Location: Shanghai, China
I grew up moving from one small town to another in Eastern Pennsylvania.
These towns were all close to the city that Billy Joel wrote the song “Allentown” about. The song was a metaphor for the perceived demise of the American Dream.
Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face
Like my mother and father before me, I chose not to complete high school.
By the time I was twenty years old, I was in the Middle East. I saw more death, malice, and destruction in the average month there than many Americans will know in their lifetime. My brother Santos Armijo, for whom I inked that tattoo on my forearms, would have turned 31 today.
The United States of America that I came home to was very concerned with shopping and the happenings of its celebrities. It seemed very unconcerned with how its politicians were using its military, or the sacrifices that its young men and women were being sent to make.
I could have chosen many different excuses to be an angry war veteran with a criminal record.
But somewhere along the way, I chose to be a grateful instead.
I taught at an Adventure Challenge Therapy program for at-risk youth.
I explored Latin-America intimately.
I learned about the mainstream media from the inside at NBCUniversal.
I used my GI Bill and graduated from the best college in the City University of New York system. The high-school dropout became a college graduate.
I rediscovered my purpose as a Mission Continues fellow at El Barrio Boxing in East Harlem.
That’s not to say that I haven’t had my ups and downs.
Time has been spent doing things that took me away from my mission. People that I loved have turned their backs on me and I may have deserved it.
Those were choices too, and I own up to the consequences.
We all have choices to make, and every choice has an opportunity cost.
I could choose now to be anywhere in the world, or no longer in this world at all, but I choose to be in Shanghai.
Some smart people predict that this city will become the next economic capital of the world. That is yet to be seen, but I will say this: Things are happening fast here.
I awoke this morning and opened the curtains of my 22nd floor window to see the sun shining brilliantly upon the growing city. Skylines, and everything that went into their creation, are one of the things that I appreciate most about living in cities.
While enjoying the moment, I remembered that today is Armijo’s birthday. I imagined him sharing this day with me. I imagined him strapping that weight vest on with me, like we used to do with our body armor, and going for a run by the river together. And then I asked myself why I’m here, and why I’m still alive.
I smiled and answered the question for myself.
My answer will be my secret for now, but I’ll give you a clue: The choices we make are the people we become.
Now, ask the question for yourself; choose for yourself.
The sooner that one determines the answer, the better the result.