The Things They Carried*

Last week I sat with a man who is both a friend and a former coworker.  

I hold a special place for people who have simultaneously been friends and coworkers because they have potentially seen us (me) at our (my) worst and we’re still friends.  Think about it.  Whose desk do I storm to when I have just been handed some ridiculous work request?  Whose cube do I go to when I need to commiserate over the unjustness of it all?  The coworker/friend’s.  And whom do I seek out after I run into “the last person that I wanted to see” or the vending machine has eaten my dollar?  The friend/coworker.  (Although, they probably know about the lost dollar because they were likely with me at the vending machine.) All of this to say that the coworker/friend has some street cred when it comes to matters of My Life.  So when they speak, I should listen.

I had just run-down the details of my recent job interviews and recounted some of the additional positions that I was applying for when he said something to the affect of, “Come on…you’re smarter than that.”  And I didn’t even pause before assuring him that I realized that none of them were likely to have too many unforeseen challenges, but that I should be able to do most of them well without losing momentum in my personal life.  He concurred, recognizing the benefit of such a situation.  And we moved on to the next topic of conversation.

But for the last few days, I have studied his comment through different lenses of thought.   What was said, who said it, the tone he used; all of these factors combined in such a way that an impression was left. 

Today, I think I worked it out.  When I thread his comment along with two others, I’m on my way to a real observation.  A number of years ago, a guy that I went on a some dates with said, “I feel like I’m just tipping the iceberg with you.”   In present day, I can say that might have been just a line, but at the time I was really intrigued by what he said.  I always considered myself a What You See Is What You Get type of gal and the idea that there were people who could see a depth to me that I didn’t grasp, was exhilarating.  (Granted, when treading on the tender roots of dating “iceberg” may not be the metaphor I want to be labeled with.  However, it was probably apt as we didn’t go out many more times after that.)  I remember that exchange in part because about a year or so later, I was sitting in a hotel room with my mom when she told me that I was more creative than I let myself be.   Verbally, I may have dismissed her comment (I don’t remember).  But I do remember thinking to myself, “Maybe ‘this’ — not creativity — but something like it, is what he meant when he said ‘tipping the iceberg’.” 

So today, when I thought about last week’s conversation, I categorized it in the context of these past comments.  Hearing these remarks in a sequence, I can now identify the subtext.  In all three instances, the implication of the other person was that I have potential.   And it’s probably a potential that I don’t fully recognize or I wouldn’t have carried their statements with me. 

* The Things They Carried is a fantastic book by Tim O’Brien.  It is a fictional account of O’Brien’s experience in Vietnam.  The things they carry can be physical, but they don’t have to be.



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2 responses to “The Things They Carried*

  1. Greg

    It’s interesting that you titled this post ‘The Things They Carried’ (which is an amazing book, especially the first chapter). In the book, in addition to all the crap that a typical solder carried, they all carried fear, which weighs infinitely more than ammo and food rations. The Lt. of the platoon carried the responsibility for the lives of his men. Although I’ve never been in combat, I’m going to crawl out on a limb here and say that’s pretty heavy. Is that how you feel? Are you really walking around feeling that type of weight because of this job thing? If so, this sounds like a classic quarter-life-crisis. I had one. When I was in the pits of my quarter-life-crisis I spent a lot of time on craigslist in the personal adds section and then one day almost had my kidneys harvested by some nut bag from Dundalk, MD (it’s a long story – he told me he was a female swim suite model, which, obviously, is the only reason to the leave DC and drive to Dundalk…he was a liar) and that snapped me out of it. Now I’m fine – just a thought.

    • emcritt

      I titled the post “The Things They Carried” to allude to the point that we carry more than the physical things that we carry with our arms and legs. In the instance of this post, it happens to be a sequence of thoughts. I also thought that it might be a nice way to introduce people to a book that they might not have heard of otherwise. However, I will agree that looking for a new job does not even begin to equate to the pressures of combat (I have never been in combat either) and I appreciate your making that point. I also agree, that if it did feel that immense, I would be experiencing a “classic, quarter-life-crisis” as you put it. I had one too and recognize the symptoms. I’m currently experiencing a journey, not a crisis; but for other folks, who may be experiencing a quarter-life-crisis I’m sure they are glad to know that you and I have been there too. Thanks for your comment Greg.

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