The inherent contradictions embodied in what I am about to say cannot be resolved without amusing somebody. Several somebodies, in all likelihood. Hell, probably all of you.
I am an Army Airborne-Ranger-Infantry Gleek in Afghanistan.
Yes, you read that right. I am, in addition to being a professional soldier in a combat zone, an aficionado of the campy show-tune filled television musical program Glee.
(And right now one-half of you are amused at the apparent mass of contra-posed inclinations contained in that sentence for a reason that is 180-degrees off from the reason why the other half of you are amused. This, in turn, amuses me.)
But it makes sense, and if you were here, you would understand.
For an American soldier this place is not exactly Three Cups of Tea, even if the stories in that tale were completely true. It is war, and war is not fun. War is not something you can turn on and off. You cannot shut off the lights, close the door, get in your car and go home at the end of the day when you are in a war. You are here, 24/7, for almost 365 days, and there is no let up, there are no days off, and there is no release. (Well, this is the case if you are a soldier. If you are a Marine you are here for seven months. If you are Air Force or Navy, it is six months. But if you are a soldier, minus your 15 days of leave, you are here for at least a year.) You cannot have a beer, or three, and you cannot lose focus. Because regardless of what type of war you may be in, the ultimate measure in war is reduced to the simplest terms: Life. Death.
For me, and for people like me, you are either planning for the death of somebody or you are planning on how to keep somebody bad from killing you, yours, and most especially the civilians and innocents, because in these most recent wars, that is what the enemy often tries to do. Lose focus, lose intensity, and innocent people are more likely to die. Here. Now. Not in the abstract. Not in the hypothetical future. But in hours, days, weeks, it can, and will, happen.
It will happen anyway, of course, and that weighs on your soul as well. You know, with your brain, that there will be the ones that you could not protect, no matter what you did. There will be men, soldiers, civilians, women and children, who will die because there is no way to protect them all, all of the time. We all know that, intellectually at least. But truth be told, that intellectual realization is thin gruel indeed when your heart remembers.
And so, naturally, in this hyper-alert, hyper-emotional environment, where you have zero privacy, zero time alone, and zero time to recharge in any meaningful way, we all have our small ways of coping. Mine is Glee.
This is funny, because even though I sometime try, I am not much of a music guy, or a television guy for that matter. My tastes are pretty well frozen at around 1989, and it is only through the three teenage daughters I have that I can even understand who “Lady Gaga” might be. But though I was raised in rural Ohio, I was raised by a transplanted New Yorker who played Broadway show tunes in the house at every opportunity, and so now, decades later, it appears that some of that stuck.
I love the complete escapism of that fantasy world represented in Glee, even as the Ohioan inside me laughs at the all-too-true stereotypes played out on the small screen. I like the few minutes I get, transported to a place which is, almost exactly, on the other side of the world from where I am, literally and figuratively. And I appreciate that while the world those actors portray on Glee is almost as divorced from the reality of the real Lima, Ohio, as I am from the reality of Bainbridge Township, Ohio, I can at least, for a moment, listen to music and be far, far away.