Sunday, June 1, 2008

Time is our Teacher

"Time is the cruelest teacher; first she gives the test, then she teaches the lesson"- Unknown

When this deployment first started, I was bracing myself for 18 month. That hit me like a load of bricks. I couldn't even talk to my husband about it for two days. For some reason, the thing I thought about most was that I was 32 and when he came back, I would be 34. I realized that we wouldn't be able to have a baby of our own together for what sounded like such a long time.

One of the greater disappointments for me to deal with during the deployment was the over all sense of the loss of time. Think of all the things that happen in a year plus of time, you know? You can't get time back, not even by grieving its loss. Poof! Every second that passes is just gone. Mason Cooley said "regret for wasted time is more wasted time." And he's right- you can sure waste a lot of time simply waiting for the time to pass. Looking back, I wonder if I wasted too much time idling my engine.

Now, just simply as it began, all that time is behind us. What seems like it will never end when you are enduring, well, it will end, my friend. So keep looking forward, but not so much that you don't stop to consider the lessons you are learning along the way.

Monday, May 26, 2008

While You Were Sleeping

Today seems like the right day to share an R&R memory from months ago. At the time, it felt too raw to write about because my husband had just left back to the sandbox after being home for 17 days. That 17 days of joy was just what we needed after being apart some 8+ months--it recharged and reinvigorated us for the second half of the deployment. I found it much tougher to "let" him go back after R&R, but I tried not to cry too long when we went to bed that night.

He had an 6 am flight out of San Diego the day he had to go back, so we woke up around 3:15 to have our last morning together. After, I made coffee while he laced up his boots and gathered everything. Our son woke up and stumbled out of his room to say goodbye again. I got dressed and cursed the person whose idea it was to start flying planes before the sun was even peeking out from the horizon.
When we got to the airport, there was a few piles of young Marines sleeping in the hallways near the USO, which wouldn't open for several more hours. They either arrived on a red eye or were there to make sure they caught their own flight back I'm sure. It broke my heart to see these young men without a send off that befitting to their service. No a wife or parent or volunteer or camera....just some lady riding up an escalator with her husband at the end of R&R taking a picture with her cell phone. Did America know the USO isn't always open?

Moments later, I was standing quietly with my husband, waiting for the moment when I would have to let go of him again to go do what he does when I am safely asleep. I held my emotions in as I strained to see out the window, hoping to somehow see his head in one of the plane's windows. It was too dark, but I pressed my face against the glass anyway hoping that somehow he was looking out the window and could see me still there for him as long as I could be. It was so dark that I lost sight off the plane as soon as it taxied off.

When I came home, our son was sitting on the couch, crying softly which he said he'd been doing since he pretended to go back to bed that morning. We didn't say much, he just hugged me and we stayed on the couch the rest of the day, indifferent to the tv and napping intermittently.

America, while you were sleeping, thousands of soldiers and marines were getting up early to catch their their early bird flights back to Iraq. While you were sleeping, America, a young marine was sleeping next to his cargo bag to catch his flight out to someplace far away. Before dawn cracked on your horizon, men were getting up at 3 AM to make love to their wife one last time and kissing away her tears. They were hugging their half-asleep kids, feeding the dog, and buttoning up their ACUs as if today were just another day of work.

While you were sleeping, America, your military was already awake and keeping watch over you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Light at the End of the Tunnel

It's now been 11 months and two weeks. Even though time has suddenly slowed down, I think that this deployment might really end. We're PCSing to Germany when he gets back, so there's a lot of action that will take place once he's home and so much to look forward to. It's kind of funny how we're planning such major life changes (a move out of the country and pregnancy) via email and instant message but you get used to it. my husband and I have adapted pretty well by using the Tony Soprano philosophy of life-"Whaddaya gonna do?" I mean, what can you do anyway? You just have to keep going and do the best you can under the circumstances.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Live...from Baghdad

I had a dream that the war lasted so long that they started letting wives go to Iraq to visit with their husbands in a secure compound of shared homes. It turned out that when I got there, I realized my husband had been working 18 hour days since he got there. I didn't get to see him very much, but the four hours of sleeping next to him was worth it.

When I realized he would be coming home, I blocked out the sounds of mortars exploding in the distance and went in the kitchen to see what I cook him for dinner. Food was scant, all I could scrounge up was a peice of fronzen chicken breast, half a red pepper, half a green pepper, and an onion. When I tried to cut the green pepper, I saw that it was rotten and I was so disappointed that I couldn't cook him a favorite dish with Indian spices. Instead would have to make him a basic stir fry out of chicken and onion (I later thought this meal symbolized something else about deployment - you do the best we can under the circumstances, but it's never really what you want to do.

Suddenly, it was night time and he still wasn't back from "work". I was in the living room listening to a television reporter interviewing other wives about what it was like to be sitting there waiting in the living room while at the same time knowing your husband was in danger. Some of the women wept as they told their stories, others nodded their heads in understanding.

When it was my turn to be on camera, I told her I wanted privacy and didn't want to talk about this in front of everyone. The reporter seemed excited, as if she knew she was going to get a heartwrenching soundbite for the evening news. She said "I'm going to need more cameras in here!" and went with me into our dimly lit bedroom. She asked me, "So what is the hardest part was about your husband being gone so long?" I looked around at the empty windowless room and said "Shhhhh. Listen. This is what it feels like." At first, she was puzzled by the silence, but then she looked around the bare bedroom walls and felt starkly alone.

The dream ended the moment I sensed she felt my loneliness as her own and somehow heard the sound of the mortars I hear in my head at night sometimes. She got really quiet, looked around at the bare bedroom walls and signed off, "This is Christiane Amanpour. Live...from Baghdad."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

When They Don't Call Home

Reading in between the newspaper headlines, I put two and two together and I know why I haven't heard his voice lately. I need no explanation. I don't like to actually talk about "it" with him--where he is, what is happening there. I don't ever tell him that I heard about the surge of rocket attacks in Location X, or that I "get" the significance of activity in Location Y. When I hear those things, I know that the probabilities of his safety are being recalibrated with different numbers. I deduce from the shift of the political winds, that there will be changes in his world over there that will possibly trickle down into mine. Even though I still keep my phone close like I did in the beginning, I know not to expect any calls.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Faces of War

Having a longtime interest in military history, I've developed an interest in combat photography. I have a small collection of old photographs and of course, have an appreciation for how closely I can 'see' the war from the comfort of my home computer. When there's a situation "over there," we can see both pictures of it online almost instantaneously. Yet there are so many faces of this war that people will never see.

My friend Andrea's little boy has taken to sleeping with this soft family photo album that contains pictures of his deployed daddy. She's found him sitting there more than once, calmly fingering the pictures of him and his dad. He smiles, he plays with it, he likes to sleep with it.

Sometimes when I feel sad, I think about the way other families are sharing in this experience. I think about what it must be like to be Andrea, walking into a dark room to check on your son and experienceing the bittersweet moment of finding that he's sitting there with his little book, giggling at pictures of him and his dad.
I want to know what this little boy is thinking and I want to know the secret of the peaceful knowing I see in his little face. Where can I get some of that? I can't help but wonder if this what God's love looks like in a baby's life.
Where is God in the middle of a war? The evidence of divine grace in war time seperation can be so very subtle, but it's what I see a reflection of in this picture. A silver lining to a dark cloud in a sky of many dark clouds.
If you only look at the clouds, that is all you'll ever see. Sometimes you have to look at their edges to find what you are supposed to see.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Top 8 Tips for Surviving Deployment

R&R has come and gone and 9 months have passed since he left. It seems like a good day to reflect upon what I've learned so far through my experience and from observing others I know with deployed spouses.

In that vein, here's a few gems that I've started to carry around in my pocket each day.

1. Go with the flow and make use of technology (IM, email, pics, video cam). Use the time apart to get to know one another and learn how to communicate with eachother in a way that not many people ever have the chance to develop.

2. Don't ever spend energy wondering if you two will grow apart or focusing on how much the situation stinks. Stand up straight and walk through the experience a little bit everyday. Above all, keep moving. Like a pastor of mine once said, "If you're going through hell, dont stop, keep on going!"

3. Dealing with deployment is at times, a very one-sided seeming experience because a man at war doesn't have the luxury of catering to your every womanly need. Don't get too hung up on your "rights" - what you've chosen to do will at times be nothing more than an act of selflessness. In no way equals the selflessness it takes to put your life on your line for another soldier--be grateful you are safe at home.

4. Always try to remember that no matter how hard it is for you, that he probably has a lot of the very same loneliness that you do, except he's also in a combat zone. Strive to accept these rough patches with womanly grace, not the grief of a child.

5. Don't sweat the small stuff or every detail of his communication pattern with you or the lack thereof when those times come (and they will). Relax and rest in faith that you WILL have the opportunity to talk to him again and the grace of another opportunity to interact again so that you two get back on course. I say this because you'll see many others panic in the sometimes choppy seas of deployment. Ride out the waves, sister, just as you might if you were lost at sea and remember that kicking and screaming when you think you are going to drown only brings you that much closer to doing so. Try not to lose your head, know what I mean?

5. Everytime you feel like you want something from him to fulfill something missing inside of you, think instead of what you can do for him and the voids he must have being so far away from the colorful landscape of America. If you feel unloved or ignored or sad, do something that you think will make him feel loved, wanted, less alone. Instead of focusing on what things are like for you, try to think about walking in his boots a little bit every day.

6. Listen to him, accept him, encourage him, remind him that he's strong, send him lots of cookies, give him a break, and don't weight him down with unrealistic demands that he somehow be the kind of partner he could be if he were here in person. Concern yourself with how you can be his "friend."

7. Know that you too are a soldier of sorts. Take pride in knowing that very few women are woven from the kind of cloth that shrouds you. You were made strong when you were made for him.

8. When you can't touch him, sleep next to him, talk to him, laugh with him, or tell him you love him, pray for him.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Larger USPS Flat Rate Box Offers APO/FPO Discount

I have good news for those of us whose physical contact with our deployed soldiers consists of frequenty mailing them Flat Rate boxes. For the first time ever, the US Post Office will be offering a military discount on shipping to APO/FPO addresses when it's new, larger flat rate box becomes available in March. The new flat rate box is larger than the others they have now, measuring 12x12x5.5". It will cost $12.95 to mail or $10.95 if sent to an APO/FPO address.