I have friends who have been six feet away from an i.e.d. when it exploded and come out with ruptured eardrums and a few scratches, while people one or two hundred feet away were killed. People have fallen four or five vertical miles from burning or disintegrating airplanes, without parachutes, and survived virtually unhurt. In one case I am familiar with, a flight attendant aboard an Eastern European jet was inside the plane’s restroom when it fell apart; the compartment remained intact, landing in a thick forest whose branches slowed its final descent to the ground.
“The only thing impossible is impossibility,” as the Sufi malang from Herat once said. It’s as if the Coyote ran headlong over the edge of a precipice and suddenly realized where he was, but instead of plummeting to his doom he shrugged and kept on running on thin air.
I’ve run up an awful lot of narrow escapes and scrapes, squeaked by too many times in the past to feel exactly comfortable – play chicken with Fate and eventually your mana runs out, and SQUISH.
Sometimes you have a protective force of some kind surrounding you for a time, but which eventually runs out.
When I went to Iraq in 2004, I was wearing a protective amulet on a cord around my neck, and the whole time I was there, I never felt the slightest bit of fear; I felt deep inside that I was somehow shielded from the dangers there. Spec.
Shane Cruddas and I used to play pingpong out in the courtyard of our team house during the evening mortar barrage from across the Tigris, oblivious to the explosions that shook the walls of the house and sometimes blew the door open; rock-throwing crowds were a dawdle, i.e.d.s just another roadside attraction (except for the one that blew Kramer out the back of the Humvee), and the rockets that fell on Baghdad International Airport a hoot, if you didn’t include the one that destroyed the Mountain Dew warehouse (fact) and caused massive dismay among the redneck contingent at the airport and Camp Victory nearby (Tommy B., my Ranger friend, feigned outrage: “Now those m-----f-----s are going too far! This is WAR!”). I was totally calm and emotionally at peace there; wartime Iraq felt
like my natural habitat, just where I was supposed to be.
Well, the day I waved goodbye to Sgt. Venters and boarded the C-117 to fly home, I looked down just as my feet stepped off of Iraqi turf for the last time, and saw that the amulet and the cord that held it had disappeared; it had been there a minute before, but now it was gone. I glanced back at the tarmac, but there was no sign of it. I realized suddenly that it had used up its powers keeping me safe, exhausted its magic, and now that I was finally leaving it had simply vanished – poof! – into oblivion.
Maybe I’ve been redeemed by that kind of mojo in the past, or just beaten the odds, by pure luck, I don’t know, but a few months ago I began to think that maybe enough is enough. I would start working in Afghanistan again, but now I would play it safe: live at my Afghan in-laws' compound overlooking the city, carry a 9 mil. when I’m out and about, hang out with my Kabuli friends, dress like an Afghan, re-up my Dari, and travel in eccentric patterns. A moving target is hard to hit, especially if you don’t know where it’s going next.
Little did I know that fate had a sick (literally) trick up its sleeve.
(…to be continued)