When Stories End and Perhaps How to End Them

I’m sitting in Melbourne, in my friends’ backyard. There are birds and sunshine. I’m playing some bon iver.

It is a bit surreal, but I’ve gotten accustomed to it quickly. I’m not experiencing this overwhelming culture shock, this displacement that would put me on tilt. I’m experiencing things such as:

This food is good. I can taste it. 

Water from the tap? Ingenious! 

Is that the color blue? They may say colour here. I’m not sure.

Is that a kid? A child? Why is there a child. . . oh wait. Yes. That’s normal. 

I thought there would be this overwhelming need to cry or this ephiany that would sit on my chest, but instead I feel like I’ve unclenched my fists finally.

I no longer have to shield myself from unwelcome conditions—I now no longer have to steel myself and have feet ready to dodge and run. My life is no longer ranging from crappy to tolerable.

And in a small way, I don’t want to lose the closeness I felt to my faith, but part of my faith, what is integral to Ryan McRae, is joy in friendships, in shared laughter, and long strolls. There isn’t dust over everything here. And now I no longer have to speak the culture of Afghanistan. And even feel myself tire of talking about Afghanistan. I even feel like I’m tired of the conversation. Military bases, radiation, bunkers, choppers, and MRAPS. I’m starting to shed it, cast it away.

I just don’t want to live there anymore. I don’t want to keep packing my bags. I boarded the plane once and only once.

A new blog is coming. I’ll post it soon. People will say, “Ahh, but you will lose your readers. . .this is what they want to hear.”

No.

I am no longer that geek in Afghanistan. And if I kept up a dialogue about this place, well, I would do you a diservice, telling you lies, explaining the brutal, caustic expanse of Afghanistan while I eat scones in a Melbourne café while the boats drift by.

I can’t do that to you or me.

I’ll keep you posted, but I don’t dare talk about my adventures here in the Great Down Under when I spent a year talking about Over There.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers

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Missing my Flight to Melbourne Part 2

Well, I have a boarding pass and my luggage should be on the plane. I’m leaving in the morning. I think I got away with a switch without paying the “penalty” from the airlines. (My card has not been charged so….)

You see, I should have checked in 3 hours before my flight instead of 1 hour. I had a bag transfer and that’s what  jammed me up (along with my inability to traverse the Dubai airport. Think of O’Hare, but stretched out in one long column and then had seven nightmares. BANGO!)

Ryan, if it’s one long column

SHUT IT.

Carry on. 

People have asked me if i have culture shock yet. This re-entry into the world and I have to say, I do not. You see, I’m still in a waiting room; I’m still on the move. Now entering Dubai was a bit strange. People say hello. And they care about you. And due to my comedy of errors I know all the hotel staff.

The bellboy, who took me around, said at one time, “Sir, you are cursed and I’m sorry for you.” Yes, he understood that I have terrible luck. But it gave me a chance to sit in a hotel room, have “free” drinks (only a couple) and breathe a bit before my 13 hour plane ride tomorrow..

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know where I was and I was disorientated. That will happen I guess.

Things I’ve noticed.

  • I clang my fork and knife when I eat.
  • Everything smells sweet. (Lots of perfume here.) 
  • I put my hands behind my back when I talk. 
  • Cigarette smoke doesn’t bother me. 
  • I noticed the internet is fast and that I barely missed anything significant. 

The panic of this trip nightmare didn’t frighten as much as it would have. Sure I panicked. Sure I was upset, but it passed. Once it got the: THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO BUT WAVE TO THE PLANE, the panic went away. @)#*$ happens I guess.

So I paid for another night at the hotel ($280.00) and sucked it up. Walked around. Went back to my room. Walked around. Went back to my room. Cat video. You know.

I’m out of here at 10:00 AM tomorrow for a nice cozy long flight. 

But I’ll shake the shock off quickly and once I get my CPAP machine back , I’ll be in tip top shape.

Stay tuned…..

[This blog is going away soon, my readers. On to bigger things.]

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Missing my Flight to Melbourne

So as you can tell from the poigant title, I missed my flight to Melbourne. My bad. I didn’t check in and time and didn’t understand (or forgot) how this all works. I thought if I checked in an hour before the flight, I’d be great.

I was not.

I am stuck in Dubai and cannot leave. I’m Tom Hanks in that airport movie. I can’t get the transfer fee completed because my credit cards are American issued. I can’t get a reissue from my company because of the time difference. I am writing this in a terminal with one of the bellhops from my hotel wondering how I’m going to get out of this mess.

I’ve missed a day (at least) with my mates in Australia, but I’m standing by. Usually this would set me into a frenzy especially due to this equation.

$400 transfer fee + $280 for a hotel room.

A stupid mistake.  But as my friend and confidant James Todd says, “Any problem you can fix with money that you have is a good problem.”

I’ll update this in a bit when I know what’s going on. Stay tuned (or follow me on twitter at @theRyanMcRae))

 

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The Last Post from Afghanistan You’ll Get from Me.

I remember getting off the plane over a year ago. I landed at FOB Fenty. I didn’t know the culture or anyone—I landed in a warzone, an actual warzone. It was as far from the life I had as could be. So far from you and all the comfort I thought I needed.

But I took each day, one at a time and pushed through. I depended on my faith and God provided: a chaplain, a friend, a purpose. I hit roadblocks and many times at night, I was awake wondering what have I done? 

This has been this redefinition, this reboot of Ryan McRae. There is this new version, this clarity that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

I might not have shared this part; I might have edited this out. Nearly every day was a struggle. Every day I had to fight my Dark Passenger on something. Despair was always inches from me; it’s breath smelled like stale coffee and cigarettes.

But I found myself working on this blog or a book, a project to give water to others, or a postcard that might mean something.

I still do not know what I will do when I’m back in the States. 

I’ve always wanted to start my own business, but I can’t figure out what skill people need me to offer them. I still don’t. 

I want to write, present and share. Travel is in there. Have coffee with you is another.

So I thank you for joining me on this little journey. Thank you for your prayers and your notes, your encouragement and laughs. Thank you for tuning into this little blog and letting me share the darkest parts of me.

My next post will be in Dubai and then Australia. I’ll be letting you know about the next blog I’ll do, since the name of this blog will be a lie in about 11 hours.

Again, thank you. I could not have done this journey without you.

—Ryan McRae 2.0

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These are the Goodbyes that are Easier to Say

I leave in two days. That’s right—two—days.

And I’ve packed. Sent stuff home. Given away shirts and some prized possessions.

Doesn’t matter—getting out of here. Heading to Dubai, and then Melbourne, Australia. Fist bumping all the way.

I’ve said some hard goodbyes, but I have some ones  that have been easier.

Goodbye to cowardice and not jumping in with both feet. I’ve done Afghanistan. Achievement unlocked. I can tackle anything now—the intimidation factor would have to be pretty big; you know, bigger than war.

Goodbye to my false identities—I am not my career. I am not my title. I am not my schooling. If I don’t have a job in six months, I’m not “unemployed”—I’m just wandering.

Goodbye to ingestion without creation. I will not gorge on books and movies, television and games, without spending serious time crafting my work. My writing has taken leaps and bounds and I’ve discovered myself as a writer again. And this will keep going. (I’m building two other blogs: one personal, one business.)

Goodbye to ignorance. Watch out nerds, because I’m in learning mode. I plan on picking up some mad skills when I return. WordPress and mandolin. Be careful—I might take your books from your shelves.

And goodbye to you Afghanistan—you are the saddest place, the loneliest country. You have been crushed and marred. Your rivers have anger and we cannot blame you. But I am leaving you. I will not return. I hope you find your way like I have found mine.

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The One Thing I’ll Miss Most About Afghanistan.

I’ve been on the same base for three weeks now, and I’m on my last lap. I’ve been teaching some awesome soldiers from South Dakota and I’m finishing that tomorrow.

If you would have asked me 300 days ago what I’d miss about Afghanistan, I’d say “Go eat a bag of dimes.”

But I will miss this place—and the only thing I can really say I’ll miss (besides the soldiers I’ve met) is the sense of adventure that I will miss out on.

Being here in Bagram has been quite….ordinary. I’m not asking for IDF (indirect fire) or landmines, but I liked the adventure, the thrill of the travel.

I’ve traveled to bases you’ll never see. I’ve been in helicopters and planes and flown in the night and seen the sunrise as our chopper lands on the tarmac.

And that’s all done. That chapter is done. I’ll never pack a bag and I won’t see another base. I won’t have that sense of adventure here anymore.

And maybe that’s why I like my future up in the  air, why I’ve planned so many random things when I get back, so I can keep leaning into the unknown.

I’ll hold on to that sense of jumping in, of a life filled with thrills. My mom asked me if I was moving back to Chicago and what she meant was will you move back home? 

I didn’t have the heart to tell her no. I just told her the opportunities that have come my way: New York City, Madison, WI, San Francisco, and some other undisclosed locales.

Wherever this geek lands, it has to be a place that puts me on the edge of it all.

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This is Answer to the Big Ol’ Question

“Ryan, how do you feel about almost being done in Afghanistan?”

How do you feel about almost being pregnant?

How do you feel about almost being rich?

On an airplane?

Taking the plunge?

Almost buying a house?

Almost meeting the one?

There is no happy feeling right now—it’s just this unsettling, this overwhelming notion that I do not belong here. Everyone I encounter is here long term and I’m in this shrinking waiting room. My number is about to be called; I’ll slowly get up and then make a dash for the door.

But unlike every waiting room I’ve been in, I will think of the people there. I will hope their number gets called and they walk out the same door I did.

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