A few days ago I sat in an office of a school official unable to hold back briny tears from tumbling awkwardly down the crease between my nose and cheek. It was the latest in a series of events that exposed some raw emotions that I was very ill-equipped to deal with. The official was the director of financial aide, and the series of events was the (not-so-funny) comedy of errors that made up my attempts to provide for myself in the (only partially foreseen) absence of my GI Bill benefits.
I wrote and rewrote my experiences with financial aide, the VA, and my school’s military registrar, but I have found that too much elaboration just induces more frustration. It boils down to the fact that responsibility is not easily directed at any single entity. I made some mistakes in placing trust in certain individuals and systems, but I also just made some bad decisions, like waiting too long to file my FAFSA. However, it was the incredibly poor circumstances I encountered (like the registrar losing my certificate of eligibility, my senator’s unbelievable incompetence, or the well intentioned foibles of the financial aide staff) and the direness of the situation I faced (and continue to, as I still await my Stafford disbursement) that eventually got the best of my patience.
Of particular interest to me in all my interactions with various agencies and offices is that as I was met with varying levels of incompetence and bureaucratic inconsistencies, my consistent desire was to inflict some kind of tangible harm to those I was interacting with. My thoughts were flooded with punching, slapping, bombing, throwing, etc. The images even made their way into my speech, and not in my otherwise sarcastic tone. I find it ironic that after so long in the military, the prevailing model by which I shape my thoughts and reactions is ingrained with structures of violence. This should not be seen as justification, but mere observation. Stanley Hauerwas has a very important point when he states that his pacifism is dependent upon his violent nature (I choose not to usurp his unique choice of words, but we are definitely on the same page in this regard).
This nuance of violence can be attributed to either my military conditioning or the masculine paradigm that is prevalent in contemporary culture, so take your pick. Either way, in the office, shedding tears was a deliberately chosen alternative to shedding blood. I chose, over several maddening visits to various offices, to be depressed instead of angry. It isn’t very macho, but it definitely consumes less emotive energy and results in far less material damage (like bruised knuckles or gaping holes in dry wall). After all, it usually just takes a bit of time and some soothing music (at least for me) to overcome my frustration. I’m one of the lucky few who have been able to discover a means of pacifying my rage, instead of allowing it to consume me.
Another big part of my despondency was the thought that all my military service (that I agreed to in exchange for college money) was for naught. Almost a quarter of my life now felt worthless; had I endured all that I did just to be forced to adopt the financial burden I had explicitly signed up to avoid? That was the clearest thought that coursed through my mind in that office, the poor director dropping apologies like they were going out of style. All I could think of was whether the very fact of my presence in his office invalidated all that sacrifice I had made. It only worsened my state of mind to consider the parallels with begging for money, always finding myself in the financial aide office only to leave feeling like I had been denied credit. Finally, I felt bad for the director, as he hadn’t done anything wrong, and neither had any of his staff, but that nonetheless something was clearly not right. I had done everything I could, they had as well, and yet the integrity of the system still had betrayed me.
Time has yet to tell if there is one or two more maddening revelations awaiting me, or if I will in fact get the loan refund by the promised date (Wednesday). God willing, my camel still has a few more straws to bear. After all, just as I muttered to the director in a feeble attempt to console his own obvious distress, there are worse things than watching a grown man cry. Trust me.