When you strapped yourself into your car this morning, you were going to work. But how about if you were on a mission?
When you think of it that way, today is not the same as yesterday and tomorrow will not be the same as today. It will no longer be the same old, same old. But what will not change is the thing driving you. That was an essential part of Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman’s message in his interview with Publisher Paul Feldman featured in this issue.
Waldo’s feature is one of the longest interviews we’ve run because it was just so hard to cut down. One of the many important points he made was “lose sight, lose fight.” That can mean a laser-like focus on a goal, but it was a bit more than that. Waldo had dark days, as we all do. He was scared of heights and claustrophobic and yet he wedged himself into a tiny cockpit to fly as fast as 1,500 mph as high as 50,000 feet. As he did this, he had pictures of his niece and nephew in his cockpit.
That was his mission: to keep people he loved safe. It wasn’t about going fast and high and blowing stuff up. Certainly, the excitement has its draw, but that is not what sustains the best warriors. The real heroes, the real deals, are as unassuming as anyone. Waldo talks about one of the best commanders he served under. His name was Psycho, so you would think it would be full-throttle bravado that made him great. No, it was when Waldo screwed up and, instead of chewing him out, Psycho took him aside and asked him if he was OK. Waldo still had to suffer the consequences of his error but he appreciated the care. In fact, it drove him to do better – to be better.
But another commander chewed Waldo out in front of the whole squadron after he had confessed an error. That commander soured the whole squadron. No one wanted to do the right thing and acknowledge mistakes after that. That ended learning and the drive to improve.
The heroes do the hard stuff. They shut up when they want to yell, wait when they want to rush, yield when they want to barge. There was a time when “gentleman” was an aspiration, not an ironic phrase.
That might seem to be an odd thing to learn from someone who used to shoot missiles for a living. It’s particularly hard to think of when we so recently had been reminded what it’s like when bombs go off. Something to keep in mind is that the hand that sets the bomb is guided, or misguided, by a sense of righteousness. People do not do things like that because they believe they are perpetuating evil. They do it because they think they are right.
But whenever we understand the other a little better, it softens our touch. When we see the enemy as people with the same hopes, dreams and families that we have, we understand how to cope with the things they do. That doesn’t excuse killing and maiming people, but maybe it helps us prevent the dynamic that drove that action. We have seen conflict after conflict escalate to utter destruction and we relearn that what we send out comes back at us with greater momentum.
When we’re in an argument with our spouse and we spit back the worst thing that we can think to say, what have we done? We’ve done our best to hurt the person who pledged to love you until you die. When we flip off someone else in traffic and cut him off, what have we accomplished? We made life just a little more miserable for someone else who is just trying to go to work.
I’ll leave you with a thought. Many Red Sox fans viscerally hated New York until 9/11. Then we were all New Yorkers. Just as many Yankees fans loathed Boston until the April 15 bombing. Now we’re all Bostonians.
We are at our best when we run toward the blast and risk our lives to help people we don’t even know.
So, as you hurtle to work on yet another death-defying commute, whose picture is on your dashboard? Who are you defending? What is your mission?
Steven A. Morelli Editor-in-Chief