"So many of us talk about what we are going to be and what we are going to do; he did it."
"Chris backed up his words with actions."
"He would back up anything he said with a commitment you can't match, or describe with words. Chris Campbell, Navy Seal."
A high school classmate of mine was one of the 30 Americans killed yesterday in Afghanistan when their helicopter was downed by Taliban fire. I learned about his death as I made a quick scan of Facebook before heading out to dinner. The posting began "Just got word..." The words "KIA," "Afghanistan" and "Chris Campbell" jumped off the page. I read the post again. And again. It couldn't be true. But by Saturday night, Facebook was filled with more postings from friends mourning the loss of this amazing guy whose smile and spirit were the first things that came to mind when you heard his name.
I didn't know Chris was a Navy SEAL. In fact, I didn't know Chris well at all. But I knew him enough to see that smile in my head, feel a rush of memories from our years in school together, and ache not only for his family but for his high school buddies, many of whom are very dear to me.
My first instinct after hearing the news was to pull out the only personal photograph I have of him. In it, Chris poses with five other guys from our high school class. (The six of them were voted by their classmates to pose in surf shop swimwear for our school newspaper.) If I remember correctly, Chris didn't stay at the photo shoot very long: It was a gorgeous day, toward the end of the school year, and there were waves to catch. Surfing was his life.
As I scanned the photo and rubbed my thumb over his young face, I thought about how my inability to believe he was one of the 30 killed stems from the fact that he'll always be that 18-year-old surfer in my head. And why would an 18-year-old surfer be in that Chinook helicopter over Afghanistan?
Hours later, still thinking of Chris and reading more about the brave mission those SEALs were on, I felt a huge swell of pride for the man he became. He was not that 18-year-old surfer anymore. He was a Navy SEAL. He belonged to one of the most elite forces in our military. He became someone many of us only dream of being. He was a hero.
This morning, I went digging through my box of memorabilia, high school and otherwise. I was in search of our 10-year reunion program. In the midst of digging, I came across my "Life's To-Do List." It was emotional, thinking of this list, thinking of what I want to accomplish in my life, and how Chris ....
For the past several months, I've let a lot of stuff weigh me down. Work. Health. Money. I've dwelled and worried and, in doing so, wasted a lot of time. I don't want to live like that. I don't want to simply check off days, but not check off opportunities that are out there. There's so much left on that Life's To-Do List. (In what has brought a rare smile to my face, I just saw that No. 7 is "Try to learn to surf.")
Since hearing the news, I've found myself restless and wishing there was something I could do. I wasn't a part of Chris' life, so pretending to be is the worst thing I can do. But I still feel the need to focus on something that matters, to honor Chris in some way. For me, I think that will be running the Norfolk Freedom Half Marathon. It takes place Veterans Day weekend, and I want to run it in honor of Chris. The event raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project, and I would like to find a way to incorporate raising even more money during my training. It may be as simple as personally donating a dollar for every mile I train. I don't know. But I feel the need to honor him, and I don't know what else to do.
Training began this morning, and I thought of Chris with each painful step (I admit I'm not in the best condition to be doing this, but I'm determined to fight off the health issues that come my way). When I felt like stopping because of the heat, I pictured our men and women in Afghanistan battling much hotter conditions, in a much scarier place. When my iPod randomly chose the hauntingly beautiful "Hallelujah," I thought of Chris in that Chinook. And I thought about the words that began this blog post, words I borrowed from friends who posted their awe of Chris on Facebook last night: "So many of us talk about what we are going to be and what we are going to do; he did it."
Chris wanted to be a Navy SEAL. That's no small dream. I'd like to think the best way to honor him is to fight for my own dreams.
If you'd like to run with me in honor of Chris, please let me know. Here's the link for the race: http://www.freedommarathon.org/norfolk.htm