On “The Laws of Physics”

May 27, 2013 § Leave a comment


David J. Lawrence discusses the origins of his essay The Laws of Physics and Good Common Sense:

David J. Lawrence

David J. Lawrence

A few weeks after the accident, my son’s long-term prognosis good, a colleague stopped by my office.

“Well, you’ve got yourself some material.”

On some level, I suppose, I knew as much, though I didn’t know what to do with it. Nor was I eager. I had beaten myself up a lot in those weeks for having put our family in that situation. Armchair kite flying….

My “material” gestated for about 15 months, until I found myself sitting aboard a C-17 military transport plane headed from Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Once we were aboard, the crew introduced themselves. They were out of Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. I immediately thought of my sons, again. A week earlier—was it really only a week ago?—I’d put them on a plane in Denver and sent them to live with my parents in Charleston for the duration of my deployment. I deduced that this crew had a greater likelihood of seeing my boys at a Target or a McDonald’s or Folly Beach once their mission was complete than I would over the ensuing months. I envied them greatly.

I thought about the conversations I’d just had with my new acquaintances during what the Air Force calls, without irony, the “lockdown” period before boarding. I thought about how much I missed my family already. I recalled how close I’d come to missing my older boy for good 15 months earlier.

I had raced across the open field, the ambulance already having arrived. I ran out of my flipflops as I rushed to my gravely injured son being tended to by EMTs. I vaguely remember noticing my younger son, pacing and agitated, his hands atop his head on the fringe of the crowd trying to render aid to his older brother, whom he’d just seen plummet from the sky.

I’m staring at the seatback in front of me, and notice again the rapid, shallow breathing that invariably besets me when I think of that terrible moment. I shudder and try to shake the image from my mind. Too damn close a call. Please God—no close calls, on my parents’ watch, while I’m at war.

We rumble down the runway, the ice fog so thick outside you could see nothing from the little bubble windows of the cargo plane. I remove the green hardback GSA notebook I’d stashed in my pants pocket before boarding and began writing. “The Laws of Physics” became the first of about 75,000 words I’d write, long-hand, over the ensuing months.

It was good therapy.

David J Lawrence deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2010-2011. He is delighted to be back in the classroom, doing the holy work of discussing great books with wonderful and engaging cadets at the US Air Force Academy. His essays have been published in War, Literature, and the ArtsThe Santa Barbara Independent, and Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors. And if you attended the 2013 Cannes Film Festival (lucky you), you may have heard his voice on the Fanta soft drinks commercials airing before film screenings. He lives in Colorado and Santa Barbara, California.

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