They Call Him Senior

“Once a king and queen of Narnia, always a king and queen of Narnia.”

Aslan the lion, to High King Peter, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

He stepped down into the sea of precisely aligned rows of white plastic chairs and took a seat in the twenty-third row, right side, three in from the center aisle. He’d hung up his uniform thirty-one years ago and outgrown it ten years later. He would not have worn it at any rate because his natural reticence overshadowed his pride at having belonged—still belonged—to the greatest fighting force on planet earth. The Navy Chief’s symbol adorned the front of his dark blue baseball cap. He did not pin the Senior Chief Petty Officer rank insignia over the symbol as custom allowed.

Every seat filled and the ceremony began and he watched thirty-seven sailors take the oath of the elite club of Chief Petty Officers; h his club, his team. His family. After the formalities young CPOs flocked to him because they saw what he was and when asked, he loved to tell stories. A good sea story draws sailors as pilgrims to the Holy Land. They came with bright eyes and eagerness to live their own stories, as he had done.

Walking down the steps is for him like boarding the Tarawa, or the Turner Joy. On those ships there was a place set aside for him, a place he had earned, and that place is still his despite the years that have silvered his hair and mothballed his ships. Here it is comfortable, and familiar, and more like home than any spot on earth could ever be. His place is here, with his people.

* * *

“I got out over thirty-years ago” he exclaimed later, shaking his head at the mystery of it. “Getting out” only means he’s left the chessboard and is no longer a player in the active game. His place is to sit next to the board until he’s needed again, for a story, or advice, or a silver-haired presence in a crowd of young sailors. He, like the chess piece, has a place set aside that no other can fill. He cannot explain it except to say he knows in his bones it is how things are and ought to be.

* * *

The Military is not an experience, it is a world entirely different from our own, and for those who have been there it is impossible to erase or deny the perpetual longing for it, and the impossible joy that is felt upon one’s return.

* * *

In the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia story Prince Caspian, Peter Pevensie is destined for another year of school but longs for the land where he lived the life he was made for, the life of a King. In his deep longing he remembers what Aslan said to him when he was crowned king in that other world of Narnia:

“Once a king and queen of Narnia, always a king and queen of Narnia.”

* * *

When the young ones come and ask for the stories they do not call him by name, they call him by what he is.

They call him Senior.

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