(Marine Sergeant Joe Dicochea, Korean War veteran, and my dad – Original Posted Memorial Day, 2015)
“Just give me tomorrow.” – unidentified Korean War Marine soldier
Jason, I think you’ll like this given your admiration of the Marine Corp.
I was watching a Military Channel documentary “Against the Odds” about a company of Marines who fought in one of more iconic battles in the history of the Corp at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War or “police action” as it was officially referred to. I guess this was to avoid the stigma of the conflict that ended just years before called “WWII”. I’m not sure that the soldiers in the field during the later action felt any different than the ones who were part of the earlier one. However if that description made it more palatable to the politicians and public at the time, so be it but again, I’m sure the consequences and emotions associated with the battles faced by both “boots on the ground” were vastly similar regardless of it’s presentation to the masses.
Now back to the “Frozen Chosin” and the company that eventually was known as “Bloody George” because of it’s casualty rate. Their role became famous within the grander story that makes every Marine proud to be part of that tradition. Just a quick breakdown of the story, the George Company of the 1st Division after landing on Inchon (another iconic battle) and fighting in Seoul drew, more by circumstances than choice, the responsibility of having to hold their ground serving as “Spartans” to fend off what seemed to be the inevitable annihilation of the entire division by an unexpected attack by a Chinese forces. The Chinese army vastly outnumbered them while the division battled unforgiving terrain and the most severe elements of the winter that struck during this engagement.
I was riveted in fascination by the story and interviews with the surviving members of that company. Since my father (your grandfather) was a Marine veteran of Korea who continually referred to ideals of his beloved Corp as I grew up, I look upon just about every Marine combat veteran with an abundance of respect and personal pride by just having that connection with my father as well as other family members who wore that uniform. J I know you carry that pride and still hold my father’s Marine emblem in your hand during each pre-game prayers and rituals. Interestingly, I was informed after my father’s death by a Marine Corp vet who knew my Dad that he was involved in that epic battle while he was still still only a teenager. I’ve never bothered to verify its accuracy nor do I question its veracity since it wouldn’t affect the “hero” I’ve always viewed him as during my whole life. Moreover given his character, it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t share that information because as I’ve learned, it was an awful engagement to be a part of and it was a memory reserved for a different audience than someone who could never understand the basic and personal ferocity of war.
So back to the point (thank goodness). George Company, who continuously battled for months of fighting culminating in surviving and escaping from a relentless onslaught of attacks by the Chinese (who outnumbered them 10-1) and the environment at Chosin, were nearing the end of their organized march to the deliverance of their home base from this personal “hell”. At this juncture, a correspondent approached one of the beleaguered company and asked what probably sounded like a ridiculous question at the time considering all the Marine had been through. However his response gave a profound meaning to not just his or his comrade’s existence but served as a reminder to mine.
Paraphrasing the question to that soldier, he was asked “if I were God and I could give you anything for Christmas, what would you want?” A picture was taken of his face with the vacant stare often seen on those in combat, fatigued and almost indifferent to the death he’d witnessed, answering with this simple response: “just “give me tomorrow!”
It would take way too long to share my own history to fully capture how important those words came across to me when I first heard them and all the times I’ve repeated them in my head since then. I think of all those times when I probably exaggerated the despair over the pseudo and “faux” ordeals that I unnecessarily burdened myself with at the expense of valuable time lost and the damage it caused. As I sit where I’m at now in my life, I can only say that I’m so ashamed of myself and I apologize to my Creator for all those days I despised and destroyed, along with all those “tomorrows” whose future occurrence I dreaded – how’s that for honesty?
I understand now, and thankfully not too late given my close calls with mortality, that each day was my own personal gift with resources to invest as I saw fit and that the “tomorrows” were only a privilege with no assurance that they would ever begin. I was such an f’ing fool and I also apologize to those who continually attempted to point out the overwhelmingly numerical reasons why my life was better than the few I chose to focus on and torture myself with – again, how’s that for honesty?
So my point, especially to you Son. Never under-appreciate the simple, basic elegance of the days afforded to us since they pass out of our vision too quickly and thinking what’s ahead of us to replace it just may never be there. It shouldn’t take that particular Marine or some old guy who fell on his head leading to a massive brain bleed, with the odds numerically against them more than most others for getting another “tomorrow”, lead you to understand what is right here in front of us is the only time that we are guaranteed to make the best difference for ourselves and everything around us.
J remember what I told you: until the last sun sets on the days we are given, every tomorrow has the potential to be the best day of our lives with the odds dramatically in our favor based on what we do, how we live, and the hope we carry towards the next day and it matters not how it ultimately turns out.
So I dedicate this message to my father, the Marines, and all military veterans given that this is Memorial Day and it’s important to me that I do something even if it’s sharing this particular story and associated message. Referring to the Marine Corp credo of “semper fidelis”, I think it’s pertinent to the ideal of being “always faithful” to acting for the betterment of ourselves and those especially close to us.
In my case in thinking about the story above, if we try to practice with that faith and tragically are not “given tomorrow”, at least what is left behind for others is a memory and it should reflect the following: We did the best we could, despite any adversity we had to endure, and capitalized on every internal and external resource available to us to make a joyful difference in the only life that we’ve been given, regardless of whether our own expectations of perfection are met.
I’ll end with this quote because I’ve been waiting so long for the right opportunity and I think it relays such a strong message regardless of the particular religious beliefs that are individually adhered to.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” – Marcus Aurelius
(Heart among the clouds. Excerpts from a favorite post.)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
…But getting back to the “love” that I think Dr. King refers to or at least my my take on it and how my understanding of it has been woven into my life. I’ve written quite a bit about the transformation (of sorts) and rediscovery that’s occurred since my injury and how I’ve expressed a better comprehension of the love I needed to afford myself, those around me whether biologically or geographically, and degrees of love I needed to afford the basic elements in or near my life…
Now to be clear, anyone who knows me would never make the assertion that I express “love” for everything that happens in my life, or “love” about the totality of each person that surrounds me and those I have come across. By virtue of me being “me” with my own personal tastes, preferences, and varying tolerance for certain traits, some things eventually fall into the category of “less than loved”, under-appreciated, or tangentially annoying over time. I’m sure there may be a more tactful presentation of the foregoing blunt characterization but in lieu of an apology, I’ll just attribute this translucent honesty as a product of my age and brain injury.
However there is a precursor to whatever final conclusion is reached in my individual dealings and exploration of people and things so bear with me for a bit longer and I’ll start with this quote that I think is as spectacular in its message and presentation as the one by Dr. King: “Keep love in your heart. A life is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and a richness to life that nothing else can bring. Who, being loved, is poor?” – Oscar Wilde…
I have before me each day a gift of 1,440 minutes and there are generally static elements that I awake to with the comfort of knowing that love for and from them will continue to surround me absent any traumatic disruption in the forces that bond us together. But by freeing and opening up myself to not just my normal routine but also the unexpected elements that present themselves, I’ve afforded myself the opportunity, possibility, and increased the probability that I will discover different aspects of “love” that can be so readily available in a life that is too magnificent to habitually ignore. It seems that the further I lean in that direction, the farther I distance myself from patterns that lead to the intractable management of more undesirable feelings and their manifestations.
The beauty of parts of our humanity is due to the fact that we are able to experience a wide gauntlet of emotions although it is rare that we entirely become masters of them no matter how diligently we attempt to keep them cornered. How often is it that we are immersed in moments where we attempt to command the sensations of heart and mind so they somehow correspond to both the adulation and criticism directed our way?
Still I’m fairly confident that it boils down to a choice of how we approach each day. Oftentimes they don’t end up as perfect as we hoped for but I’ve never been sure of the number of guaranteed outcomes we’re entitled to even when we think our best efforts have been made. Still, we can better define how most days develop for ourselves and the proportionate amounts of “love” that can be summoned from all things gently explainable and even those supremely mysterious.
And so it goes that “the way you perceive and react to the world is a choice.” – David Foster Wallace. And if given that choice, wouldn’t it be better that our expressions be symptomatic of emotions more associated with anything resembling “love” that reflect the brightness surrounding the beauty we can be behold, as opposed to anything diametrically different that darkens the best of each of those particular aspects.
It seems like a logical choice once I get past the illogical distractions and given the alternatives that could erode them, I’ll just try to seek and express the “love” that lightens all those things that continue to surround me!
“You’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down as long as it’s one fewer than the times you get back up!” – Andrew Sorkin
As “Dicos” and my sons, please remember this about each one of us. Not one person, thing, or set of unfortunate circumstances can defeat us spiritually, mentally, or physically, even though we may be bloodied in the process. The only one that can defeat us is ourselves and only when we lose hope and faith in what lies inside of us and surrender, forgetting that there is still so much more we can draw upon to continue the fight.
As I learned from my parents, they did not finally lose to cancer until they could dictate the final terms of their existence. If you can’t change how life presents itself, change your approach so that you can adapt and change how you present yourselves it so you can overcome and achieve on your terms.
And in closing: “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
(I lost my loving Aunt Irma today and I found comfort in these words I wrote way-back-when that offers perspective with my sadness.)
“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day.”
This is much along the same vein of what I’ve been asking you to continue to be aware of.
I want you to think about the following and it’s not at all intended to distress you but give you a measure of appreciation of our lives now and some insight to how we should view the life ahead of us so that we don’t immerse ourselves in challenges that inevitably and unpredictably will confront us (I’m older so I speak from experience).
There are few absolutes in life but the most basic is that once we enter this life, we will some day have to leave it. No need to focus on these particulars other than to recognize that the importance is not the beginning or the end but rather the quality, not the duration, of the “in between”. Don’t rely on the concept of “life expectancy” measurements because as we are constantly reminded through personal and global events, tragedy has a different definition of equality.
So what do we do? Actually not much more beyond what we are doing now, or what we already know. If having a problem with the first, trust your instincts on the second while factoring the absolutes above as you go through each day. I really want you to invest in this life and use your senses to be aware that there exists a pulse not only in you, but that there is also an almost musical rhythm to everything around you. This is not some theological BS I’ve created in my mind but something I’ve grown to be increasingly aware of through not only the patently obvious, but what was once imperceptible to me. I know, maybe just an imaginary complication of my brain injury but what if I’m right?
So get to the point Dad! We all know that even the best laid plans somehow get ousted in the execution. Sometimes things occur when we never intended for their development. Maybe your steadfast dreams temporarily feel like nightmares. Here’s the best I can offer.
If you feel lonely, it’s not the same as being alone and regardless there is always someone there if you open your eyes. Something’s just don’t matter but always remember that you matter, especially to me. When you start falling deeply into despair, reach up your hand because their will be another one lowered to raise you up, even though it may be an anonymous one. If your heart feels broken, at least you know it’s there and can be repaired. If you are too tired to run forward, rest and/or slow down but don’t go in reverse since only what’s ahead will help widen your growth.
If you lose something important to you, don’t get lost by its absence because at least you had it at some point to appreciate its importance.
Case in point: I kind of knew that I would lose my parents but I never envisioned that it would happen in the course of a ten-month period. I dealt with it initially in what kind of worked in the short-term through denial and distraction but it took me a lot of time to realize that my prolonged and underground grief extended well beyond what my parents would have wanted for me. I had them, I’m grateful to have had them, and I miss them – what more is there for me to dwell on?. However by knowing them and what they shared with me, I grew to understand that they would not have wanted me to torment myself about the time I can no longer have with them, at least during this part of my existence. Now when I shed a tear because of them, it’s only because you boys never got to meet them which is why I share so much about them with you.
Almost at the end! When you feel happy for whatever reason, remember how different it feels compared with other emotions and that it’s probably your best opportunity to make a difference to help others (whether family, friends, or strangers) when surrounded by small opportunities to do so (see beginning quote). Since we all have known similar emotions of feeling depressed or despair, then maybe the smallest kind gesture may have an impact. We all know the obvious signs or clues, and it’s not important to know the why, what, solution, or response in return. It’s only important that we as human beings caught in the same environment react to such an opportunity and do more than just share space in it.
Another absolute: God may be the first to love you and likely the last but I find it hard to fathom that He can love all of you more than I do when I think about you, and more so as I end writing this!
(With Christian years back – Since the time I posted this last year, I had surgery to remove the remaining appendix that ruptured mentioned below, tests to rule out a suspicion of cancer in the area, another seizure that sent me to the hospital, some mini-seizures that didn’t, etc. And through it all, I’ve been so blessed with a precious life I value immensely and the words below still ringing so true today in belief and application.)
“Life gets so much more precious, when there’s less of it to waste”. – Bonnie Raitt
It just occurred to me that one year ago [now two] at this time, I was in the ER after two unexpected grand mal seizures that occurred while driving that happened literally seconds after I pulled over with Christian in the car knowing something wasn’t right. Luckily Christian, all of 13 years-old, stayed calm and got me the help I needed during the time I was amidst the haze of these developments, finding myself on the curb with paramedics treating me and Deb at my side.
So in thinking back as I shared with Christian today, had he not been in the car with me when I was seeing the auras that at the time I didn’t understand we’re precursors to the seizures I was soon to experience, I might not have pulled over seconds before they occurred. So in a sense Christian saved my life that day by his presence, just like all of you have each done so many times before when it sometimes been so f’ing hard to do so on my own on more occasions than I’ve ever let you or anyone else know because that’s never been my way in this life of mine, or I just can’t remember all the countless times over the years those moments have almost struck me down, you know? I’m supposed to be strong enough or so it has seemed throughout most of my life as a result of the way my parents raised and continuously demonstrated to me, and I guess I’m still here on this earth because of it.
So what’s it mean? Well if Christian hadn’t been there giving me the awareness that I had to protect him and pull over, I would not have been there to see Jason’s game that night in Irvine (after a great deal of persuasion and begging to get the doctors to discharge me from the hospital), the one last night, and all the ones in between; or seen Christian’s game last Saturday or everyone in between; or even be here as Mom reaches the 46th year of her life after knowing her for all of them other than the sixteen years before those.
I know things are not as centered as I’d/we’d always wish but I wonder had it been my time to join my parents at this time last year, or when my appendix ruptured in October and went untreated for a week, or my first falls in 2013 that led to a traumatic brain injury and first seizures that I somehow recovered from when there was some doubt that I would; or the recent second fall where I would have bled out had I not been found unconscious; or just those times I tripped over myself and couldn’t get out of my head; what would have been missed or lost by us had it been my time to leave this earthly existence, or stop fighting and just give up, which is seemingly the same thing in my mind.
It’s impossible to know or imagine but I’m here with hope, optimism, and love as always as each day continues to present itself, even on certain days when life challenges my faith in its meaning. All I can do is thank you and be grateful for being there and giving me sustaining breaths when the air was almost taken away from me way too many times since you’ve been part of my life, and in a sense all of us!
Upon quiet reflection and in looking back which is hard because it gives rise to some temporal pain with the honesty, it seems the last few (maybe several) years are an illustration of persistence through the good and epic chapters we’ve written but especially the tougher ones but boy, it’s hard to argue with what’s occurred, been overcome, and ultimately been achieved to date that I’ve been blessed to be a part of with so much more I could ever dream of or imagine. With that said, I’ll end with this quote: “There is no such thing as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence – and in the end you make it look like a quantum leap.” – James Dyson
I love you all! Thank you for letting me share because I’m sometimes not strong enough to hold it in – more temporal honesty there.
(A friend who has a copy of my book recently wrote me about how much these particular thoughts meant to her so I thought I’d re-post it again. This is the unedited version – Joe Dico)
“Laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of what you can’t change. Kiss slowly, play hard, forgive quickly, take chances, give everything and have no regrets. Life’s too short to be anything but happy.” – Unknown
I don’t think I have to elaborate much beyond the contents of the quotation above. However I will include something I wrote awhile back.
“Find the best in you, maintain it for as long as you are able, channel it towards the best available to you, and discover that which was once beyond your horizon. It’s funny (maybe not so funny) but since my injury, I have felt that way more frequently and I feel sometimes guilty for the amount of undefinable happiness I feel. I do see more than what I should have imagined before and though I may share it in odd ways, at least I share and rest assured it is genuine. That’s the bottom line I guess. Find the path to feel the best about yourself, embrace and cherish it, use it, share it, and then you’ll feel good just about almost everything large and small. We can only give to others based on what we reserve and allow to give to ourselves.”
With all that in mind and after you find that particular baseline, don’t hesitate, don’t think so much, and do it all to the best of your capabilities and with all at your disposal at the time, because the return on your investment will be abundantly in your favor and those around you. Have a good day(s).
Photo contributed by Marlena Groomer)
Seeing as how I believe that God or a greater power in the universe has a plan for us, I’ve learned through experience, trial, and an abundance of avoidable error that it’s best to do all we can to try not to head in a direction that gets in the way, or take us farther from that plan! – Joe Dico
(Sunset at Redondo Beach)
This was written two years ago but in reading it again with an abundance of hindsight and further reflection, its message and observations seemed to be reinforced by all that’s elapsed since it was authored.
“Peace is better than war, because life is better than death.” – Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democratic Convention.
Such a simple, logical statement. I genuinely hope that our country’s leaders remember this before we engage in world conflicts that risk the lives of our young men and women soldiers, those of innocent civilians, and the hearts of friends and families who suffer the loss of either. With two young sons, I need to be assured that these engagements are not for more of what we want versus need, and to protect universal moral and virtuous principles.
We may not be able to change the world on a global scale but we can change OUR worlds on a more individual and personal level if we adhere to basic, inescapable, and unarguable truths. For me, the recognition and practice of these absolute tenets help to cleanse, strengthen, and energize my soul so that I get closer to that utopian existence I strive for.
Now for most of these, I’m sure that the instinctive response is “thank you Captain Obvious” or “no S… Sherlock”! You’re right but if common sense already tells us this, why do I sense that too many still don’t exercise the most logical choice to avoid the most illogical outcome. So read each one quietly to yourself as a reminder and just long enough for it to resonate, hopefully for some benefit and revitalized understanding. At a minimum, just indulge me since connecting the antonyms to various words served as a more difficult challenge to the daily “cognitive crossword puzzles” I still have to solve stemming from my injury. Most importantly, remember that these are about what we should share along with what we want to receive.
Love is better than hate; Kindness is better than apathy; Hope is better than surrender; Encouragement is better than criticism; Generosity is better than self-entitlement; Humility is better than vanity; Truth is better than deception; Honesty is better than duplicity; Accountability is better than denial; Forgiveness is better than condemnation; Sensitivity is better than indifference; Patience is better than interruption; Expressing emotions is better than suppressing them; Passion is better than disinterest; Harmony is better than disorder; Simple compliments are better than detailed critiques; A hug is better than a handshake (or fist bump); A smile heals more than a glare. Etc.
The list goes on and on and feel free to modify or expand on the foregoing but recognize that we always have a choices between whichever option we “want” to exercise. It may take practice, discipline, and maybe some redirection, but remember that what we do for others we end up doing for ourselves so as a result, OUR worlds can change.
I’m close to ending this as I watch the tribute to Stuart Scott of ESPN who died this morning at the age of 49 from cancer. I rarely shed tears over the death of someone I never met but here they are as I recall the countless days I watched him on ESPN (“boo-yah” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow”), and his speech after receiving the “Jim Valvano Award” at the ESPY’s last year. Just someone who made a difference in MY world!
And finally words from another who was literally lost a long time ago but seemed appropriate for this writing. “The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.” – Amelia Earhart
So do “more” good because it’s better than doing the opposite or worse, “nothing”!
(2nd Street Hermosillo Beach – 1/31/17)
“There may be times where some would expect us to sour on life. We should remember the best reason against it. We are alive! If nothing else immediately comes to mind, we should think about good memories, have a great deal of hope for the ones ahead of us, and eventually make an effort to find a reason that’s probably right in front of us.” – Joe Dico