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.