Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Living with—and Writing through—Regret

A Lifetime of Regrets

While visiting my wife's native Romania one summer, I learned that there had been an anti-communist insurgency there back in the 50's. It was eventually crushed in the early 60's.

I began to imagine a family in Transylvania who fought as anti-communist freedom fighters. I imagined that this family's motivation was largely in defense of the Church that the communists were suppressing. 

And in particular I found myself dwelling on the regret and disappointment such people must have experienced when their hard-fought effort came to nothing and they were forced to either flee the country or form a life within the communist system.


And so it was that I began writing the novel A Place of Brightness. It shares the saga of such a family of freedom fighters as they experience the end of the rebellion. It continues to a second generation who must unexpectedly take up the torch and face their family's enemies.

In the very first chapter, I describe how a brother and sister team have resolved that their current operation against the communists would have to be their last. They dare to share with each other dreams of the life they will fade into as they now set their rebellion aside.

But things don't go according to plan on that final mission and what follows are lives deeply and tragically wounded by the regret of what never came to pass.

What Brought Me There

Like you, so many things I had once perhaps imagined my life could include and would mean—just didn't happen as I planned.

Lofty dreams of my youth never materialized. 

More reasonable dreams of my young adulthood came true in only mixed measure.

Safer plans in my full adulthood evolved into a comfortable life. 

And then my world was turned upside down.

You see, I had a PhD in Biblical Hebrew, with a minor in Arabic. That was a safe plan, since it had followed accepting a scholarship. And I loved the study.

But then, on the evening of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I saw appeals on the news for people with expertise in Arabic to submit resumes to the intelligence agencies in response to what had happened.

Quick version. Submitted. Accepted. Suddenly I was an Intelligence Officer at the National Security Agency.

What followed was a whirlwind of adventure and emotion. I would serve in Iraq, for which I was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal.  I would serve in the Office of Counter Terrorism, helping to foil plots against our nation.

I served at the NSA for four years, longer than the US was in WWII. I came to a point where I was ready to move on—and to a quieter life. 

As I resigned my position and became a mild-mannered Latin teacher, I needed a way to process all that I had been through.

A Place of Brightness 

I wrote my novel for many reasons. As a boy growing up in Wisconsin, I never imagined I would ever stand in a war zone. Some of the more intense battle scenes of the novel allowed me to process the chaos and insanity of it all. 

As I look back on my life, I certainly have some regrets. The experience of going to war and working in the Top Secret world of espionage had a toll on me. A part of me wonders, with understandable regret, what my life would be had I not gone down that path.

At the same time, I would not change anything were I given the chance to do it all over. I am what I am today because of the choices I made.

My novel is primarily a story of family and faith. I come from a close family and the bonds the characters in A Place of Brightness share are real. They are practicing Christians because I would dishonor myself to write them any other way. 

But a most important matter explored in the novel is the tremendous burden the brother and sister will experience as the dreams of a future life which they hoped for on that final night—are crushed.

What do you do when everything you ever dreamed your life would mean is suddenly gone?

As you will learn in the novel, the answer is—you pick up a new dream and you move forward—in faith.

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