It was March 24, 1971. I was on a Greyhound bus headed to the Customs House in New Orleans. I was being drafted. I was a dumb, fat (6'2", 240 pounds, 40-plus-inch waist), shy and happy boy. I was in deplorable physical condition. In the previous years, I had had serious health issues. I prayed I was still “disabled/sick” enough that I would fail the physical. I didn’t!
When the doctor told me, “you’ll do,” I was still dumb and fat but was rapidly moving from happy to scared to death. The potential of going to Vietnam was a real and terrifying possibility.
As I write this 50 years later, I thank God for my “unanswered prayers.” I am now 73 years old and much healthier than I was as a college graduate soon to be drafted. I am now a man – confident in myself and with some success in business.
Had I not been drafted, I’m sure my life would not have been nearly as good as it is. On the most basic level, I’d bet that without my transformation in physique and confidence I’d have died or be seriously limited by health problems because of my obesity. My shyness and insecurities would have limited my employment and personal growth opportunities. I would have settled for a lesser life than I have had.
On the day of my physical, I was ordered to be back at the Customs House by 4:00 that afternoon for the bus ride to Ft. Polk. I called Bob, a friend and anti-war activist, who offered to fly me to Canada. (Thank God, I declined his offer).
Here’s the great news: 10 weeks after my arrival at Ft. Polk, I finished boot camp. I weighed 180 pounds, had a 34” waist and was in the best shape I’ve ever been in in my life. I had confidence and courage, two gifts I did not have previously.
In basic training, I learned that “souls don’t grow in the sunshine.” I believe our greatest growth comes through adversity – we gain scar tissue. We become stronger than our environment and are ready for the new risks inevitably on the horizon.
What does this personal story have to do with our lives?
The coronavirus has been at least as disruptive, challenging and oftentimes painful in each of our lives as the army was for me. That’s our reality. Let's not be tempted to turn back to the “good old days.” Let's move forward into the new world that is evolving where we are. Don’t bemoan the suffering you’ve endured. Celebrate the strength, wisdom and courage you’ve gained. Step confidently into tomorrow. Don’t look back. Plan your future in this new post-pandemic world and move forward with your plans.
Regardless of your age, income, education or circumstances, your life is still yours to use or abuse as you see fit. If you are tempted to feel that you've been a victim, I’d encourage you to look at Christopher Reeve, the Special Olympics, the St. Jude and Shriners hospitals for children, the millions of cancer survivors, Nick Vujicic (the limbless preacher) and other victors over adversity.
On the first morning of boot camp, Drill Sergeant Gay got in my face and screamed, “Boy, how long did it take you to get this fat?” I responded, “23 years, sir.” It took him and others like him only eight weeks to make me a man – a very fit and confident man! It wasn’t me – it was him and others who had perfected a process of human transformation. I could not have gotten to where I needed to be by myself. Can you help others transform themselves into the best they can be? Are you willing to transform yourself?
See also: A Burning Platform for Transformation
The draft was my moment. It forced me to become something I wasn’t – a real man. I believe that the coronavirus can now be the catalyst for most, if not all, of us to transform our lives for the better. In less than one year, all of our worlds have changed significantly. Now, each of us can decide for ourselves if where we are is where we want to be.
If it is, let's move forward with enthusiasm. If it is not, we can change.
We have been at war with a virus and the panic and chaos it has created. At last, we are winning. Let's continue to march.
In basic training, we’d march to a cadence to create a shared rhythm and a distraction from the tedium and challenge of a forced march. My favorite marching song:
"Ain’t no sense in looking down, ain’t no discharge on the ground!
"Ain’t no sense in looking back, Jody’s got your Cadillac!
"Ain’t no sense in feeling blue, Jody’s got your girlfriend, too!"
March on. We’re winning this war!