Updated: Jun 5, 2020
When I was younger I knew I was going to become a United States Marine. I knew they were the toughest and I knew that I needed to be strong and prepared for anything. So began my journey into sports, particularly wrestling. I also loved working with my hands and was always doing stuff with my grandfathers. I knew that working outside would make me strong and wrestling would make me tough.
I started going to the gym when I was 12 about the 7th grade. For 5 years every day, I worked out in the morning before school and after school. In the summers I would bail hey and other farm work. I hunted, fished, worked on everything I could. I studied hard knowing they wouldn’t except anything less. I practiced military tactics in the woods while camping alone. I road bikes, swam in lakes and pools as often as I could ready for the water qualifications. Nothing crushed my determination.
I laughed at how hard boot camp was and was used as an example to break other recruit’s spirits during training. Shaming them with my ability to never quit fighting with absolute deep soul strength and mental toughness not allowing my body to give up even an inch when challenged. I knew this and the other recruits did too.
Once in a push-up position head to head with another recruit for over an hour. The drill instructor would say down and then up giving each movement command and no other was authorized and would only be met with more punishment. The other recruit would collapse and have been for almost the entire exercise. He drill instructor finally said to him to try and motivate the recruit. He said, “Caris can do it, why can’t you?” Staring at him he looked at me and then to the drill instructor and said “I can’t! Caris is better than me!” he exclaimed. I wanted to burst out laughing at that moment and yet I had so much compassion for the aspiring Marine who only wanted to be a drummer in the band.
I looked back today and scanned my body feeling ever injury and painful experience I have been through during my time in the Marines. Boot camp was easy and the easiest task was only meant to prepare you for what you were expected to accomplish during battle. From my feet to my head there isn’t one thing left free from the torture I have put myself through.
Feeling all of it now has me shedding a tear and wishing I had taken better care of myself. Wishing I had yoga during my time in service. What would I feel like today, would I have been able to stay in and do 20 years as I had intended? While I have no regrets for my past actions because I do love the present moment despite all the pain. A small part of me always asks these questions.
I don’t try to stop this as I feel that I am learning how to approach similar situations and not make the same mistakes. It cultivates a newfound discipline in my daily life. Pain is the best teacher in that it’s in our nature to survive so we look onward avoiding it in our wiser and more fragile years.
I can’t even begin to describe the pain and punishment of bloody and blistered feet in combat. It’s not like you have a choice to stop, because death will come to you and those around you if you quit! Dumping a shoe filled with blood out onto the ground, changing your sock, and moving on. Picking up your gear weighing over 100lbs, grunting in anguish, the cry of men pushing through pain to live. It would be a horror to many observers and yet we smiled. Proud of our strength we walked on finger straight and off the trigger.
My feet sometimes fill with tingling pain remembering those moments. My back is crushed no different than anyone else that has done what I have. Hips, knees, and ankles suffered, even more, carrying my weight of 230 lbs plus the gear. It’s unbelievable and at times the weight being carried was over anything imaginable. Jumping, running, explosions, shock waves from millions of fired bullets What that shock does to the upper body is unknown to me. However, my right hand still shakes almost as if it has muscle memory and my left shoulder blade is always on fire from bearing the weight of the 20 lbs gun while aiming outstretched.
I have fallen through roofs, jumped from 10 plus feet above the ground. Hitting the earth with unbelievable agony each time. I have ran through doors and concrete walls. I ran headfirst into a wall once as I was in a battle with an enemy chasing through a compound. The door was covered by a rug and I remembered from when I went in that it was short I ducked running through to the fight. I wasn’t low enough and knocked myself out flat on my back.
While on another patrol we were ambushed by machine guns separating our patrol. I ran leaving my gun as fast as I could for the other building where there was an anti-tank rocket that I needed to take out the machine gun posted up. Upon returning there were some broken sights and shoulder stop on the weapon which distracted me from the steps required before firing. I missed checking my rear and was suppose to allow for 100 meters of free space behind me because of the backblast from the rocket. Under fire by machine guns and hoping that I can still hit the target with broken sites, I focused and yelled “ROCKET!!!” away it went and away I went. My body was lifted and propelled about 15 feet into a 7-foot deep canal. This is most likely the incident that crushed my spine.
Its astonishing how much punishment I have put myself through. I can tell you that all that catches up to me from time to time especially when it rains! Now I can focus on being kind to myself and as I see my future, it is clear that I have no desire to suffer in these ways any longer and drive forward now to be aware. Aware of these injuries and constantly approaching life with patience and kindness for the abilities that I have left. Focusing on the process, not the goal I will attain it at a slower pace and less suffering.
Explore your own body through yoga, learn how it is supposed to move and learn what your own capabilities are now and each following day. Its how we can continue to move through life happily and joyfully. Pain is not weakness leaving the body but ignorance being masked by pride. Change the way you think about strength and If I was in the Marine Corps today, I know with this practice my movements and abilities would not be weaker, but stronger and would have given me more endurance to stay in the fight.