About a week or so ago a new Army Wife that I have come to know well asked me for some advice. She had met an Army girlfriend recently and they instantly hit it off. This soldier's girlfriend was having a rough time understanding and processing the amount of separation there is between a soldier and his spouse and my friend asked me how she should talk to her about it. I asked her how I spoke with her about difficulties in this life and we went from there. I mainly told her to listen. Most of us just want to know that we are not alone in this, that we are not crazy for fearing what we fear and questioning what we question. We all go through it and to think that we are going through it alone is dangerous. We listen to each other and nod our heads and cry when we see the other cry because we understand whatever emotion is running through the other's heart. There is strength in the camaraderie, strength in the understanding, strength in the shared heartache.
I told her something else that I strongly believe is a vital way to communicate this life to others - especially to those who have not committed to this life yet, that aren't bound by the vows. And I say that not to scare those who love a soldier but to understand what this life is and to understand what it entails. I told my friend very bluntly, "Don't sugar-coat it." And I will say it again and again. Don't sugar-coat it. I think it is important to be positive in everything - not to be blissfully ignorant. There is a difference. Pretending that this path is just sunshine and roses does nothing to help someone who is about to enter into this life. They will be in for a rude awakening when that first month-long training hits, or a deployment is announced just when the stick gives you a "+", or you lose your ID and your soldier is at a three-day-long range. There will be no sunshine when your soldier is deployed and you live at Fort Drum and you get 20 inches of snow. No, literally, there won't be any sunshine - or roses either for that matter.
I think it is important to be real about this life and I try to convey that in what I write. I do try to be positive in almost everything - that is vital to getting through the day to day. Negativity gets us no where. I said once that I do not think we should wallow in our heartache but that I do think we should acknowledge it. To try to ignore it, to act like this life is just a beautiful walk in the park, can do nothing to strengthen us. At the same time, to spend every moment crying over it, to see only the hard side of it, to only focus on the negative, will break us. It is so important to live in the reality of it - to acknowledge that what we do is hard, that what we do is at times overwhelmingly heart-breaking, that what we face is at times unthinkable, unbearable. And I do not think that recognizing that weakens us - not even for a moment. I know that to understand the reality and to face it with an unwavering spirit will bring us strength, does give us hope, always makes the separation seem shorter.
It is easy to be blinded by the man in uniform - to fall in love with the idea of it. But when those blinded eyes regain their sight that uniform will become dozens of camo-printed pieces scattered on the floor to be packed for deployment. That shiny, decorated uniform, becomes a hanging bag lying on the floor of your closet hidden behind your clothes until he comes home. That man in a uniform becomes someone who doesn't just belong to you.
Acknowledge the reality and then live through it. Because at some point, the giant doors will open, your eyes will be blinded by the sun and then, finally, you will see him. Marching straight from the sunlight, in perfect formation wearing that uniform that you both love and despise. He will be home.
You will have lived through one reality to appreciate this one. Acknowledge the heartache. Acknowledge the difficulty. Acknowledge what it takes to get here. And then, open your arms and welcome your soldier home.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.