During my first month in Balad, Iraq, my columns have been pretty serious.
But I want to remind myself, and others, that lighter moments exist. It is these moments that remind us that a little laughter in our heart will help keep the sanity in our brains.
In that spirit, I offer this heavily edited version of a column written during my first deployment in early 2001 to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. Never before published, it’s called “The Hat Full.” It comes with the dubious warning: Don’t read this while eating.
It’s easy to lose things when you’re deployed, especially my hat. It’s shaped much like a baseball cap, and I’ll usually place it under my shirt by tucking the bill into my beltline at the small of my back. It feels a bit like I’m shoplifting, but I’m less likely to lose it.
One morning, after finishing breakfast, I tucked my hat into the usual place and headed to the men’s room to, well uh, you know.
Now, I definitely wasn’t thinking, but if you thought about it, you’d realized that a hat falling into a porcelain fixture is unusually silent.
When I stood, I was surprised to notice that some careless fool ditched their hat in my toilet.
My first thought was, “Why didn’t I notice this before?”
My second, and more sober thought, was that this fool’s had a chaplain’s cross on the front.
There was only one course of action here. I implemented a hat recovery mission and headed for the clinic’s bio-waste bag.
I was going to need a new hat, but before Base Supply would issue a new hat, I’d have to justify my loss to the chapel’s noncommissioned officer in charge. As Ricky Ricardo used to tell Lucy, I had “some ‘splainin to do.”
It can be difficult confessing your mistakes to a subordinate, but most military NCOICs are professionals at hiding their smirks.
Not this guy.
As I unfolded my story, he folded in half — laughing hard enough to have a stroke.
Slapping his knees with both hands, he told me he’d heard of people crazy enough to have a head full of crap, but he’d never heard of anyone having a hat full.
He then demanded I give him “one good reason” why I should be issued a new hat.
Well, I explained, “There are a few bad officers who obviously have a hat full of crap, but it takes a really good officer to admit it.”
With that remark, my NCOIC fell prostrate, hysterically beating the floor with his fist.
“I give up, Chaplain,” he declared. “You got your new hat.”
It’s taken me eight years to think of a spiritual point, but here it is: The Bible says in James 5:16, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”
I confessed my mistake — my sin — and got a new hat. The NCOIC gave me a new hat because admitting your mistakes always is the first step toward improvement; or perhaps because I gave him the best laugh he’s had since being stationed there.
I’ve never again lost a hat in a toilet.
If that’s not spiritual enough, please accept my apology, and give me one more chance next week. Not all my columns are such a hat full.