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On the Corner

Drawing a straight line somewhere

by Robert Docter – 

There’s more to drawing a straight line freehand than one might imagine. You put the pencil down, then start moving your arm in some direction—hopefully, in the direction you want the line to go. You need to look at three things at the same time—where you started, where you are right now, and where you want to go.

Without all three, your line isn’t going to be straight. There’s going to be a crooked relationship between where you started and where you’re going. There’s a lot of head movement involved in drawing a straight line.

I get in the habit of running my course in the park in the same way each time I run. Up here—around there, over that way, back this way—and so on. Once in awhile I run it “backwards” and I am amazed at how different everything looks. It’s amazing—but it’s true.

Every addict working a 12-step program knows that growth through the steps is cumulative, not simply progressive. It’s a process that involves growth built on past achievement. It escalates. Just because someone is on the 5th step doesn’t mean they have “passed” the first and can, therefore, ignore it. Sure—the process is linear, but, as each step is added, the individual accumulates the next step and continues to work all of the prior steps as well. If an addict ignores, let’s say, the first step—forgetting what life looked like when he was at his very “bottom,” the likelihood of getting into lengthy sobriety diminishes about 95%.

Did you ever get lost in the woods? You might have lost your sense of direction and ended up walking over the same ground repeatedly. It’s because you failed to look behind you—to check where you had come from in relation to where you wanted to go. All the pioneers moving into virgin territory knew they must always check their back trail.

Did you ever lose your car in a parking lot? I did. A few years ago I went to an Angels game with my friend, Virgil and my brother, Dick. I rarely go to an Angels game. I think I must enjoy pain—therefore, I am a Dodger fan. I’d much rather go to Dodger Stadium, which I know backwards and forwards. Anyway, we were all anxious to get into the game and be refreshed by the luxurious smell of new-mown grass and roasting hotdogs. We parked the car, hurried up to the entrance, gave the man our tickets and rushed into the game. We got to see the first pitch. We enjoyed the aural magic of hearing a fast-moving leather sphere hit a piece of hickory. A few hours later, we saw the last pitch and started moving out to the parking lot—shuffling along with the crowd.

We got to the entrance to the stadium, and everything looked different. Virg knew the car was one way. Dick thought it was somewhere else. I looked behind me, and not even the stadium looked the same. We didn’t know where we were going. I clicked the clicker on the key, but got no cue from any honking horn or flashing lights. We started wandering up and down the aisles. No luck.

Finally, we all looked at the stadium again and realized we had come out a different entrance than the one we had gone in. Therefore, we concluded, we were looking for the car in the wrong part of the parking lot. We followed the crowd in the wrong direction. We went out on the first base side while the car was parked on the third base side.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I’m convinced that we, in the Army, fail to check our back trail, don’t know where we’ve been, have almost zero appreciation for our history, haven’t got much of an idea at all about how we got to where we are.

I don’t want us to live anywhere except in the immediate present. I’m a here-and-now kind of person. But being fully in the here and now means you know where you’ve been. I don’t want to live in the past. I recognize that it’s impossible. But I want to know the past—to understand what mistakes won’t work for me and to understand how I got where I am.

I don’t want to live in the future. I live at the place where the pencil hits the page. Nevertheless, the pencil is moving, and I’m moving it. I want to have some say in its direction. To do this, I’ve got to look back or I’m going astray.

If, as an organization, we don’t know our roots, than we are rootless. We, today reap the benefits of those who have worked well in the past. Sometimes, I think we’re still living off that donut. But what that means is that people have the expectation of us that we will be tireless in our compassionate commitment to others.

Are you reading the Army’s historical literature? Does your corps have an historian. Are you collecting data about the present for preservation in the future in order, some day, to reveal your past? If you don’t, you’re drawing a crooked line.

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