By Andy Christian Castillo
Infinite possibilities are borne on the wings of time as it ticks past. Unmade decisions; unrealized choices; unsaid words; they are all carried forward on the momentum of the present. Time is impregnated with excitement, adventure, sadness, pain, anger and every other possible human emotion; however, despite the importance of time, most seconds simply pass by unnoticed and disregarded, almost as if they didn’t carry any significance at all.
This is a concept that I didn’t understand until I deployed to the sandbox.
And even then, it took a while.
Yes, there were times when I felt this weight early. Like when evening turned pink, and I stared into the fiery burn of the setting sun, or listened to the haunting notes of evening prayers drift off into the dead horizon of the desert, and through the bleached city streets of Manama, Bahrain. The beautiful landscape, so devoid of life, held a deadly beauty in its lonesome possession — a beauty that slipped into the cracks of my memory like peanut butter and stuck to every thought: of home, of love, of longing, of sadness.
It was at these times, when it seemed as if as my sustenance to exist came from the setting sun, that I felt most connected to the present. That was the first step toward understanding the significance of living. But it was only a small step. Most of the time, seconds turned into minutes, minutes into days and days into months, without a second wondering glance.
Time slipped past and I didn’t care; I had only been in Bahrain for a few months, but it felt like years.
Four months earlier, I packed my bags and left home; hugged my dad and cried with my mom. I left with a Dunkin iced coffee and tears in my eyes.
It wasn’t the first time I had left, but it was the first time I wasn’t sure I would return.
Four months earlier, I sat through countless briefings held in windowless rooms that warned of potential dangers: roadside bombs, suicide attacks, captivity, bombs, bombs, bombs. I saw pictures and read case studies; life vaporized in a flash of brilliant light, followed by thunder and smoke.
I was ready for death; but what I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was already dead. Because I was never alive in the first place.
Instead, I monotonously trudged through life chasing after dreams that weren’t my own, but were expected. And I thought I was happy.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, when I boarded the plane and saw America slip into the clouds, my former self slipped away with it.
My awakening was a journey of self-realization that suddenly happened overnight.
Ultimately, it wasn’t the bombs that killed me. They couldn’t do that, because I was already dead.
Ironically, it was the lack of bombs and destruction that awakened me. Boredom was the straw that broke my back and changed my life forever.
While sitting in a jail cell, Henry David Thoreau wrote, in his famous essay “Civil Disobedience,” that even though there was “a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was still a more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was”. Prior to my experiences in the Middle East, I was a townsman: constrained by the fabrication of societal pressures and outside influences.
When I landed in Bahrain, I was quickly swept into the war machine. I was a cog slowly turning a bigger cog, which in turn turned a bigger cog, and that an even bigger one.
At first, the excitement and danger gripped me. But after long months of nothing to do, I fell into a deep state of depression. The world became heavy; the air, thick. Time lost its significance and I began to realize the unhappy state of my existence. Weeks went by, and I fell deeper into the abyss of depression with every day that passed.
Until one day, while lying on the floor of my room, with the sunshine piercing through the edges of drawn shades, I separated my mind from its physical mooring. The physical world became an abstract concept; the darkness of my room didn’t seem so dark and the heat didn’t feel so oppressive. Suddenly, I understood the significance of time. Its weight descended on me, and it felt like contentment.
I pulled out a few sheets of poster board and a pen and right there on the floor of my dusty room, I poured out my soul onto the white paper. It was then that I understood how dead I was; and it was then that I made the choice to shed my former skin, experience renewed existence in every second and fully appreciate the present.
Andy Christian Castillo is the Founder of Ver・ism(s). He is a military veteran and student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pursuing a degree in English. In his free time, he plays music, writes poetry, gallivants around the world, climbs mountains and runs through the pouring rain.