The Red Star Cluster
This is pretty much verbatim from a Facebook post I wrote four years ago today, upon receiving some very bad news.
When I was in ROTC in college, we had a ranger company which I was a part of. Our instructors were tough, and so was our training…and we followed the Ranger Creed. One section of the creed says, “Surrender is not a Ranger word.”
But while driving to the dojo tonight, I got a phone call from a friend from the old ranger company. He told me that one of our own had found life too much to handle…and committed suicide two nights ago.
He had been a big, strong man, and an incurable jokester. A push-up machine, always cutting up, laughing. He had been a successful career Army officer. But something in his life…I don’t know what…apparently was too much for him to handle, and Tuesday evening he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
I just sat on the mat at the dojo tonight for a while, not joining in training. I couldn’t get all the thoughts in my head to be still, to shut up. A friend came over and asked me what was wrong, and I couldn’t get the words, “my friend killed himself,” to come out of my mouth. I couldn’t make myself say it. So I just sat there.
I even felt a little angry. But I mostly kept hearing the word, “Why?” As far as I know, no one had any idea he was in any trouble. No one suspected he was struggling. I don’t know why he did it, but he must have felt very alone. He must have felt he had nowhere to go…no one to turn to.
He was wrong.
When we were in the rangers, most of our field training would be somewhere in the Appalachian mountains..sometimes pretty deep. In that rough terrain, and often some seriously crappy weather, it was not out of the realm of possibility that we could get into some trouble and need help. One of the ways we could signal for help was to shoot a red signal flare called a star cluster up into the night sky. Get that red star cluster up there, and you knew that help was on the way.
That's because there’s another line in that Ranger Creed that says, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” And we would not have left you, my friend. Maybe we didn’t make that clear enough, and if so…I am sorry. But brother, if you were in trouble, all you had to do was pop that red star cluster…and we would have come for you.
We would have come for you.
After a while, I was able to get up and train tonight. Practicing aikido with my friends, I was able to forget for a little while and quiet all the noise. If you trained with me tonight, I thank you for that.
It is my regret that my friend felt so lost, so alone that he felt he had no recourse other than to take his own life. So here is my pledge: If you are my friend, you are never alone. If you ever feel that broken, if you feel yourself starting to fall…just send up that red star cluster. Reach out. If I can physically get to you, I will. If the miles are too great, I’ll be on the phone anytime you need me.
Surrender is not a Ranger word.