The Power of Connection
I had my first true spiritual experience when I was 15 years old. It was a Sunday afternoon in Southern Michigan in mid-April and the snow was finally melting with the coming of spring. I was out doing a 6-mile run which took me down muddy trails through abandoned fields. As I crossed one of the largest fields about a mile from home, I suddenly felt this huge wave of energy come through me that exploded from my heart into the field. In that moment I found myself on my knees in the melting snow gasping for air and feeling somehow connected to everything around me. Suddenly the sun burst out from behind the clouds and the melting snow lit up like a million diamonds as I touched something inside myself that I knew to be true. I was connected to everything and everything was connected to me.
This deep connection lasted for about three minutes and suddenly the sun went back behind the clouds and I was back in a wet field with mud caked running sweats feeling foolish about kneeling in the mud. But instead of seeing this experience – that we are always connected to everything which I now know to be true – I saw in the moment that this wasn’t a normal thing to be happening and decided something was wrong with me. From that moment on I became obsessed with figuring out how could bury this awareness and make sure it wouldn’t spring up and catch me unaware again. Then I discovered the answer. The military doesn’t have any place for guys with sensitive sides. I had seen enough war movies growing up outside of Detroit in the mid- 60’s and early 70’s to know that to be true. So, to insure that this would never show up again,I joined the toughest branch of service, the United States Marine Corps.
I signed up with a delayed enlistment as soon as I could, when I turned 17. Two weeks after high school graduation I found myself standing on the famous yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Five months later, after graduating from boot camp and getting assigned to Camp Pendleton, on a lunch time run I met a new running partner, Captain Lark Conatser. He was part of a three person crew that ran at lunch everyday across the many fire trails that ran throughout the base near the rear gate. He invited me to join them and the next day I showed up behind the Battalion Headquarters Building where he and Sergeant Glenn Wofford started out our workout by attacking the pull bar. From there we were joined by Warrant Officer Woody Franklin who worked in the building just down the road. Those daily runs of 8-10 miles per day became the highlight of the day for me as a young enlisted Private First Class Marine. The Marine Corps didn’t allow friendships between Officers and Enlisted Personnel, which it considered to be fraternization, but because we were under the guise of running together to keep ourselves in shape for our annual Physical Fitness Test, everyone looked the other way. So for those 90 minutes a day, five days a week, we left our rank, age and backgrounds at our lockers and became four guys who loved to run.
Because we were doing what was called Long Slow Distance or LSD, and we all snickered at the reference to the drug, we talked about everything under the sun. During those conversations I realized how close we had become and that in those quiet times while we churned out the miles I started to experience again that we are always connected to everything. I would feel it on the trail when a scene around me would light up for no apparent reason or my thinking would settle about 6 miles out and I felt the closeness of my running partners and the intimacy that bound us together from all the hours on the trail. And my sensitivity showed itself when I felt the most vulnerable making a deep statement about how I saw the world, the three of them listening intently and nodding their heads in understanding. They may not have been in agreement with what I said but we were all equals out there on the trail and my voice, for the first time in my life, had a weight and realness to it that wasn’t allowed in the other 23 and a half hours of the day while being a young Marine. But our time together was really all about connection. Because that’s all we are hardwired to do, is be connected with each other. And that understanding has changed my life and made all the difference for me.