Our society emphasizes youth. This is no surprise to anyone over the age of 48; especially those that want to do something new or different. If you’re young and somewhat talented, you can get a mentor to give you sage advice and introduce you to who you have to know. You are forgiven for all your foibles, mistakes, and digressions because you are young, and you can afford it because you have time.
But when you are older—let’s use the magic age of 48—most successful women in your field are younger. And they don’t want to hang around their mothers (or in my case, grandmothers). In fact, the younger women make you feel like you must be some kind of loser because you’re not a success at your age, and you should know better. Let’s face it: If you have to explain the reasons you’re not a success (yet)—for instance, that you’ve already had a full life of children, a husband, and maybe a job you really didn’t like, but now want a greater satisfaction in life—that person will never understand. To paraphrase Plato, you’ve been over the road a few times and know where the potholes are. At my age, 52, you don’t need a mentor. You need courage.
Life is getting short. If you’re lucky, you’re still healthy and can do most things, and should be wise enough to know what you shouldn’t dare attempt.
Two of my personal heroes were combat journalists. I have always felt a unique attraction to combat photography and war stories.
All the people I knew thought I was crazy when I announced that I’d like to go to Afghanistan and write a book about it. They thought I was even crazier when I said I was no longer thinking about it, but was going to go. The only two people who didn’t think I was crazy were my two grown daughters. They thought it was exciting and thrilling, albeit scary, because they may lose me. But while they were excited, they were also angry with me. To give them credit, in their selfless bravery, they never once discouraged me.
I apologized to them, flew to Afghanistan, and embedded with a Marine battalion. And had the greatest adventure of my life.
Perhaps it was because I wasn’t expecting anything or didn’t know what to expect that I discovered so much. I learned about why people join the armed forces and who they are while deployed, and who they hope to be after they live through it.
I also learned a lot about myself. As in: I can do anything that I put my mind to, and that my body can physically withstand. I can be gracious and calm in the face of danger and display empathy and sensitivity to mentally overwrought men and women. For once in what has been a long time, I made an impression and I was helpful, because I was older. I had patience to listen and I had wisdom to share.
Going to Afghanistan showed me that war is not just killing and battle, it is camaraderie and it is experience. For these men and women it is a job. A job that at times stretches the boundary of human compassion. War is a place you can read and hear about, but will never truly understand unless you see for yourself.