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From Vet to Vet

August 11, 2009


My father wanted to be a veterinarian. He was attending Oklahoma State University on a wrestling scholarship, which was one of the only means for him to pay for tuition. His grades weren’t exactly on par with what was expected of collegiate athletes, and what happened to boys flunking out of college in the late 1960s was a little thing called Vietnam. There, my father went from vet to vet. I’ve often wondered how different his life might’ve been had he been a vet of the animal doctor kind instead of the one holding heavy artillery in the Da Nang Delta.

So, it got me thinking about all those moments in life when you’re headed one way and before you can blink, a crossroads occurs. I heard about these a lot when I worked at CNN–the stories of people who were running late to work at the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001, or tourists who barely missed the 2004 Asian Tsunami by coincidently checking out of their hotel within hours of it getting hit. Or horrific outcomes of circumstance like Daniel Pearl who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time asking too many questions. It thankfully turned out differently for The Christian Science Monitor’s Jill Carroll whose updates I followed religiously and have left me wondering now, how that period has changed her life perspective.

But, these acts are all around us, not just on the news. Everyday, to folks much like my father.

They are the weddings being called off countered with those being planned. The teeter-totter of life, or as I call them, the Sliding Door moments. You know, the movie where Gwyneth Paltrow gets fired (or in the movie, “sacked”), in one scenario she misses the train, in the other, she catches it only to find her boyfriend carrying on an affair. Life’s parallel shifts.

They aren’t always bad things–just those moments in life that result in change, but they are times that require a bit more care than figuring out how to style freshly cut bangs or what top to wear for an evening out. Because, in the end, you hope in life that you’re prepared to survive the fall, when necessary. To be ready for anything that’s thrown your way. Sometimes, I suppose, we all need to be reminded of that. As much as we try to plan, it just doesn’t always work out the way you think you want.

It’s the pregnancies that take after months of in-vetro have stopped or mending the decade long family battle royale with patience and phone calls. It’s sending that last resume and reel to the dream job, and landing it. Tides can turn–change can happen. Though, sometimes not by our own making. The beautiful mess of it all.

J.K. Rowling forever encourages the writer in me with her past plight to get published. I consider the best commencement speech of all time as her 2008 address at Harvard, speaking to those graduates that day not of triumph, but of failure (and imagination). And that it was her failure at life that made her begin to write–because it was all she had left. My father’s greatest failure of flunking out of college put him on a course of life that turned out to be his greatest triumph. Purple heart, medals of valor and all.

I guess this means that essentially all it takes is one phone call, one massive storm, or just one missed train to change the course of your life. Or one draft letter.

My father, far right.

My father, far right – March 1967

I was thinking about LTC (Ret.) David Raymond Hazels on this day especially because today, he would’ve turned 63. But instead, only made it to 54. And his life, well, it was anything but predictable. I do however find it hard to picture my father as anything except the vet of the Vietnam kind. The one dealing with jungle cats, not household felines–that just wasn’t the type of man he was or was meant to be.