Haunted by Hondros

I'm feeling particularly haunted by Chris Hondros tonight. Chris was an incredible photojournalist and I got to know him a bit, enough to call him a friend I think, when I was in Iraq. He knew I didn't want to be in that war. He knew I thought that war was silly and deadly. I was there, however, because I made a commitment when I was 17 to serve my country for eight years after my bachelor's degree. He made a commitment to tell the story.

We talked about what I would do when I got out. I said I was thinking about being a journalist. He told me I should be a journalist. Instead, after making a list of about 100 things of what I could do, everything from brewery school (I'm sober now), to going to New Zealand and getting a masters in outdoor education (I'm the director of an outdoors program now), I went to get a master's degree in urban design. I figured I could help design a better refugee camp. I figured there was an opportunity in the aftermath of disaster and war to build better homes and better cities for the dispossessed.

I haven't done that yet.

At the time, Hondros jokingly called me a sell-out. "Go write," he said.

Four years after Hondros called me a sell-out, and long after he and I stopped emailing, I was having dinner with two men who have helped set a couple foundational pillars of my life. We were dreaming up projects and ideas that could help change the world and I said to them, "We should get Hondros to help tell the story."

He was killed the next day covering the Libyan Civil War.

I left Boulder, moved to DC for a job, sobered up. One of my co-workers and friend's fathers presided over Hondros' funeral. I couldn't make it. My old battalion commander did.

Walking out of a leadership and strategic planning retreat last Friday where we passionately discussed the power of nature, I learned about the attacks in Paris. I questioned what I was doing. Is this work of any consequence? "To thousands it is..." replied a friend and colleague.

As three of us were driving from the retreat site to the hotel, I repeated the question. Someone answered, "If I had never got outside, I wouldn't be here, so it matters to me."

I love my family. I love my job and my colleagues and the little life that's been built around me and for me by thousands of hands, but I wonder, am I failing Chris?

In that good ol'Army training we talked about rushing into the breach, running towards the problem, not away from it.

There's been a huge breach since Hondros left us and now we've got another huge problem, maybe even an opportunity to forge a better world and I find myself wondering, is it time to fill the breach? Is it time to run towards the problem?

And if I ran towards it, what would I do? Write about it? Talk about it? Convince folks there's a middle way between kill 'em all and hug 'em all? Work to build a better refugee camp? Or am I just being tested about my belief that time outside really can change the world? Am I just being naïve?

I've got a kid on the way in January; our first. I want to model for her the way I want her to live in the world: heart ablaze, laughing, and running towards the problem to seek a solution.

Right now though, I just feel like standing in place.