Courage of conviction

Yesterday my brother walked in his Commencement ceremony, where he received his scroll and pretended to have officially graduated with a double Bachelors in Civil and Environmental Engineering, the day before beginning his final summer class. I say pretended because in the United States, you can walk in the Commencement ceremony even if you are still one class short of graduating; this saves you from waiting a full year just to don the cap and gown. So yesterday, my mother sat as close to the stage as she could and tried not to bawl too audibly when it was my brother’s turn (I assume she did this because she did the same thing at my Commencement back in 2006).

When I tell people that my brother is graduating, especially the ones who have known him since he cried his way through his first year of elementary school, they naturally ask what he plans to do next. And I tell them, very matter-of-factly, “He wants to join the French Foreign Legion.” This is met by immensely puzzled stares from the ones who have never heard of the French Foreign Legion, and when they realize what it is after I tell them that his first, but less possible, choice was the U.S. Navy SEALs, they wonder aloud what he studied in school that made him choose the military as a career. Equally matter-of-factly, I say, “He’s in engineering.” More baffled looks, and then silence, before the next question: “Are you sure he wants to do this?” And I say, “No, but he seems to be.”

At that point, they give up trying to understand why, and just ask how he plans to do this. I tell them that he wants to go to Marseilles for the recruitment program in July, and let the chips fall where they may. And if he doesn’t get accepted, he will go to another country — Australia, maybe, or New Zealand — to look for a job. Then finally, my listeners concede, “Well, at least he has a plan.”

That statement, put forth to me by a friend last week, struck a chord. I don’t remember answering these questions so certainly when they had been about me five years ago. I had probably given my usual “I’m not sure yet… Find a job here, I guess, because I don’t want to go home,” because the only thing I knew I was absolutely sure about was that I never wanted to come back here. Aside from that, I never knew — I have never known — what I really wanted to do (that wouldn’t pit my physical shortcomings against me). It is most likely this ambivalence that has landed me where I am now, mentally, geographically and emotionally. I still don’t quite know what I want to do, and I have only since made progress by realizing that I finally know what I don’t want to do, and am trying desperately to remedy that situation now.

And so, although I don’t always approve of his actions or his methods — risking life and limb, in this case, included — I salute my brother now for knowing exactly what he wants, even if he has a change of heart later, and knowing how to go for it, without the fear of failure or my father’s perpetual convictions that his children are doomed for failure.

At least one of us got it right.

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