“Dream as if you’ll live forever……live as if you’ll die today.” ~James Dean

Saying “Goodbye” is important.  Much more than most of us will allow.

In the skydiving world, we say goodbye to each other every single time we jump.  Because it could very well be the last jump we ever make.  It’s not a somber occasion, or even stressful.  No, the goodbyes are said energetically, with beaming smiles and eye contact that says “I love you, brother/sister, and if I don’t see you again, remember me in this moment.”  It’s about embracing life and living it fully and in the moment.  But unfortunately, this jumper’s farewell with a very good friend of mine a week before moving to Okinawa in 2013 was our last.  I am so very thankful that we got to say goodbye to each other.  And, in this case, in our own very unique way.  Read about it in Blue Skies, Black Death.

That story, which recalls my permanent goodbye with Jimmy, instantly makes me happy and warm whenever I think about him, and I do often.  That’s one reason why I take saying goodbye so seriously.  The word “goodbye” used to convey a much more serious sense of finality than it does today in the electronic age of connectedness.  Originally, it was said as a contraction of “God be with ye,” which conveys a blessing of safe travels and life.  “Farewell” comes from the antiquated “fare thee well,” yet another blessing we find today in “be well”.  But these send-offs also can also almost be a plea.  And to those of you that bid me and Jody adieu at our costumed “Sayonara” party, I salute you for coming out to say a fun-filled cheerio.  If you don’t see me again, I plead with you to remember me in that moment!

But now it is time for me to say goodbye to Okinawa.  I may not be back, after living here three different times and for over seven years total.  I’m filled with anticipation and I’m excited:  after living on Okinawa the last 3.5 years, Jody and I are moving, and moving to an area new to both of us (Camp Lejeune).  Don’t me wrong:  we don’t want to go, and we don’t want to go there.  But we have to.  Yes, it’s not what we wanted or expected, but it will allow me a wonderful new opportunity to continue pursuing my passion as a professional scuba diver, this time among the wrecks scattered off the coast of North Carolina.  But the fact remains I have to say goodbye to some people who and places which have come to mean a great deal to me.  Which always makes my heart hurt….

The military-industrial complex is not known for their stable, static jobs.  Active duty people continually transfer in and out through the proverbial revolving door.  Contractors come and go with contracts and sequestration, and even Government Service (GS) employees often relocate with either of these categories of people.  But even so, when the stable instability that is life associated with the military becomes even more unbalanced, what does it all mean?  The roles that people play are in reality easily replaced, but seldom is the person.  Once you know someone, it’s hard to unknow them—you might grow apart, your relationship might change, but if you know someone, have chosen to know someone, you will always know that person’s character.  It’s critical to us all, whatever our social constructs, that goodbyes resulting in significant change be acknowledged.  So we say goodbye, sometimes formally, often times as an expression of intimacy.  Goodbyes, especially among an affectionate cohort, can weigh heavily.  While you may officially say goodbye to such a someone once (or twice), you’ll continue to say goodbye, emotionally and mentally.  It’s a continual process.

So, at great risk of leaving important people off this list (and please take no offense), I say these goodbyes, in no particular order.  Ken Redifer, you’ve been a fantastic PADI Course Director and mentor to me along the way.  You have challenged me to be better at every turn, and trusted me with your students at every level.  I can’t think you enough for shepherding me along the way.  To Jessica Mills, my “Scuba Wife,” I value every moment together, even though as your surrogate Big Brother I probably annoyed you to no end.  You will do fine at the IE and will quickly mature into a kick-ass instructor!  Matt Lewis, you have been one of my closest allies here on Okinawa, and I’m ecstatic to leave both my Adopted Dive Site and the USS Emmons Diver Specialty in your capable hands.  I will not forget those final dives on that serene shipwreck with you.  Darlene Fong, my “Scuba Momma,” thank you for the tec training and 130fsw+ companionship along the way.  I will miss our trips out to the USS Emmons together!   Ben Favorite, a fellow retired flier and brother-in-arms, you have been a wonderful friend and solid dive buddy.  Here’s looking to Truk again in 2019.  Do me a favor and please do work too hard!  Rob and Wendy, thanks for introducing us to Ishigaki and the manta-scramble.  And Rob, my IDC cohort from back-in-the-day, you still owe me lunch!  For our dive industry professionals, including Mark of the Crystal Blue and Tony of Torii Scuba Locker, thanks for your assistance and pirate adventures on the high seas.  To my fellow instructors (including candidates sitting for their IE this coming weekend) and Certified Assistants with whom I have worked or taught – including Jeff R., Dale F., Kim N., Scott H., Gary J., Chris W., Mike H., Matt M., Jose R., Jayce G., Jimmy P., Brian P., Kurt R., Chuck D., Roger, Noorin, Louis, Troy, Sarah, Patricia S., Kim H., Rebecca R., Ben S., Barbara S., Cory J., Ty, Asako and Bruce, thank you for all the laughs and good times in and around the pools, seas and oceans of Okinawa.  And to the Divemasters who elected to train under me still located here (Ben, Jessica, Jacoby, Lewis, Gerardo, Peter and Cory), thank you for your trust in confidence in making your move to the pro side.  Mindy, I couldn’t let your broken foot go without a mention; thanks for all your help with my branding and website.  Ms. Ana, of course, one of my all-time favorite divers and former students, thank you for trusting me to safely introduce you to the amazing underwater world.  Your smile and passion about diving whenever I see you brightens my heart and lightens my day!  And, a special call-out to two individuals who need to become PADI Instructors:  Rich Kearney and Gerardo DeLucia.  You both have exactly what it takes, and I see you as perfect fits in our tribe.  Don’t put it off; I waited about 30 years too long….

Goodbye, to each and every one of you.

I no longer struggle with goodbyes.  Saying a heartfelt goodbye forces us to recognize a change in our path, an acknowledgment that we’re choosing (or sometimes being forced) to change the vector of our lives.  The very reason goodbyes are hard for so many people is the very reason we actually need to do them, and do them well:  because they matter.

Imbibing goodbyes is as much a part of the human experience as breathing.  Let them serve as goodness in your life, helping you to leave better, whole, and more loving.  All goodbyes contain a blessing.  Use them to make each goodbye count – even if you are just ducking out to the corner store.  Each fleeting goodbye can turn out to be a goodbye forever.

Blue Skies & Happy Bubbles, Kevin, Okinawa 2017


Last “Ticket to Ride!!!!”

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”  ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher

I got the news a few days ago of the passing of a friend and fellow skydiving brother, Daniel Eric Morgan.  When I first heard, it was via a biker friend of mine through a FaceBook message, and I’ll be honest:  I didn’t even recognize his name, or the connection due to the convoluted path of the message.

But that wholly understates the importance Eric had on my life – and so many others’.  You see, I became known in skydiving circles for shouting “TICKET TO RIDE!!!” in the jump plane as it took off on its climb to altitude so we its passengers could fling ourselves from two miles up in the sky.  People in proximity would often brace for this moment; I often would grab and vehemently shake the person closest to me, or perhaps someone I wished to target on that particular jump.  BUT, truth be told and in full disclosure, Eric was the originator of this phrase – and it will always belong to him.

That notion – of illuminating the charged emotions of a skydive in voice, gesture and motion, captures the very notion of life and living.  Skydivers now this feeling all too well.  That we experience life to the fullest by accepting that death may be just around the corner, or in our case, a mere 50 seconds away….  And it reflects the gregarious nature that Eric would extrude from his very pores at those times when he could be found at the dropzone.

I didn’t know Eric well.  Actually, I didn’t know him really at all.  I probably knew his last name at one time, but over the years, it slipped away.  He was a Navy “bubblehead” veteran of the submarine force, and worked in some IT or technical capacity based on his navy experience and training.  He was a family man, although I can’t even say how many kids he has or whether he was/is currently married or not.  He wasn’t what I would consider a “regular” at Emerald Coast Skydiving Center (ECSC, our home dropzone, now sadly defunct), but when he was around, his charismatic presence was unmistakable.  In a sense, he was a caricature of himself, a zany personality full of smiles and laughter.  Because of this, I came to refer to him as “Crazy Eric.”

I have almost 10,000 photos on my Flickr photostream tagged “skydiving.”  But I can only find a single photo of Crazy Eric.  That makes me sad, but his loss causes an emptiness that I can only really fill by capturing and sharing our intersection, our story.  In this one photo, however, one can gleam all that needs to be known about Eric:  his welcoming smile, kind eyes, and a rig on his back ready to jump.  And clearly, just beneath his calm exterior, that clever grin, ready to exclaim in only the way in which he could, “TICKET TO RIDE!”

Crazy Eric has a TICKET TO RIDE!

Eric’s life indeed can be warmly found in the happy memories of the skydiving family he left behind.

Blue Skies, Black Death My Friend.

Ride on.

Honor & Bushidō (武士道)

Bushido Encompasses Great Things.  And Ritual Suicide.

Bushido Encompasses Great Things. And Ritual Suicide.

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” ~Winston Churchill

“I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.” ~Sophocles

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” ~Japanese Proverb

Happy Bunny Faces a Crisis of Faith in Fellow Bunny

Happy Bunny Faces a Crisis of Faith in Fellow Bunny

At varied and sometimes unexpected moments in life, we all experience doubt and crisis in faith of some sort or another. This variety of distress can be confounded when it involves core beliefs of a body long held in high esteem, or, perhaps worse case, when it simply compromises the honor and integrity of a friend, shipmate, or peoples familial. Although this story seems to be excessively focused on the very recent purchase of my truck in our first weeks on Okinawa, the conspicuous moral imperative that lies beneath centers on the very character of the United States Marine Corps and bushidō (honor). Before the nonfictional car-buying tale begins in earnest, what exactly is “bushido,” and what is its tie to Okinawa and Japan?

"Bushido" in kanji

“Bushido” in kanji

Bushidō (武士道?), literally “the way of the warrior,” is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry, which may be much better known in the West.
Bushidō originates from the samurai moral code stressing frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honor unto death. Born from Neo-Confucianism during times of peace in Japan and following Confucian texts, bushidō was also influenced by Shinto and Zen Buddhism, allowing the violent existence of the samurai to be tempered by more religious-based wisdom and serenity. Bushidō developed between the 9th and 20th centuries, while numerous translated documents dating from the 12th to 16th centuries demonstrate its wide influence across the whole of Japan. Under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868), aspects of bushidō became formalized into Japanese feudal law.

The word was first used in Japan during the 17th century, and came into common usage in Japan and the West after the 1899 publication of Nitobe Inazō’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan. In Bushido (1899), Inazō wrote, “…Bushidō, then, is the code of moral principles which the samurai were required or instructed to observe…. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten…. It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career.” Similarly, in his text Feudal and Modern Japan (1896), historian Arthur May Knapp wrote, “The samurai of thirty years ago had behind him a thousand years of training in the law of honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice…. It was not needed to create or establish them. As a child he had but to be instructed, as indeed he was from his earliest years, in the etiquette of self-immolation.”

Samurai in Japanese Armor

Samurai in Japanese Armor

Under the bushidō ideal, if a samurai failed to uphold his honor he could only regain it by performing seppuku (ritual suicide). In the world of the warrior, seppuku was a deed of bravery that was admirable in a samurai who knew he was defeated, disgraced, or mortally wounded, which offered a way to end his days with his transgressions wiped away and with his reputation not merely intact but actually enhanced. The cutting of the abdomen released the samurai’s spirit in the most dramatic fashion, but it was an extremely painful and unpleasant way to die, and sometimes the samurai who was performing the act asked a loyal comrade to cut off his head at the moment of agony.

This is a terrible pun....

This is a terrible pun….

Bushidō was widely practiced, varying little over time, and across the geographic and socio-economic backgrounds of the samurai, who at one time represented a small but substantial and substantially powerful segment of the Japanese population. The first Meiji era census at the end of the 19th century counted 1,282,000 members of the “high samurai” (allowed to ride a horse), and 492,000 members of the “low samurai” (allowed to wear two swords but not to ride a horse), in a country of about 25 million.

Bushidō includes compassion for those of lower station, and for the preservation of one’s name. Early bushidō literature further enforces the requirement to conduct oneself with calmness, fairness, justice, and propriety. The relationship between learning and the way of the warrior is clearly articulated, one being a natural partner to the other. Other parts of the bushidō philosophy cover methods of raising children, appearance, and grooming, but all of this may be seen as part of one’s constant preparation for death — to

Chuck Norris Invented Bushido.  Not Really.

Chuck Norris Invented Bushido. Not Really.

die a good death with one’s honor intact, the ultimate aim in a life lived according to bushidō. Indeed, a “good death” is its own reward, and by no means assurance of future rewards in the afterlife. Notable samurai have throughout history held such aims or beliefs of reward in the afterlife in disdain, or at least have expressed the awareness that their station — as it involves killing — precludes such reward, especially in Buddhism, an extremely pacifist and nonviolent belief system. In fact, reinforcing this notion, the soul of a noble warrior suffering in hell or as a lingering spirit is a common motif in Japanese art and literature.

The Virtues of Bushido

The Virtues of Bushido

The Bushidō code is typified by seven virtues: Courage (勇氣 yūki), Benevolence (仁 jin), Respect (禮 rei), Honesty (誠 makoto), Honor (名誉 meiyo), and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi). However, there are additional virtues strongly associated with the code, which include Piety (孝 kō), Wisdom (智 chi), and Care for the Aged (悌 tei). And it is in these tenets that the American military itself defines its set of core values in our modern age. Well, except for caring for our old. We as a people and country really are shameful in that regard…and although the VA has gotten exponentially better than, say, of the Vietnam era days, there still are massive shortfalls in the care owed to our veterans. In any case, the US Navy and Marine Corps today utilize HONOR, COURAGE, and COMMITMENT as their own succinct form of bushidō. Although not nearly as intense as of days old and past, the contemporary military struggles to maintain and uphold our own flavor of the “way of the warrior.”

Bushido:  The Way of the Warrior

Bushido: The Way of the Warrior

Now, about that truck….

Awesome Truck, and not so Awesome Temporary Lodge

Awesome Truck, and not so Awesome Temporary Lodge

Jody and I would scope the used-car lot on Kadena Air Base daily, sometimes twice so. We moved at the end of the PCS/moving season here, so the vehicle selection was rather slim, and if there is one thing that is true on this island, it is this: a good deal won’t last until tomorrow.

Wizard is a Rodeo, with a Much Cooler Name

Wizard is a Rodeo, with a Much Cooler Name

We spied a terrific looking truck/SUV, recognizable as a familiar model seen on the streets back home. Although we were looking for a Toyota “Surf,” nothing more than a 4-Runner, those models are very hard to come by, and what was available was offered only at a premium often not worth paying. Personally, I wanted something with size and power to haul scuba diving gear all over the island, and also needed 4-wheel drive in order to get to a couple of special dive sites up north. Plus, with Jody driving naked and all, we needed something a bit less lewd and lascivious. This truck offered all, was in great condition, and although it was priced on the higher end of our desired spectrum, it was after all the right color: WHITE.

I called the owner on a Sunday morning, not wanting to chance losing this opportunity. “Chris” cheerfully answers, and when I ask how long the truck was on the lot, he replied that he had just put it there the previous night. Not thinking he would want to burn a weekend on showing the vehicle, I asked about seeing the car on Monday, but he responded with a better idea: “How’bout this afternoon?” We arranged a meet, and meet we did.

That's Just a Cool-Ass Name

That’s Just a Cool-Ass Name

The Isuzu Wizard is the exact equivalent to the Rodeo back home. Except with a much cooler name…and steering wheel on the wrong side. Seriously, how many cowboys are there really in our country? I bet fewer than there are fans of Dungeons and Dragons and Harry Potter! The car drove really soundly – beefy, heavy, a powerful V6, torque-on-demand to all wheels, or full 4-wheel all with the turn of a knob on the dash. The car came with many extras: tow bar, removable bike rack, and spare parts (timing belt, new fog lights, brake pads and discs, new plugs) to boot. It had relatively new tires, new front-end brakes, was low mileage for its vintage, and the AC was super cold, as advertised (of course).

Imbued The Powers and Talents of Pokémon Mew!!

Imbued With The Powers and Talents of Pokémon Mew!!

Oh, and did I mention that the rear wheel mud flaps were labeled “Mu”? Anyone who knows anything about Pokémon knows that Mu is the stuff of legend, the most powerful pocket monster around, one that can learn any monster’s moves, and can transform itself at will to emulate whatever it desires. In fact, Mew is thought to be the single ancestor of the entire pocket monster race!

Chuck Norris is Mew's Ancester

Chuck Norris is Mew’s Ancester

Fine. Mu is actually spelled Mew (in Pokémon land), but that rather ruins this part of the story – along with the wizardly connection the truck shares with Japan…and with the craze that swept the country and my kids’ imaginations in the late 90s. And, since I’m a math-lete, the pronunciation of “Mew” is the same as the Greek symbol “μ” so often used in the world of figures.

Awesome Tow Bar and Bike Rack.  I guess I have to buy bikes now....

Awesome Tow Bar and Bike Rack. I guess I have to buy bikes now….

Chris was a senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the US Marine Corps, working for the Marine Air Wing headquarters staff on higher-order maintenance and logistics issues. He was cheerful, friendly, and very excited about showing off his vehicle, and talking me through all the work he had done, along with all its eccentricities, which all vehicles have, but which are seldom acknowledged upfront in a potential sale. He was selling the vehicle since he upgraded his wife/life to a minivan – not sure that’s really an upgrade, but probably is a smarter move on Okinawa after he showed me the areas where his wife had scraped the truck on who knows what. This truck is a BIG vehicle for Okinawa.

I was so impressed after driving the car, and after establishing a camaraderie with Chris that I told him that I wasn’t even going to haggle, that I felt his vehicle and his word were both well worth his asking price of $4,500. So, we decided to close the deal with a security deposit by personal check of $500 to hold the vehicle until we could meet on Tuesday to actually purchase the car.

Hello-Good Lookin' & All Powerful Wizard!

Hello-Good Lookin’ & All Powerful Wizard!

Initially we agreed that the purchase would be executed through personal check. On Monday, however, Chris texted me and asked if we could meet and setup an electronic transfer of funds that evening. I took this to mean that perhaps he was worried about our funds-follow-through, and not without good basis; selling anything in exchange for a piece of paper carries some risk, and at this amount of money, the risk is great. Okay, I thought; although this was a bit odd, it was not out of the ordinary.

We met and figured out how to transfer the necessary funds, even though I was equally as leery about paying for property not yet received. Our debit and his credit were executed using a mobile app, and both Jody and Chris were utilizing the same bank (USAA), it still required 24 hours to clear for both parties. It probably wouldn’t be completely processed by the next morning, when the title and official ownership of the vehicle would be transferred. No worries, he says. Good to go.

We meet on Tuesday morning, and the transfer goes without issue. He even mentioned that he topped the tank off that morning for me, and I thought to myself, what a great transaction this was turning out to be. He was in uniform, as was Jody, so there was no question as to rank and last names; it’s easy enough to track military members down on this island if something truly criminal was to happen. We parted ways, me happily with keys in hand to my new wheels, and Chris with cash almost in hand. Jody went to drive naked. Again.

The truck drove fine.

Until Wednesday night….

First I noticed the rear-wheel torque indicator lights on the dash were inoperative. Funny, the truck still drove…and it’s rear-wheel drive…. BUT, when I cycled the “Torque on Demand” (TOD) rotary knob to “4WH,” the front wheel torque lights would simply flash, showing them not locked in, even though I can feel the 4-wheel drive kick-in through the steering wheel. Confusing. And not what I wanted in a “new” used truck. Oh, and on startup, when the dash lights all come on in test mode, those rear-wheel lights did NOT light up…. Could this be a bulb issue, one which is wired in series that was keeping the torque system from working properly? Or, was it a $1,000 set of sensors at the wheels that are known to fail on this model??

Okay, about that last point. Lesson learned on this purchase: DO YOUR RESEARCH ONLINE before buying something you know little about. When looking online, I also noticed that the gas mileage for this vehicle was between 15-18 mpg (city), and that it required premium gas or better (93 octane). I was literally watching the gas gauge move every time I ran to base and back home, AND, the military offers one and only one grade of gas island-wide, and it is 86 octane. Yes, you read that right – 86. I didn’t even know such fuel was made or avaialbe.

Okay, so there's 85 too.  Sue me.

Okay, so there’s 85 too. Sue me.

Next the truck starts to idle extremely rough, with the RPM dropping to ~500, and bouncing up and down 200-300. On initial acceleration it felt as if the car was missing and chugging, until the RPM came up into the 1600-1800 range, where the truck ran fine…. This was MUCH more disturbing that the torque issues outlined above.

I call Chris that night – no answer, and left a voicemail. I texted him, with no response. No response from someone who was always on the ball and raring to go. “Oh boy, this is not good,” I think.

Mew's Many Talents do NOT Include "Car Mechanic"

Mew’s Many Talents do NOT Include “Car Mechanic”

I call again Thursday morning. No answer; another voicemail left. I text again, and then again, both with no response…. Now I am thinking that he dumped a lemon on me, and has washed his hands of the whole situation. After this realization, and a slew of cuss words directed at Chris and the notion of being had by someone that should hold honor in much higher regard, I resolve to do what I can with and for the truck. I can’t sell it for 90 days, so I have to make do best I can, at least in the short term.

Now, it happens that I wanted to get the bicycle rack of the back of the truck, to improve mileage but more so to allow the rear door to open all the way. Since we have yet to get our shipments of “stuff” from the states, we are devoid of tools. I decide to hit the Camp Foster Auto Hobby Shop, where I know that I can at least borrow tools, if not get help with the vehicle.

We arrive there and after the required paperwork and tool inventory, we are given an auto berth and turned loose as pretend mechanics. I have to admit that using a pneumatic socket driver is pretty ding-dang cool and easy, and off comes the bike rack. And since that exhausted my automotive know-how, I start asking about the truck….

Turns out the mechanics there know the truck – and Chris – quite well. They asked if I just purchased the truck; “why yes, yes I did. What do you know about Chris and the work he did on it?”

“Chris is good people,” one responds.


I was informed that Chris did a GREAT job with the work he did on the truck, emphasizing that he bought all new parts directly from the states, and that he worked closely with the mechanics at the shop to ensure that he did everything correctly. They also stated that for the last month or so, he was constantly in the shop every weekend doing a lot of work on the car. He was characterized as “good people,” and the shop mechanics blamed the engine on not only the low octane gas available on base, but also on the poor quality of low-octane gas provided to the Americans. Seems the island has a large issue with water in the gas…. Funny though, it doesn’t seem to affect the jet fuel; I’ll just say that the airplanes are not falling out, or chugging through the skies.

This notion of Chris is clearly at odds with the one developing in my mind. I had thought, after not hearing a word from Chris since the sale, of sending him a text stating something to the sort, “You are the type of scumbag that give enlisted and the Corps a bad name….” I wanted to question his honor in the whole affair, and maybe even try and track him down.

But something I learned long ago is that such types of overly emotional and reactive impulsive responses are made much too easy in the digital age. And, no matter the situation (with very few exceptions), it’s best to wait at least 24 hours before hitting send on anything so potentially inflammatory. So I wait, and think about it over the long Labor Day weekend….

The truck continues to run rough, and the TOD system continues to improperly function. I put an engine/fuel cleaner in the tank (“Sea Foam”), which does little. I continue to stew, about the less than optimum purchase, AND about what kind of character Chris was actually turning out to be. But I do not act. Not yet.

And then there is a phone call Tuesday morning. It’s Chris!

He immediately starts to apologize for not responding sooner. Turns out he was released early from work the previous Thursday, and got an early start to an off-island adventure vacation with his wife and family among the surrounding islands. He was due back on Monday, but couldn’t get back due to the seas from Tropical Storm Toraji, and had only gotten back on-island that day. He was appalled at what I was probably thinking about him not responding, he was sickened by my problems with the vehicle, and he was determined to “make things right” with the truck. We followed up with some texts about meeting later in the day, one where I asked him that no matter what, he needed to at least “meet me in the middle” when it came to the truck repairs – which I still expected to be substantial.

Turns out he spent the rest of Tuesday researching the issues we spoke of over the phone, and after missing each other that afternoon and most of the day on Wednesday, he decided he needed to come by my place ASAP after he was freed from work that afternoon. He came ready, tools in hand and parts in car, ready to make things right.

In true aircraft-mechanic-showing-the-aircraft-aircrew how it’s done, he immediately got in the truck, started it, noticed the rear wheel torque lights out (which should be on and solid green), and simply tapped the dash. The indicator lights came on instantly, and the torque and 4-wheel drive system worked (completely), and has ever since.

I was soooooo embarrassed. I’m an old-school A-6E Intruder guy, where we literally kicked and punched various boxes and instruments to help to get things to work, let alone work properly. But this notion of a mechanic so effortlessly and succinctly schooling a highly trained and over-educated pilot is seriously a tale as old as time in the military.

Next he took it for a drive and immediately noticed the missing and chugging, and turned and looked at me and stated that this was not the truck he sold to me the previous week. His research pointed to a couple of possible issues; having pressure-washed the engine just prior to the sale, the electrical plugs and leads from the electronic ignition to the plugs might have been fouled. He cleaned them all. And, since he had just put in after-market plugs, he bought a set of spec plugs and changed all of them – right there in my building’s parking lot. The plugs were definitely fouled, showing a heavy rust-colored coating, indicative of water in the fuel. Thanks military. Only the finest for our troops, right??

New Gas Station Pumps; Old Shitty Gas in Them

New Gas Station Pumps; Old Shitty Gas in Them

After at least 90 minutes of working on the car, we took her out again. The truck ran powerfully smooth, with no chugs, no hesitation, and no misfires. The TOD system was cycled numerous times, and worked without exception. He finally packed up his tools and supplies, and left, but only after a couple of calls from his wife…. He was determined to make sure we were square with each other, and with the truck.

The truck continues to run without issue. Chris texted me numerous times Thursday and Friday to check on the vehicle, and even called Friday afternoon to make sure there were no other issues as he was going to be unreachable most of the weekend. We both have big scuba diving plans, and chatted about getting together sometime to do some dives together….

In the end, it was exactly his honor that Chris was concerned about. And his own personal bushido implored him to act in defense of honor.

The Tenets of Bushido Made Japanese Suicidal in WWII

The Tenets of Bushido Made Japanese Suicidal in WWII.  Chris Survives….

Honor. Bushidō. They are central elements of a life worth living, and a worthy life lived well. It is also the first of the United States Marine Corps’ core values: Honor, Courage, Commitment. When I questioned Chris’ honor and character, along with his military affiliation, I was in actuality rushing to judgment against both he and his Corps, without the requisite knowledge to do so.

As the opening Japanese proverb entreats, even when Chris’s character was in dire question, I should have kept more faith with his numerous friends, the Marine Corps. Their character can be summed up in two nearly immortal words linked through long service, selfless sacrifice, and the strongest brotherhood: Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful.

Next time you find yourself facing a crisis of faith, give faith a chance. Faith may very well pleasantly surprise you.

And thank goodness I never sent a nasty text!


Blue Skies, Black Death

“Dream as if you’ll live forever…
…live as if you’ll die today.” ~James Dean

Jim "Jimmy" Horak

Jim “Jimmy” Horak

Blue Skies, Black Death My Friend, Jimmy Horak.

This weekend was my “last” chance to skydive for probably a very long time. There is no sport jumping on Okinawa, and the jumping in Japan is expensive and a substantial airline flight away from where I will be living. Most of my skydiving while overseas will be during my international travels and visits home. So, in honor of this last ephemeral chance, a group of us traveled to a dropzone over in Mississippi that we visit often to partake in a full weekend of skydiving.

Jim Doing What He Loved

Jim Doing What He Loved

I have an adventurer’s heart, if not budget, and “discovered” skydiving quite by accident. I was in that post-separation-martial-destruction thousand-yard-stare-through-the-haze daze in 2005, on a business trip (from Okinawa, where I was stationed at the time) to Hawaii, and started thinking to myself. I was always interested in skydiving, and actually physically was seated on a parachute all those years I flew ejection seat-equipped aircraft in the Navy, but never seized the day to try a jump. My brother-in-law Harvey (who was airborne with the army back in the day) actually took me to ground school and was paying for a static line jump back when I was in high school (and my parents still don’t know, so let’s try and keep in that way!), but a low overcast prevented me from jumping. And, to be completely honest, there was always that nagging, annoying question rattling around my consciousness – could I actually do it?!? I can still remember the relief I felt when I wasn’t able to jump from the plane, especially after being in the open door fixated on the clouds one thousand feet below me. Besides, after truly falling in love with technical (decompression) scuba diving in Miami in 2001, and having the world-class reefs of Okinawa literally at my doorstep between 1999 and 2005, I didn’t need too much more.

Jim's High-Altitude Record-Setting Tandem

Jim’s High-Altitude Record-Setting Tandem

Or so I thought.

So I take an excursion one day after a very light schedule of “work” to Dillingham airfield on the island of Oahu and sign up for a jump. I found the dropzone (DZ) amazing laid-back considering what they were doing. Having been overly-indoctrinated in the military’s ways, means and methods concerning high-risk activities and training, I’ll admit this was a welcome relief. And there were so many happy people. Truly joyful and glad, smiling directly from their eyes, complete with an infectious enthusiasm that seemed to be at once addictive and contagious. I make my jump, and – words have always and will always continue to fail me here – *WOW*. I literally could not stop smiling the rest of the day. Skydiving is the most exhilarating thing that I can contemplate, perhaps, besides spaceflight. The experience was a complete euphoric high that quite literally can come only from what I call “cheating death….” It is something that WUFOs – “what ‘foe you do that,” or, the what jumpers call any non-jumper – will never and can never fully grasp or begin to understand…until they too make that leap of faith.

My First Tandem, 2005

My First Tandem, 2005

I was hooked.

So I learned shortly upon changing duty stations from Okinawa to Pensacola in 2005. And Jimmy Horak was my instructor, and he was to most jumpers in the greater Pensacola area over the last decade or so. He also was my skydiving and instructor mentor. But more importantly be became my friend.

After 754 jumps, and 719 minutes and 50 seconds of free-fall, which, if you’re interested (and I am), that’s just ten frickin’ seconds short of 12 rounded hours of *REAL* flying during free-fall (and the coveted 12-hour free-fall award from the United States Parachute Assocation), each and every jump still makes me smile, beam, and giggle like a giddy boy and adrenaline-pumped man who…again…cheated death.

But what I didn’t count on in becoming an avid and regular skydiver was the *FAMILY* that would adopt and envelope me, and the one I would accept, gladly and gleefully, into my life. There is a certain bond, stout ties that bind that come from being a skydiver. There is a spontaneous camaraderie that connects skydivers, no matter their culture, country, or creed. I have traveled the world skydiving in foreign countries with foreigners foreign even to the country in which I jumped, and jumped with peoples of all types, shapes, and sizes. It is exactly the nearly instantaneously bonded brotherhood (and sisterhood) between skydivers which has become one of the more precious commodities in my own personal life. I simply can’t imagine my life without skydiving, but more-so and more to the heart of the matter, without my skydiver friends and family. In fact, the hardest part of leaving America for Japan this time around is leaving this facet of my family, a group of like-minded people who happen to share such a durable and lasting love of a communal sport.

The Best Dang Jump Pilot Around

The Best Dang Jump Pilot Around

In the jump plane at the two-minute warning prior to jump, we skydivers in the aircraft do all our last-minute checks of gear and cameras and whatnot, and then we do something habitual and ritualistic: we literally say “goodbye” to each other. Most people may think our gestures of swiping fingers of one hand against another’s and then fist-bumping as analogous to pretty much any other other type of sportsmanlike focusing of energy and/or celebration of achievement, and that’s true.

Debbie & Jim at Our Wedding, 2011

Debbie & Jim at Our Wedding, 2011

To a point. In a “sport” where bad things can happen (and happen fast) if you don’t act faster (and properly), skydivers know…and accept…that each jump could be their last. As much as we are saying “have a GREAT jump” to each other, we are also saying our goodbyes. Yet they are goodbyes full of excitement and impulsive smiles, goodbyes emoted by an undeniable comradeship.

Me and Jim

Me and Jim

I had a specific ritual with Jimmy, however. Since I am an “up-jumper,” and usually am doing group skydives that necessitates me exiting the aircraft early and often as the first group out, and since Jimmy is almost always doing a tandem or has a student as an instructor, both of which necessitate him leaving the aircraft almost last, we are seldom mutually arranged to where we can say a proper and physical goodbye. For some reason, years and years ago, I adopted a ceremonial goodbye that I do whenever Jimmy and I are on the same plane, and one I only do with Jimmy. I call out loudly and with some forcefulness, “JIMMY!!!” Jim would stop whatever he was doing (usually), and look at me with a smile. I would gesture a la Meet the Fockers mime of “I’m watching you” by taking two fingers of one hand, pointing to my eyes, then pointing to him, and repeating.. Sometimes he would respond in kind, sometimes he would say something that I could NEVER hear (he was too soft-spoken), but he would, without fail, smile in acknowledgement of our shared esprit de corps.

Jim takes Jody on Her First Skydive, Nov 2012

Jim takes Jody on Her First Skydive, Nov 2012

Living out loud through cheating death (my personal characterization mind you, not the community’s), however, sometimes comes at a terrible, almost intolerable,

Japanese Funerary Traditional Card

Traditional Japanese Sympathy Card

and utterly incomprehensible price.

My friend, skydiving mentor, and fellow veteran did not survive a mishap this past weekend. The details of what went wrong and who’s to blame are all quite inconsequential; after his death was confirmed, the wind was literally taken from beneath my wings. And although I no longer had the euphoric desire to “cheat death” again during what was my last skydiving weekend in the states, and after telling everyone I was calling it a day and packing up for the drive home, I suddenly found an inner voice and strength telling me to make a jump. For and in honor of Jimmy. I felt Jim there telling me to “make the jump,” urging me on with his smile mentally impressed upon my mind’s eye.

I believe it is and what he wanted.

Japanese Funerary Black Crane Origami

Funerary Origami Crane

So I organized an impromptu memorial jump in honor of Jimmy. After we were ensured that the local news media van, camera and reporter were buttoned up and put away, eleven of us got together and briefed a very simple jump. And we brought our hands in and I spoke a for a couple minutes on behalf of Jimmy, for his skydiving family, that we all dream today like it’s your first, but live today like it’s your last. Because it very well might be. The commentary was short; most of us were too choked up to continue.

Impromptu Memorial Skydive, 3 August 2013

Impromptu Memorial Skydive, 3 August 2013

Jumping or Jimmy over Gold Coast, Lumberton, MS

Jumping or Jimmy over Gold Coast, Lumberton, MS

Memorial Jump for Jimmy

Memorial Jump for Jimmy

One of my most cherished pieces of prose to which I turn during trying times like these is Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann. It helped me immensely through my divorce, through some troubles early in my relationship with Jody, and oddly enough (and the clearer connection here), it showed up one day in the absolute last place I ever thought I would encounter it – my home Dropzone where I jumped most weekends with Jim. Dropzones simply are generally not known for their cerebral acumen, nor for very high EQ quotients. Seeing it there left adrift on the counter at manifest moved me in ways that no way, less Jody, probably can understand.

So, I leave my thoughts and reflections of my love for sport and Jim who made it all so very worthwhile, let alone possible, and with Desiderata in the hopes that it inspires you to contemplate, perhaps more deeply and a bit more sincerely, your own personal experience with a profound loss. And quite possibly you’ll find a small measure of charmed comfort at the same time.

You see, in the end, and even though it may not be clear to us, The Universe Unfolds How It Should…. The Desiderata:

Round Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Jim's Spirited Shadow Will Always Be Close Beside Me

Jim’s Spirited Shadow Will Always Be Close Beside Me