September 1980, a young married couple and a baby board a plane headed for France. Just an ordinary day at an ordinary airport. This, however was no ordinary baby: Joshua David Mann, born February 17, 1978, philosopher, dreamer and all-round weird guy.
The messy brown machine that used to be a white Peugeot rocked, jiggled and bounced it's way along what passed for a dirt road. The long wet season had wreaked havoc on the already poor Cameroonian roadways and there were many places that were simply impassable. The car jerked to a halt before an area of the road could no longer be referred to as a road and more closely resembled a marsh or giant mud-pit than anything meant for human transportation. As the adults began the long process of filling in the waterlogged area with rocks and any sort of debris, Josh wandered off on his own. A little down the road, there was a bridge. At some point there had been a guard rail on this bridge, but all that remained now was the posts to which the rail had been fastened. Underneath this bridge flowed a stream. Overflowing it's banks with the waters of the rainy season it had swollen to a small rushing river. Josh, not one to pass up such an fascinating sight, watched the flowing waters with interest. A post, bereft of any rail, provided him with the perfect seat. He sat there for hours, while the recently appointed road crew diligently worked. He perhaps kicked a few rocks over the edge to watch fall splashing through the water onto the jagged boulders beneath or perhaps he threw a stick in to see it go floating off out of view. Many rocks and sticks later, the road was finally passable and the formerly white Peugeot could safely traverse the marsh. As the car pulled up to our young hero still sitting on his post, Dad cracked the window and called, "hop on in!" Ever the impressionable youth, Josh took this phrase quite literally and hopped off the post. Much to his dismay, however, Josh's feet did not want to obey and he found himself quickly losing his balance. It was then that those watching from inside the car observed a strange sight. (Imagine this in slow-motion.) Josh, hopping off the post, lost his balance and began to fall away off of the bridge. He had fallen to the point where there was no way that he could have physically caught himself when he was suddenly jerked upright. Confused, they past it off as indigestion or some other malady. When asked later how he had managed to save himself, Josh replied, "I didn't. Dad reached out and grabbed me." But, Josh, there was no way that Dad could have reached you, he had the window rolled up. "Just as I was about to fall off the bridge, a hairy arm reached out and pulled me back to safety. That's why I thought it was Dad. Maybe it was someone farther in the back." But they were too far away and those inside the car saw no one else anywhere near the reckless lad. Call it fate or ghosts, spirits or uncanny coincidence, but I will call it the hand of God.
Now, for the greater nourishment of our family, Dad had set up a chicken coop right next to our house. Every night, right around dusk, it was Josh's duty to go out to the chickens and feed them. Josh was terribly afraid of the dark. So, as his father had instructed him, he prayed every night as he walked through the gathering dark to the ominously black chicken coop. It was one night, as he made this perilous trek to the chicken coop, that he heard the voice. There was a loud voice and Josh looked up into the sky. There he saw a rainbow. On one side of the rainbow was a dark cloud and on the other side a bright, shiny cloud as if the sun shone behind it. And the voice said to him, "You will bring people from the darkness into the light, just like the rainbow spans the gap between these two clouds." After dutifully feeding the chickens the sky had returned to its usual dusky appearance and no more words were spoken.
When Josh entered third grade, he went off to a boarding school in Garoua Boulai. There he was a participant in many an adventure and instigated more than a few of his own. He made several friends including Caleb, Johann, and Matthew. Together with them he created his own secret club. They made codes and special rules that they would follow or break depending on what they felt like doing. There was a tree behind the dorm that they had club meetings in. They referred to it loudly as G212 headquarters and generally acted mysterious and superior in everything they did. Josh generally wreaked havoc, got into a lot of trouble, and had a proportional amount of fun at Garoua Boulai.
In the summer of '92 our family returned to the mother country. After twelve years of living in a foreign country we were coming back to the United States of America. Josh was fourteen. He had just finished eighth grade and our parents wanted him to go to high school in the US. Josh was not overjoyed about this, but there was very little he could do. He was leaving everything he had lived with his entire life and going to another country that supposed to feel like home to him, yet was more strange than anything he had experienced. He was not an American; he had lived in the country for less than three years. Yet neither was he a Cameroonian; his white skin and American accent showed that all too well. He was a boy without a country. In the midst of this ordeal he was enrolled in Hilliard High School. This caused great pain and suffering and was generally regarded as a bad move by all concerned. Josh, not knowing the people or the culture, was thrust into what many have claimed to be the harshest environment known to man, high school.
Afraid to open his mouth and only trying to get through each day, Josh encountered many a freaky individual. One guy that Josh met in homeroom had razor blade marks on his arms. He said that he had tried to commit suicide the prior weekend and he had actually seen the gates of Hell before him. Another guy who claimed to be a friend of Josh's, told Josh a very strange story. Apparently some unknown death cult had taken him to an old abandoned barn. They had given him a gun and shown him how to use it. After practicing a few shots, they told him that he would have to kill Josh in order to join the cult. Josh's buddy went on to say that he had the gun in his locker and that some day, when he finally worked up the nerve, he would get it and shoot Josh. Josh was incredibly freaked out by this and went to school officials in an attempt to save his own life. Upon searching his locker, the boy was found to be lying. There was no gun, no barn and no cult. There was just Josh and some really screwed up friends.
After three years of this, Josh decided that he really did not like Hilliard High School. Instead of enduring another year of suffering in a public high school, his senior year he went to Tree of Life, a private Christian high school. Not much to speak of happened at Tree of Life and that is why Josh liked it so much.
Partially because of his high school experience and partially because our parents wanted him to, Josh went to a small Christian college in Pennsylvania named Grove City College. At first Josh really liked the ultra-conservative Presbyterian atmosphere. He originally planned to double major in French and Christian Thought because he wanted to be a missionary. He then switched his major to Christian Thought and Philosophy because he found French to be less than appealing.
Every week, as part of the Grove City College conservative Presbyterian heritage, students were required to go to chapel. This generally consisted of singing boring songs, reading a passage from the bible, and then listening to the chaplain give a sermon that always seemed to somehow drift back to why people should give money to Grove City College. He would repeated state that Grove City College was a very special special place and that Jesus Christ was a master teacher, somehow implying that all the teachers at Grove City were little copies of Jesus sent to earth to enlighten the students. Josh got rather annoyed at this and after a couple of years became a genuinely disgruntled student.
Also among the disgruntled was Josh's college roommate, Vinnie Ferguson. Vinnie liked to wear black jeans and black t-shirts bearing the logos of different heavy metal bands. He wanted to be a radio DJ and he had a very interesting relationship with his mother. Conversations between them generally go like this:
Mother: Vinnie, honey, are you ok? Are you sure you have everything you need?Yeah, what a touching family moment. Vinnie also is a Mountain Dew addict, which will come into play later on.
Vinnie: Yes, I'm fine. Leave me alone, Mom!
Mother: Are you sure? Because I don't think you have enough socks and underwear to last for the rest of the week.
Vinnie: Shut up, Mom! I can take care of myself!
One day Vinnie had two girls in their dorm room, which was strange in its own right because neither Josh nor Vinnie were overly social. Then Josh asked Vinnie if setting a dumpster on fire would be a good idea. The girls kind of laughed and thought Josh was joking. Little did they know the neurotic mind that lay beneath his skull. Josh took a shoe box and cut slits in it. He then wadded up newspaper and set it on fire. He then placed the burning shoe box in the bottom of the dumpster and proceeded to place several cardboard boxes on top of it. He then walked away until a couple nearby stopped looking at him and started looking at the column of smoke around the corner. At that point he took off for his room. He immediately changed out of his smoky clothes and buried them beneath a pile of dirty clothes. He then washed his smoky hair and proceeded to sit in the corner of his room trying to not look suspicious for the next half an hour. Later on that night, Vinnie was with those same two girls when they heard about a dumpster catching on fire on campus. The girls, in shock, turned to Vinnie and said that they did not think that Josh would actually carry through with his threat.
Another time when Josh got bored, he noticed a couple on the lawn outside of his dorm room window that were purposefully ignoring him. So, he decided to get their attention. Since Vinnie was an avid Mountain Dew drinker there were dozens of Mountain Dew cans strewn about the room. Quickly casting about for an object with unique attention-getting properties, Josh spied a Mountain Dew can. Rapidly opening the window he hurled the can out toward the unsuspecting couple. They took no notice. So, the ever-relentless Josh tried again. Picking another can with nearly the same attention-getting properties, he threw it in a more targeted direction. Still no response. Frustrated, Josh threw can after can out the window. After about seven cans inscribed with a bright refreshing-looking Mountain Dew logo had been thrown haphazardly out the window with still no reaction from the couple below, Josh decided that he had had enough. Thrusting as many cans as he could into a nearby shoe box he prepared to launch a fierce assault on the unwitting victims of his wrath. Unbeknownst to Josh, the head resident of the dorm happened to be below his room in the very area toward which Josh had seconds before heaved a shoe box full of Mountain Dew cans. Confident that he would finally get the attention he deserved Josh looked out the window to see an angry head resident storming into the building. The head resident must have been a genius, because he calculated to the very room the trajectory of the falling Mountain Dew cans. Josh, always one to see the best in people, remarked on this when the head resident came knocking on the door a few minutes later. The only plausible suggestion for the reason that Josh was never punished in anyway for this mishap was that the head resident assumed that Josh was drunk.
It was about this time, finding little or no meaning in school work, that Josh decided that he wanted to be an officer in the Marine Corps. This, he believed, was a place where he could belong and fit in. After years of searching, he could belong to a group bigger than himself and actually enjoy it. Before he could go to Officer Candidate School to actually become an officer, Josh had to undergo numerous medical tests. Every time Josh needed to take a medical test, he would have to drive all the way to Pittsburgh and get tested in the Marine Corps' official medical testing center there. Each Josh went there, they would end up calling him back because they messed up some test, or they lost the results to some examination. Josh had to go back at least six different times because of mistakes that they had made. Along with the medical testing, Josh had to pass physical test. The test consisted of sit-ups, pull-ups, and running. In each component Josh could earn up to a maximum of 200 points. In order to pass, Josh needed at least 450 out of a possible 600 points. For the sit-up portion Josh had to do as many sit-ups as possible in two minutes. Each sit-up was worth one point, up to a maximum of 200 sit-ups in two minutes. Pull-ups were more straight-forward. Ten points per pull-up, keep going until you reach 20 or you can not do any more. For the running section, Josh had to run a three mile race. A time of 18 minutes flat would earn a score of 200. 20 minutes, being more reasonable, earned a score of about 150. Josh trained for several years trying to get his pull-ups and sit-ups to the point that they needed to be. Finally, after many set-backs and much wrangling with doctors, Josh was accepted to OCS.
After Josh realized that he was going to go to OCS and that his philosophy major was not going to do him a whole lot of good after college, he pretty much lost interest in school. He stopped expending as much effort on papers and he stopped going to Greek class almost completely. His major and the college was no use to him, except for him to graduate. As he thought of graduation, he began to plot his finally parting shot at the college that had brought so much boredom and wasted time. Months before graduation he bought a grappling hook. Strange and daring ideas sprang into his head only to be discarded as not prominent enough or too easily accomplished. Then, he had it. It was the night before graduation and all throughout Grove City and into the neighboring area, family and friends of the soon to be graduating class of 2000 were gathering for the momentous occasion. Josh, however, was busy plotting. He gathered his tools: a grappling hook, 50 feet of rope, a ski mask, and an empty beer bottle. His plan was masterful; it was pure genius! Late at night, he would steal quietly to the library across from the gymnasium where the following days graduation would take place. He would then, using the grappling hook and rope, climb to the top of the previously mentioned library. Finally, positioned in such a way so as to attract the most attention and cause the most startled looks, he would place the empty beer bottle. There the bottle would sit, a blatant protest against the dry-campus policy and all that Grove City College stood for. This was the way it was supposed to happen. The actual execution of the plan did not work so well. Josh very skillfully lodged the grappling hook and rope assembly onto the library roof. He did not however take into account the difficulty of climbing a 30 foot high wall. After struggling and pulling himself up to about 20 feet, Josh slipped and slid the entire way back down the rope. Needless to say this did not produce a pleasant sensation for his hands. In fact, his hands were covered with blisters for weeks afterwards. Having given up on his climb to the summit, he now found that his grappling hook was very well lodged in the library roof. So well lodged that he could not get it back down and had to finally throw the rope onto the roof in an effort to conceal his failed prank. As far as anyone knows, the grappling hook is still up there somewhere and will only be discovered many years hence when construction workers begin to renovate the library building.
Despite all of his shenanigans and their deep concern for the fate of Josh's mortal soul, Grove City College proceeded to graduate Josh on the following day. Armed with a fancy piece of paper and a freshly avowed pledge to never give money to the college Josh returned home to prepare for OCS. He left several weeks later with high hopes and the best wishes of everyone around him.
When Josh arrived at Quantico, Virginia, he was scared, nervous, and panicky. They then proceeded to yell at him which made him even more scared, nervous, and panicky. They expected him to think well under pressure, but he kept forgetting how to fold his clothes properly or where he had left his shirt. They then berated him for messing up and he became more nervous and in the process messed up something else. He would never quit though. If they wanted him to leave, they would have to kick him out themselves. One day, the Marine Corps. candidates were required to do a nine mile march. At about the seventh mile, Josh began to get dehydrated. A sergeant noticed this told Josh to stop marching. Josh, stubborn as always, replied, "Sir! No, sir!" The sergeant then allowed Josh to continue marching, but Josh also continued to get dehydrated. He kept getting hotter and hotter until his brain ceased functioning properly and he fell to the ground, hitting his head on a rock in the process. Josh flopping around like a fish in an attempt to regain his feet was soon surrounded by people. The sergeant he had spoken to earlier flipped Josh over and began to pour multiple canteens of water on him. They then loaded Josh onto a stretcher and took him back to a clinic. They stuck an IV sugar solution in his arm and told him to sleep, which he did readily enough. As the ten week program progressed, more and more people started dropping out and Josh found himself on the bottom of successive squadron evaluations. In the eighth week of training, Josh was called into an office. The officer there talked with Josh and told him that he was being kicked out of OCS. So Josh, weary to the bone, returned home.
After focusing on the Marine Corps. for the last three years of his life, Josh found himself somewhat at a loss at first. He had no direction and plans for his life. There was no lofty goal to aspire towards or obstacle to be overcome. After thinking that he had finally found a place to fit in, he had been rejected. It seemed that he was an outcast. He was adrift in a sea of humanity with nothing to cling to or swim towards. He considered teaching or going back to school. He tried being an actuary and a warehouse worker for Kroger. He also thought about going to seminary or becoming a missionary. Right now, everything is laid wide open before him and he has a seemingly endless array of possibilities. He is currently working for a small construction company. As he goes to work and remodels buildings, he is also working to remodel his own life. I do not know what the final product will look like, but I know the builder and I have complete faith in His handiwork. Josh may not know exactly what he is going to become, but at least he is under construction.
Note: No themes were harmed in the writing of this paper. In fact, three themes were actually released from captivity and are now living out the rest of their thematic lives in their natural habitat.
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