An Interlude

I am currently in a boring phase of TBS. The classes are dull, the events are difficult and unglamorous, and we haven’t really learned anything new in a while. The only really exciting recent event was night land navigation. It is much like day land navigation – spiderwebs, thick underbrush, water hazards, and lots of bugs – only you can’t see. So you fall into rivers and small lakes, you trip over logs, and you eat spiders more frequently than normal. That is all very unpleasant. But happily that night beautiful, starry and filled with moonlight, reminding me that though I chiefly joined the Marine Corps to learn discipline and virtue (so they would “make a man out of me”), I find here at TBS more spiritual lessons as well. Due in part to the harsh training environment, I encounter beauty in ways that normal-life distractions have so far denied me.

An example of this occurred last week, during a day Land Navigation Event. It was six hours long because it involved greater distances and more boxes to find than we had previously seen. I worked under an iron sky, in a soaking, miserable rain. After finding my last box, I had a little time to spare, so I began a relatively leisurely stroll to the Command Post. I was picking my way down a muddy tank trail when suddenly, for no discernable reason, I looked up. There, as if it had materialized out of nowhere, stood a dignified and comely four-point buck, gazing at me curiously from a distance of several meters. Unable to stop myself, I spoke: “You are beautiful.” It was a strangely solemn moment. We looked at each other for several still moments before he turned and bounded away with unhurried grace.

That is but one of the moments here in Quantico where I am overwhelmed by beauty. I will leave the barracks at sunset, for instance, and see the sky awash with copper-gold clouds, clear and glimmering. Or I will stop outside after a cell phone call to notice the distinct, intense and luminous array of stars above me. Or I will encounter a buck in the forest, strangely both familiar and majestic. These events gather themselves in my memory as a collage of light and smell and sound, and become a personal retreat from the immediate, rigorous, disciplined, and stressful concerns of military life. They are more than a retreat; they are a backdrop, and provide an overarching spiritual structure to my military experiences. They are necessary leisure, even if they only occur in an eternal instant. Each of them is the separate sensation of something endlessly beautiful running through you, uncapturable and barely observable; the infintessimal point at which you touch the divine.

Beauty, therefore, is not necessarily a property of visible things. “Beauty” describes the effect of things to raise our consciousness to a more metaphysical level. Essentially, a thing is beautiful that offers more clear evidence of God’s grace and perfect creation: a person, a painting, a building, a flower, a mountain. I am beginning to understand this, and take hope from it. My journey in the Marine Corps is yielding richer fruit than I could have imagined.

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