Paintball! Part III (a.k.a. Why I’m The Wimp Who Does That Instead Of Going To Egypt)

I’m the quintessential American twenty-something ex-collegiate-athlete. I love feeling a rush without doing something actually dangerous. Like shooting at people and getting shot at with no chance of death.

Me laying down some paint hiding. 

Like paintball. (My much-mentioned Wilmington Star-News column went online today; it’s in print tomorrow. An excerpt is at the end of this.)

A week and a half ago I was running through trees and diving behind mounds of dirt and leaves and crawling through ditches. I was a soldier, baby, and loving every second of pseudo-war. I was breathing hard and my thighs were burning and I felt like I should have stretched out first. I was hunting and being hunted. I was, as I say in the column, living a video game. 

I love this stuff. I love experiencing things; it’s even better that someone’s going to pay me to do it and write about it. 

Then Chris Jones posted this blog the other day called “The Kid in the Tank in Cairo,” and it mucked my mind all up. I lay awake for awhile that night, thinking. Wondering if I should have, or even could have, done something like that. By the time I fell asleep, I’d concluded that, no, I made the right call by not going. I’m plenty happy where I am now. 

Not to mitigate what’s happening over there. It’s horrifying and beautiful and tragic and inspirational all rolled into one. The people are fighting tyranny, and they are winning. They are winning Egypt back. 

I thought I wanted to cover things like Egypt. But I don’t think that’s my job. My calling. It’s important that people do. I’m grateful that people do. But I have no burden for that. 

I don’t know what it says about me, but I feel more and more inclined to instead give people a break, an escape. I keep up with stuff like Egypt and gay marriage and climate change on and on and on. I get sucked into it. I feel the dread, I tingle at the alarm, I worry about America’s future. Listen to all the alarmists, and the world’s headed for disaster. Of course, people have been saying that since before Jesus was here.

And horribly, yeah, sometimes, yeah, disaster happens. 

The saying goes “Disaster struck,” like disaster is a living, breathing thing—like Disaster is a name, and we should fear it and all its horror. But we can’t control Disaster. Not once He strikes. That’s why there’s that other guy, Tragedy. He follows Disaster. 

So, no, I don’t want to be the one chronicling Disaster and Tragedy or predicting their future. Nothing inside me calls me to Egypt. But something calls me to try to provide a reprieve for others from their Egypts. 

I also wondered—do I at least have an Egypt in my life? Something I’m fighting for?

Yeah. I do. It began with The Edge of Legend. That was a monumental risk; my investment in it defined the rest of my life. I risked crippling my career by spending a year and a half writing it. But on this side of that terrifying fence, I know I’m in the right place.

So yeah, I’m fighting for things. I’m fighting for ways to help others live good lives, by using stories to spark in them a desire to do something different, and hopefully something good.

Sometimes I feel lame. Some days, all I do is sit on my butt in sweatpants before a computer screen, compiling or creating stories and organizing their words in order an that read you can.

Intense, that. 

But, crazy as it is, I love it. And even crazier, people love reading it. How lucky can a guy be? 

Column excerpt:

Kneeling behind the tree, I listened for gunfire and looked for shooters.

They didn’t see me. Sweet. I took off. Sprinting across a pallet bridging the ditch, I scrambled up the bank. I had them. Three of them, gloriously clueless.

I opened fire.

Hit one. Missed the other two. Went from predator to prey. Said bad words. Dove behind a tree. Rounds slammed into the ground all around me.

I lay there for what felt like forever. Held them off and held them down. But all it takes is that one millisecond of miscalculation: I looked around the tree to fire again, and a round hit me in the head.

Read it all here