I find meaning through service. For a period of time in my life I did come to forget how to derive its meaning. This was no small feat, being that I’ve been employed as an occupational therapist and college instructor. These careers provide much opportunity to engage and serve others, and I do enjoy both a great deal. That being said, neither career is anything like leading a 5 man civil affairs team that’s attached to an airborne infantry company in eastern Afghanistan, or conducting a large scale humanitarian mission in eastern Africa, or serving as a medical officer in Iraq’s Diyala province. These experiences gave me a sense of meaning through service I have yet to experience again. Upon my return to upstate NY and resumption of civilian life, there was a part of me that was empty. This sense of loss provoked a restlessness that subsides for only moments. I am very lucky to have a vast and durable support system; they’ve pushed me past failures and sought no praise in our successes. Among job changes, educational pursuits, and failed coping strategies they’ve been there to help me navigate a better course.
I helped campaign during an election in the village of Castleton, my hometown, and I was hooked on politics. This experience eventually led to my own successful campaign for Rensselaer County legislature. During this time I became friends with former Congressman and retired US Army Colonel, Chris Gibson. I was attending one of his early book signings this past October and in the opening chapter the former Congressman talked about Sergeant Chris Pusateri, who was killed in action, under then LTC Gibson’s command in Iraq 2005. Prior to leaving for deployment in 2004 (which was his second) SGT Pusateri was to be transferred to Ft. Drum and not deploy with his then battalion commander LTC Gibson and the 82nd Airborne Division. This action did not sit well with SGT Pusateri. According to the former Congressman, “He did not think it was right for his friends to go forward into combat while he stayed behind so he could transfer stations to Ft. Drum.” At the SGT’s request his transfer was rescinded and he deployed with his current unit. On February 16th, 2005 SGT Chris Pusateri was killed in action by small arms fire while closing with the enemy.
A couple weeks later I was waiting for our kids to get off the bus and I asked my neighbor John Pusateri if he had any relatives in Corning, NY. He said yes, and I knew then that there must be a familial connection. After some tactful conversation I discovered that my neighbors, John and CJ Pusateri, were cousins of SGT Chris Pusateri. I had a notion of what could transpire, but had no idea the impact it would have on us. I obtained two copies of Gibson’s book “Rally Point,” which he graciously signed and inscribed his heartfelt sentiments to John, CJ, and SGT Pusateri’s father. While delivering the signed books with COL Gibson (Ret), I sat in silence for much of the 2-hour visit. What I witnessed was the genuine exchange of appreciation, sorrow, and love; which ultimately led to unification and visible healing. What I felt at that moment was the meaning which had been eluding me for so long.
It’s hard to imagine this all taking place without my recent endeavor into politics. We all know that this vocation presents ample opportunity for disaster and ruin. So be it. I remain grateful to have witnessed the simple good that can help heal a very complex wound. I am hopeful to encounter it again.
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Viktor Frankl