On becoming a fighter

“Are you a fighter?”

“Well, not really…”

“If you want anything around here, you’ve got to be a fighter.”

This advice came to me within my first twenty-four hours in Afghanistan. Understanding and heeding this advice would have made the next five months much more tolerable.

Fatmir was in his early 50s and had worked for our company for quite a long time. He was from Kosovo and learned to speak English ‘on the job’, which by that point was very good. At Bagram he worked in the education center computer lab.

I became a second-hand smoker in Afghanistan. I’d hang out with Fatmir and some of the others during their morning, afternoon, evening, and ‘whenever’ smoke breaks and just shoot the breeze. I joked that this was the best way to smoke because it didn’t cost me anything and I could truly quit at any time.

Fatmir’s advice wasn’t about being aggressive or greedy; it was just about fighting for what was right. In this case, a bed. Before I naively walked down to the housing office he shared that pearl of wisdom with me. I didn’t really understand it so I didn’t go in fighting, I went in optimistic. I walked out on a waiting list. Number 387 or something like that. I would later find out that the list was arbitrary, that it would never really move, and that I was wasting my time checking in every week; there would never be a room for me in Bagram.

Five months later, after the supervisor for all the education centers in country (a fighter, apparently) threatened to shut down all educational testing at Bagram, I was finally given a room. I use the term ‘room’ because you’re likely familiar with the basic concept: walls, door, roof, floor. ‘Plywood box’ is closer to the reality. Far from the shipping container apartment I was hoping for, but beggars can’t be choosy.

My plywood home away from home
My plywood home away from home
I lived in my office for most of my time at Bagram
My live-work space: I lived in my office (the testing center) for most of my time at Bagram

When I left Afghanistan, I can’t really say that I had become a fighter, but I did learn that some things in life will require a fight. Not out of greed or pride; not even out of entitlement. Some things require you to fight to prove how much you want it. To you, to others. That you’re not just like all the others that could take it or leave it. That you’re not just all talk. That your words lead to action, like that guy selling everything to buy the pearl of great price.

The real wisdom is in knowing what is worth fighting for.

My parents had been married less than a year before the Army began putting their marriage to the test. My dad was being transferred to Italy but my mom hadn’t yet received her visa. The Army told my dad to go on without her and they’d fly her out once she had her visa. No deal. Despite potentially being a bad career move, he told the Army no. So they waited in Korea until she had her visa, and they both traveled to Italy together. I keep this story close at hand when I think about what kind of husband I want to be; that I’m called to be. It reminds me that career, status, duty all are nothing when compared to loving my wife:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word
Ephesians 5:25-26

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

There will be little reward in heaven for the man who wins the souls of the lost, or gives up the comforts of home to serve the poor if he neglects to love his wife as Christ loves the church.