might help me enjoy your posts or have an understanding where you are coming from. As it stands, I’m taking it as advice from your publicist to sell more books.

    • Myke Cole

      I’ve served in operational roles in Iraq, and I’ve also done intel, CNO as well as SAR/LE work. I have never claimed to be “tip of the spear,” or an infantryman in any post/essay I’ve written. My publicist has zero input into how I present myself on my blog. Hope that answers your question.

  • This, too, belongs in the sense of love. The sense of love is much more useful and functional than a definition, though trickier. Also, well worth experiencing. Thank you for sharing, Myke.

  • This, too, belongs in the sense of love. The sense of love is much more useful and functional than a definition, though trickier. Also, well worth experiencing. Thank you for sharing, Myke.

  • David Walker

    Powerful…thank you.

  • David Walker

    Powerful…thank you.

  • While Anon’s crack about your branch of service and MOS was out of line, it might actually do to include a few more enlisted soldiers. I’m a captain in the Army, currently commanding a Field Artillery battery, so this isn’t officer hatred on my part, it’s just that the NCOs and junior enlisted really are where the metal meats the meat by and large. Oh, I’ve seen my bit of combat, but I’m on year 8 of my career and probably in the last position in which direct combat is likely for me. The soldiers and NCOs stay on the line pretty much until they make Sergeant Major and end up at brigade and higher headquarters.

    Just food for thought. Love your books. Good post. Thanks for your service, too. I’m one Army combat arms officer who remembers that Coasties still have to put their asses on the line even when there isn’t a war on.

  • Annette

    Dear Myke,
    My son is in reserves and you just made me cry.
    My gratitude.

  • Annette

    Dear Myke,
    My son is in reserves and you just made me cry.
    My gratitude.

  • We love you back.

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