I remember crying into a window on an airplane.
For five hours I sat by myself, curled uncomfortably on a row of seats, leaning against the small rectangular window, covered with a thin fleece blanket. I stared out, watching the plane’s wings silently glide through the clouds, mind lost in a million thoughts and feelings. I remember occasionally crying into my pillow at night as I fell asleep. I remember tear soaked cheeks, the product of long goodbyes from visits that were all too short.
I remember the words that you have to say to the person you love because you both know that if you never got to say them, and something happened, they would rip you in two. Assurances. Honesty.
I remember waiting for a phone call at 2 a.m., where the interference on the other end of the line actually sounded like thousands of miles coming through. What does 5,000 miles sound like in real-time? I’m pretty sure it was those phone calls.
But he was there. And in the dark of my room, I would try to picture what his face must have looked like on the other line when he chirped out his cheerful sounding, “HEY!” to me.
I remember being barely 20 and not knowing what I was doing because eight months seemed like a really long time.
I remember nine straight days of no contact.
Sometimes they come back with ghosts. Sometimes they come back and things don’t make sense. Sometimes they come back broken.
Sometimes they don’t come back.
Eight years ago, and at times it still doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.
The business of leaving and being left behind in life is kind of a tricky thing. No matter the circumstances it leaves so many things unanswered and life feeling uncertain.
There is the kind of leaving that doesn’t make sense, that takes those who are left by surprise, that reeks of abandonment and carelessness. The kind of leaving that tears things apart and hardens hearts.
And then there is the kind of leaving that is done out of duty and dedication. Where the why’s are clear. That kind of leaving means, though, that for those left behind, it will become an intentional effort of the greatest kind.
I know people who have delivered babies while their husband was away. I know mom’s who have waited days for a good word – any word- from their child who marched on to where hell was unfolding. I know children who can’t even write their names yet, but who know that on Christmas morning when dad isn’t around, things aren’t as they should be.
Maybe that’s why eight years doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, because it’s still happening in the present, as it always has. The leaving to serve God and country still marches on, even today. Because there are mom’s who have to act like single parents and who care for their children by themselves seven days a week. Maybe it’s because there are parents who can’t help but still think of their soldier or Marine as their little buddy or baby first. Because there are parents who miss out on kindergarten field trips, Thanksgiving mashed potatoes and Saturday morning cartoons.
It’s happening everyday.
But I am ever the optimist, and how I wish that I had known the truth then at 20.
I wasn’t alone. I did not walk upon untouched terrain. It may have been an uncertain and difficult one, yes. However, for all its difficulties and faults, I cannot say that being unfamiliar was one of them. There were those who had gone before me, in much more dire circumstances no less. There were those walking along it with me in the present, carrying their own sense of doubt and fear. There would be those who would journey it after me.
Though my days sometimes felt aimless, like a perpetual state of waiting, they mattered. The love from those left behind matters. The love transcends the miles, it helps those who serve to carry on with their duty. Knowing that those at home will band together, to care for one another, to wait together in hope and expectation is comfort in times when there is not much comforting can be found.
What you do when you’re left behind matters every. single. day. Love letters scribbled on notebook paper, packages filled with cans of soup or candy, a picture of growing children in the folds of a handwritten letter, a picture of the wife’s new haircut via email. Knowing that the reunion will be all the sweeter gives the long days apart sense.
When Jesus foretold that He would leave His apostles, and travel to places that they could not go, they reacted with dismay. Understandable. How could they carry on without Him? The truth is that He would never really fully leave them, but He would be present in a different capacity. And while He was gone, they had a mission. They had hope planted deep.
The chord between myself and my Father in heaven was never severed, though I might not have realized it at the time. And the same is true today. Hope is planted deep. Hope in a reunion that will be beyond satisfying. It’s the in-between time that we have to make sense of. But you carry on.
Because you both have a mission.
Happy Veteran’s Day. To our brave men and women in uniform, and to those that they have left behind in order to serve God, country and fellow-man. Thank you to those who do the waiting, the worrying and the loving long distance. What you do matters to the fight, every single day.