“Do you have heart?”
I stood at parade rest doing my best to make heads or tails of the question when my platoon sergeant asked again.
“Do you have heart?”
I’d been called to his room to discuss the results of a training exercise earlier in the day, as well as his confidence in my leadership abilities; my position as a fireteam leader was on the line. Our company was currently ramping up for a rotation to Kosovo, and this was going to be my first deployment as a non-commissioned officer. It was a peacekeeping mission, but in an environment where genocide was still fresh in local communities’ minds, anything was possible. I was excited to see a new corner of the world, however, and felt that the time with my new soldiers would be good for me.
I was just on the recovering side of climbing out of the darkest hole I’d ever been in prior to being activated for this tour. I had gotten as low as a man can get while still having a pulse, and there was a point I wasn’t so sure I wanted that anymore. Too many losses without any wins in life had led to depression, which led to solitude, which led to places I didn’t think I could return from. But I’m made of tougher stuff than I thought I was, and I climbed back out, saw the light, and began building a life back again. When the news of the deployment reached me, I knew things were looking up.
I hadn’t recovered as much as I had thought, though. Self-doubt reflected in how I was leading my troops, and my higher ups took notice. So, I found myself called in front of my platoon sergeant and my platoon leader to figure out what was going on, and what to do about it.
So, when I was asked that question, I wasn’t really sure what to say. I’ve got a heart. My doctor has found a pulse at my last physical. I also know it’s been broken a few times. But did I have heart? Did I have the drive to keep going when things got tough, the motivation to get up when I got knocked down over and over? The “yes” that escaped my lips was barely a whisper.
I was dismissed and the deployment continued. I’m not going to lie and say things got easier from there, but it wasn’t an easy tour for anyone. I never regained my leadership’s confidence, but I’d like to think I did okay by my troops. Of course, I suffered an injury to my feet while climbing Mt. Ljuboten, and later a TBI (traumatic brain injury) while conducting training demonstrations for NATO’s Silver Sabre exercise. All in all, there were a lot of knockdowns. I spent the last two years of my military career in and out of surgeries and learning to walk, laugh, and be human again.
My platoon sergeant’s words have never left my thoughts. They echo in my mind everyday as I deal with my disability or the struggles of daily life. I could barely respond to him when he asked me that day, because I didn’t believe in myself when I answered. I wasn’t sure I had the resiliency to bounce back again if I was knocked down even just one more time. I’ve been knocked down several times since, in fact. Each time, by the grace of God, I’ve gotten back up and kept moving forward. I’ve got heart.
So why tell you all of this? The point of this wasn’t the story, but rather the question. We all have our own answer to it. We’ve all stood in the fire before and wondered how we’ve survived. The techniques may vary, and the results aren’t always the same, but we can always draw the same conclusion: we always had heart. There’s something inside us that drives each and every person forward through conflict, through those tough moments in life, and sees us to the other side. It’s what makes for a great story, and why we tend to not mind a lot of stories borrowing the same plot. Nobody really cares for the happy ending without the tragic struggle that comes before it. If there wasn’t a conflict, then nothing would be overcome. We need conflict to guarantee growth, whether for a character or for ourselves. And we don’t grow without the ability to persevere.
I like to believe that it rears its head when the moment comes. People tend to shine their best when things are at their worst. We run into burning buildings to save people and lift cars off of victims trapped underneath them. Sometimes it’s simply about making it through the day when you want to break down, or reaching out for help when your pride holds you back. Strength comes in all shapes and sizes, and not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes the hero we need is taking a deep breath and trying again. It’s okay to fall down as long as we get back up again.
The question is, do you have heart?