“I take my job seriously but I don’t take myself seriously.” — Reply of my friend and retired Judge David Pancake when I said he worked hard on his cases. I think this is a healthy way of approaching life. It gives you relief from the weight of your job. We all need that.
I was in the Army on a training mission in 1976, a 100-mile march from a godforsaken spot in Tidewater Virginia to another godforsaken spot near the Richmond airport. We began as usual with a night jump, 3,000 of us.
Then the marching. Full gear and weapons. Twenty miles the first day, 30 miles the second day, 50 miles the third day. We would march 50 minutes at some speed established by Roman legions millennia before and rest 10 minutes with feet up on our packs so blood would flow out of them. Undoubtedly a proven way to extract the most hourly speed and distance from the trooper.
I remember the heat on the third day. The more our legs hurt the more we joked. To relieve our collective misery, we used an often profane sense of humor. I would provide examples but my editorial overlords inform me that these are frowned upon. I thank them for watching out for me.
We arrived at the tarmac about 10 p.m. after 16 hours of marching. They offered us mess, but we weren’t hungry. Just knackered as the Brits say. We fell to the ground on the pine needles with our pack for a pillow. My legs cramped hard, their final protest to the 100 miles, so it was midnight before I could sleep.
Our leader woke us at 2 a.m. and directed us to a waiting C-130 for the jump back into Ft. Bragg (again in the dark; our commanders were big on dark). I vaguely remember loading up but have no memory of jumping back in or getting back to my barracks, also no memory of exhaustion or pain. All I remember is camaraderie and those unmentionable jokes.
We now find ourselves fighting the war against COVID-19. It has already taken more lives than we lost in World War II. We must keep up morale.
Ten months ago we were joking about guys wearing women’s panties as masks. Now we are approaching a grim half million deaths in the U.S., but we see light breaking. Everyone has friends and family affected by this terrible disease, and indeed we all know people who have died from it. Surely we must grieve in our own way and not make light of death, but we must just as certainly find some humor in the struggle along the way to help us march on.
You should laugh heartily every day. It’s good for you. It’s good for your soul. And the best person to laugh at is yourself. It inspires people to trust you and sets an example for others.
Our job is to fight this pandemic and win this damned war. We will. Take this job seriously. But give yourself a break. Don’t take yourself seriously. We need you as happy and healthy soldiers for the battle.
I’m sure David Pancake would agree.