Monday, September 1, 2014

Embracing a New Identity

This Labor Day marks the first time since I began working at Wind Cave National Park in 2009 that I have actually been able to enjoy the holiday as a day off from labor. For the past five years I have either been working at a national park or having to spend the entire day writing my first paper of the semester for a graduate school class. Today I don't have to do either. It is a welcome break amid the stress of training, and a much needed day to catch up with numerous things requiring my attention, including finally getting a post  up on the blog for the first time since I wrote about a New Job Opportunity in April.

Much has happened since last I wrote, and future blog posts will include the details of my final NPS Civil War event at the Wilderness in May, attending my sister's college graduation in San Diego, my exploration of historical sites in the southeast, creating a new home in Washington D.C., and our visit to Acadia National Park. Today I would like to take a broader focus concerning the ways in which recent changes in our life and my experience in training has affected my perspective.

On May 14 I officially worked my last day as an employee of the National Park Service. It was a very strange feeling to drive away from my office at Manassas National Battlefield that day, not knowing if I would ever don the green and gray again. For the last five years I have consistently sought to secure a permanent position with the NPS, and in many ways it felt like a betrayal to be walking away from the agency to take a job somewhere else. But it was not for lack of trying. I feel confident that I have done everything within my power to try and get a permanent NPS position, and despite all of my efforts nothing has come through. It had been a difficult process for me to let go of the Park Service for this next chapter, but, at this stage it simply wasn't going to happen. I continue to believe that I will be a park ranger again one day, but until such a day arrives I am trusting that there is something new and significant in store for me where I am.

That same evening I officially graduated from George Mason University. I met Alison at the school after bidding farewell to Manassas and was awarded my Masters Degree at the Patriot Center. The juxtaposition of the grief of saying goodbye to the Park Service and the celebration of the ceremony to receive the reward for all the work I have done for school for the last 2.5 years was a compelling one. That proximity of loss, achievement, and excitement was made even more evident the next morning, when I reported for my first two days of orientation and training for the new job. Within the space of 15 hours I had left Manassas for the last time, been awarded my Masters Degree, and started a new job and whole new chapter of life.

Following that orientation, having spent less than a week in our new house in DC,  I packed up my car and drove to southern Georgia for three months of training.  I completed that training on August 11 and after a week off which we spent in Acadia National Park in Maine, I returned home to begin the second phase of training here in the DC area.

Going through the training in Georgia was, without question, one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was very difficult to be away from Alison for that long, especially so close on the heels of moving to a new house and finishing graduate school. It was also exceedingly challenging for me to face so many aspects of training that were so far outside my previous knowledge and experience. There were many times during the course of training (especially early on) when I didn't think I could finish it, and when I seriously questioned what I was doing there. It didn't seem to be the right fit and I struggled to accept that it was, in fact, what God had for us for this next chapter. It was so different than what I had thought and hoped we would be doing; moving closer to family with me working at one of the western national parks. But I persevered in faith that there was more at work than what I could see, believing that God had opened this door for a reason.

Even as I struggled to find my place within my class and to embrace this new identity, I sought to do my best in all of the aspects of training. In some areas (physical techniques, tactics, and many of the practical scenarios we were presented with) I was consistently behind the curve and fighting to achieve parity with others in my class to whom that type of thinking came much more naturally. But in other areas I found that I could, not only hold my own, but consistently excel. While I enjoyed the driving training and grew much more competent and confident in dealing with the practical scenarios, the two areas in which I consistently found myself at the head of my class were on the firearms range and in an academic setting.

I emerged as one of the top shots in my class and consistently performed well on the qualification courses, and found myself leading study groups before each of our major academic tests after I set myself apart by achieving the highest grade in the class on the first exam. When it came time to graduate I had the highest academic average in the class and was recognized for that achievement during the graduation ceremony.

So despite my initial doubts and my failure to see the way through early on, in persevering, I found my place after all, and consequently feel a much deeper sense of pride at identifying myself in this new role.

This past Friday evening I was driving back to our home on Capitol Hill from Virginia along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and as I came around a curve on the road, a perfectly clear night revealed our nation's capital in all of its glory across the Potomac River. In looking at the lights highlighting the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and the US Capitol Building, I was poignantly reminded of the significance of what this city represents. I have had to suspend my dream of working as a ranger in one of the western parks, but the alternative of helping to protect and safeguard the heart of what makes this nation so unique is a pretty good one. And it turns out, I am a lot more suited for many aspects of the job than I had ever suspected. Apparently the big guy upstairs knew what he was doing after all.

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