I didn’t know him very well. I know who he was and I had spoken to him a few time. The first alphabet of our last name is right next to each other, so we would sometimes end up in the same proximity. He had a warm presence despite our harsh surroundings in a foreign country. Always kind, but he seemed sad at times. I wish I had known him better, but we were in different platoons and I hardly saw him.
We were deployed in the same unit to Iraq. The city of Mosul, in fact. He was a Sergeant First Class in the Army in his early 40s. When I think about him, the word calm comes up to me. Nothing seemed to fazed him and he was always calm. I guess he was a cool and collected kind of guy. He was not ego-driven which made people liked him. A good leader. I believed that there was never a bad word about him. He was also soft-spoken that I cannot recalled if I ever heard him raise his voice. Despite his warm and calm disposition, I had always wondered why he seemed a bit sad. That sadness seemed to followed him. One day, someone told me that he was a widower. It finally made sense to me why he seemed sad at times. He lost his wife too soon and I believed that he was lonely since he didn’t have any children. I felt that he was always missing her since he never remarry.
It was about three months after we came back from deployment when I heard the tragic news. The news was told to me almost nonchalantly that he died in a motorcycle accident. As an inexperienced motorcycle rider, he lost control of his motorcycle and paid for it with his life. Shock and sadness filled me when I heard that he died from his injuries. It was made even sadder because we had just came back from Iraq safely with no casualty. It had been said that the months after coming back from deployment are the riskiest. Soldiers come back home from a year-long deployment and they tend to do extreme and risky things. We sat through briefings about it and they told us to be careful in our civilian life, but people still do it no matter what.
I never knew how fragile life is until that day when I heard the news that he died in an accident. It’s strange to think that his untimely death was that one that made realized that life is incredibly fragile. Death surrounded me when I was in Iraq. Whenever there was a communication blackout on base, it meant that a soldier was killed and the family have not been officially notify yet. That happened a lot. One of the sadder incidents were the three soldiers who were killed from an IED explosion when their armored vehicle ran over one and it happened only a few miles away from the base. It was so loud that I heard the blast. I even saw the pictures taken by the soldiers from my unit who had to drive by that area where it happened and it was terrible. But their deaths didn’t affected me like this sergeant’s death did. It could be that I knew him and his death was very unexpected. Going into a war zone, it was a given fact that people will die. It was expected, so we had to make sure that we do all we can to stay alive out there.
An unexpected death after coming back from deployment is heartbreaking. His tragic death made me think a lot and it changed my perspective about life and death. I was 23 years old when I accepted that life is extremely fragile and death can come at anytime. Looking back at it now, his death was the one that swept away my naiveté for good. During the deployment, I was sad when I learned about people who were killed and I felt for the families who lost their sons or daughters, but I never saw that their lives were also fragile. It was maybe a self-coping mechanism to think that being killed in a war zone area was expected and we just have to carry on to the next mission. Now, I can clearly see that everyone have fragile lives. Death can come at anytime, expected or not. It is cruel.
So, I laughed at the articles about what new things that can cause cancer or what things can shorten your life. In the end, we will all die eventually. Why worry so much? Since life is so fragile, it is best to live life to the fullest. Appreciate each life moments and don’t think it will never happen because it will come around. Death happens to all of us and that is why life is extremely fragile yet precious. A lesson taught to me by the death of one of the most gentleman I had met in the Army. Rest in peace, SFC J, and I hope you are no longer sad.
Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness