Saturday, September 11, 2010

Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply

Friends and family wonder what base life is like, how is it different from living in a small town or neighborhood. In many ways I suppose it is not so different – you cannot as the expression goes “swing a cat without bumping into someone you know.” Commissary (i.e. grocery store), Exchange (i.e. company store), gym, post office, bowling alley, Main Street (i.e. fast-food-Nation), movie theatre – all of these you are pretty much guaranteed to run into someone you know. It is a bit like living in a fish bowl. It’s something I’m still trying to get used to – I sort of liked my anonymity of living in the civilian world. Here that’s a bit more difficult to pull off, especially as a wife of a pediatrician. If you have kidos here on base you probably know him, and there’s the trickle down effect. “Ooooooooooohhhhhh your Dr. Cleary’s wife!” mmmm, well yes. I not complaining really, I’m glad he is so well liked. But it is an adjustment transitioning from the civilian world to the military lifestyle.

There are something’s though that are very unique to living on base – and I’m reminded of this each time I go to the movie theatre (we stand for the National Anthem before the movie begins) or in the early morning when Jeff and I are out on our own PT and the different commands are out drilling. There is nothing quite like listening to a group of military members jog by chanting their cadence at 5:30 in the morning to get you to pick up your pace. This is one in particular that makes me crack up, especially when it’s delivered with the deep resonant voice that sounds like James Earl Jones is out there calling it out:

My Grandma

Left Left Lefty right-o left
Left Left keep it in step

When my grand mama was 91
She did PT just for fun

When my grand mama was 92
She did PT better than you

When my grand mama was 93
She did PT better than me

Hoo-rah grand mama
Whatcha doin grand mama

She loves to double time
She does it all the time

Left Left Lefty right-o left right
Left Left keep it in step now

We also have morning colors here on base each morning at 8 a.m. – there is nothing quite like a daily reminder that you are an American as watching everything around you come to a complete halt as pedestrians and joggers stop, active duty members salute, cars all stop and pause to pay respect to the raising of our flag while the National Anthem is being played throughout the base. Since we are also here in Japan, the Japanese flag is raised following the U.S. while their National Anthem is played. There is the bugle call of “Carry On” and then it’s business as usual … everyone picks up where they left off and move on. In the evening, if I’m lucky enough to have the doors or windows open I can hear the sound of “Retreat” being played at sunset as they retire the colors for the night. I don’t know that I ever really considered myself an extreme patriot – don’t get me wrong, I love my country even for all it’s difficulties, and I’d defend it to the end – but I don’t think I realized just how deeply American I am until I moved here to Japan and lived on base. I love hearing morning and evening colors – it stirs my soul. It’s a way to remind me daily that we are a military family and we have made many sacrifices (12 moves, 5 school systems, loss of friends, missing family events are just a few things that come to mind) and yes, it’s worth it.

So yesterday morning as Jeff and I were out for our morning dog walk, we were out much later than usual and morning colors sounded. We stopped, as did the jogger going past, paused and faced towards the flag (THE base flag that we are supposed to turn to face is on Command Hill – we can’t actually see it but you know which way to face). It was 9/11. I couldn’t help reflect just how much my country has changed in the last 9 years. For my generation 9/11 is the Pearl Harbor equivalent. And then as my thoughts tend to do, they kept streaming … and I thought if I’m standing here in Japan facing towards the U.S. and the Japanese flag, paying them both respect, then I have hope. I remembered that we have a sign dated 1918 from Boston that says “Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply” (just to remind my husband that he needs to keep it real) – things change, people change, prejudices can be overcome. My family and I watch with astonishment and horror at the divisiveness that has seeped into our country, how those with fear and prejudice have spread an infection in the name of God and country. I’m looking for an antibiotic. Yesterday and everyday I get to have a booster shot – I get to listen to our National Anthem and take pride and have hope. That thing’s will change, that people can change, that personal prejudices will fine a cure. I have to go now, colors are about to sound and I need my daily dose of inspiration.