We all have little sayings or words that we use regularly, and though they are familiar to us, they sometimes stand out as odd to others. One of mine is the word "Joker." I use it to refer to someone who is being silly, demonstrating a lack of common sense, or leading/managing in a manner that displays a hearty incompetence. Some time ago, a friend of mine was giving me a hard time (in good fun, of course) about my use of the word, which made me wonder where I picked it up. I had to think about it for a while, but it eventually occurred to me that I most likely encountered the word for the first time in the late 1980s after the movie Full Metal Jacket was released. There is a scene in the beginning of the movie when Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, the senior drill instructor (played by R. Lee Ermey), saddles the main charter (played by Matthew Modine) with the moniker after the latter attempts a humorous comment at an extremely inopportune time. From that point on in the movie, Modine's character is known as Private Joker. From that point on in my life, "Joker" became a staple of my vocabulary.
What also became a part of my life and the lives of many military service members and would-be service members at that time was the humor, quips, jabs, and creative vocabulary of Stanley Kubrick's fictional drill instructor. R. Lee Ermey became a cultural icon with his portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and, rightly or wrongly, gave an entire generation of Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors a slate of colorful one-liners from which to draw and a model of military leadership upon which to stake a claim. Mr. Ermey, an obscure actor prior to 1987, was catapulted into stardom immediately after he uttered those now immortal words, "I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor" in the first spoken scene of the move. Everyone who wears or who has worn a military uniform in this generation knows Mr. Ermey and the expletive spouting, bulldog-of-a-man Gunny he created!
So, when I awoke this morning and learned that R. Lee Ermey passed away on Sunday, April 15, 2018, I felt like Private Joker when Gunnery Sergeant Hartman punched him in the gut. I crumpled to my knees, craddled my abdomen in my arm, and gasped for air. Could it be true? Sure, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman dies about halfway through the movie, but R. Lee Ermey is eternal, right? Apparently, not! Apparently, he is like the rest of us--subject to the laws of nature and mortality. Of course, I knew this all along, but I guess there was something in me that wanted to ignore it...to think of the Ermey/Hartman conglomerate as an enduring part of my cultural narrative.
But, of course, the "joke" is on me. Mr. Ermey is dead and, yet again, I am reminded that life is a continuous storyline of life, struggle, and death. Yet, I am also reminded that the story can include legacy. Even though Ermey the actor is gone, Hartman the character remains and will no doubt continue to "inspire" generations of service members to come. In a similar manner, I will one day pass from this earth, but that doesn't mean it's all over. Right now--today--I have the opportunity to create a "character" that my family, friends, and others can look to for inspiration and wisdom, even after I'm gone. But that requires intentionality and hard work. It requires that I stop living life like a Joker and start living it confidently, competently, and with a certain amount of gusto. I need to grab the horns of my bull and ride like never before. I must learn to live by the mantra, "This is my life. There are many like it, but this one is mine!"