I saw Michael Durant on the street this morning.
He was minding his own business, probably headed to lunch. I didn’t bother him. He’s a hero of mine, though. He was a marvelous soccer coach for my younger son. I remember remarking to Lea at the time that he looked a bit like Sam Waterston. He wore a Rolex Submariner with the black dial. (Recall I’m a watch guy.) He coached an AYSO team called the Killer Bees. Aaron was young enough that he wondered if he needed to flap his wings when he ran around the field. He was a tiny child. That’s how long ago it was.
Mike Durant also received a broken leg and a badly injured back in a Black Hawk crash that killed his fellow crew members. He was dragged from the wreckage and held by a Somali warlord for 11 days.
There was a movie. Perhaps you’ve seen it.
I’m patiently waiting for Aaron to be old enough to show him that movie, and point out the Mike Durant character. I’ll say “that’s your first soccer coach. Remember the coach who always exclaimed ‘Beautiful!’ whenever you did something good?” I want to show him that a man he knows—a man who has had something to do with who he is—has been through a hell that almost none of us will ever understand.
I had no idea who he was when he was Aaron’s coach and we were interacting with him day to day. That’s probably a good thing. He is, by all accounts, a gracious man, but I’m certain that he’s objectively tired of talking about his time in Somalia. And I’m not sure I’d have been able to conversationally avoid it had I known.
You know what? It gets better. When I saw Mike on the street, I was sitting at a pizza parlor with a bunch of Army pilots. I’ve been in software training with them all week. I’ve known most of them superficially for several years, but this week was the first sustained time I’ve spent with them.
I’m envious of, and humbled by, their camaraderie.
Mind, these guys are not the least bit haughty or exclusionary. I’m welcomed into their laughs and conversation without reservation. Yet I’m highly aware throughout our interaction that they’ve all experienced a gravity that I haven’t. They’ve been to war. They’ve understood the fragility of basic human needs in a way I never have. They’ve been much closer, for much longer, to death than I ever will be.
They’ve had something exceptionally grave to deal with that has defined, to some significant degree, how they work with the world.
Nearly no one in my generation has had that kind of character-building personal experience.
I suspect we’re much poorer for that.