It's amazing what a little perspective can do to over-used phrases.
I learned something from a Marine today. He told me war is what it is. I understood the idea of what he was going for when he said it, but it wasn't until I'd had an hour-long conversation with him that it became saturated with meaning.
"It is what it is" isn't a new phrase. But it is something I've never heard someone use to cope with a battered battalion suffering 20+ casualties and coming back, angry, to a society that complains about long check-out lines when he was thankful for clean concrete to sleep on.
But he wasn't angry. Well, not after a few days of adjustment. That's all it is, he said. An adjustment. It is what it is. He said bitterness isn't something you choose to stave off. You either let it get to you or you don't.
His ability to say that, and accept it, astounded me. His descriptions of a day in Afghanistan, what he saw, heard, felt, will never forget, would be enough to make anyone bitter. He lost close friends and even his own foot. What happened...happened.
Taking things one day at a time, one step at a time even, is sometimes easier said than done. But that's exactly what he's doing. If you dwell too much on the pain, it overwhelms you. It'd be too painful. If you get your hopes set too high on expectations for the future, it hurts too much to let go.
You don't forget the past, but you don't dwell on it. You don't ignore the future, but you don't obsess over it. It is what it is. Move with it, take it as it comes. We're in good hands.
The closest I could come to understanding his application of the phrase to war was a line from the movie Black Hawk Down: "When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."
It might start about the politics, or patriotism, or a even a personal vendetta. While I've never been in their shoes, I think they might tell you that changes pretty quickly. He didn't over-sensationalize or underwhelm. He just said it is what it is. He came back to a God that never left him and family that never stopped loving him, with two years behind him he'll never forget.
NOTE: This outlook reminded me, while in a completely different circumstance, of the outlook needed to push forward in the wake of losing my then 3 1/2 year-old sister Tarah. Too painful to dwell on, too hard to imagine how you're going to live without them down the road. All you can do it take one step forward and trust. While I don't think I'll ever be able to chalk losing her up to "it is what it is," the philosophy behind it, and behind a loving God that isn't going anywhere, seems like a pretty good place to start.