"Don't be," my non-military-friend, E, said quickly in response to another non-military-friend's comment. "Don't be sorry."
She had learned well.
"He's doing his job. You have nothing to apologize for." Wow, she had really caught on. I stood watching.
"Well, I just meant that ... um ... I'm sorry he's not here," our mutual friend continued.
"It's a big part of it. She's okay. Don't be sorry," E assured her.
Good job, E. I'm certain I was smirking at this point. I hadn't said a word.
It may be the most common response when anyone hears that our loved one is deployed. I would put money on it. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction: I'm so sorry.
It's the same thing people automatically say when we find out someone is seriously ill, or has passed away, or lost a job, or ended a long-term relationship. It is a sign of a permanent change, a grave misfortune, a death. It is in no way an appropriate response to knowledge that someone is deployed.
Yet, we get it all. the. time.
And for half-a-second, I get it. Well, maybe not exactly "get it" but maybe see from their perspective. And by that I mean, I "get" that maybe they can't really "get it" without living our side. They can't understand it and whatever they imagine it to be is so horrifying that words saved for horrendous events seem appropriate.
Our soldiers are not sorry. Our soldiers don't want your pity. Their spouses don't want your gloomy apology.
It's such a difficult thing to respond to because the usual response would be "thank you." And not to be totally rude, but I am not responding with that. You may get a blank stare in response. Okay, maybe not a blank one. I have trouble controlling the faces I make. Ask anyone. It's a problem.
So how do we respond? I'm sorry.
Hmmm ... I'll take E's words: "Don't Be". Maybe take it a little further (but that may knock 'em off their feet right then). My husband didn't sign his name because he was forced, or didn't have a choice, or was going for the big bucks. He didn't re-sign his name during a war because he didn't know what that action meant. He wasn't tricked. He wasn't suckered-into-anything. He wasn't promised a life of pleasure and beaches and roses. He knew the future before him. He knows what he will be asked to do again, what he has already been asked to do, what he has sworn to do with every pen stroke giving his name. He asked - yes, ASKED - to stand up and defend this nation. He said, "Me. I want to do this. This is what I am meant to do."
There has been no loss, no trauma within our family, because this is what we have chosen to do. We stood up and said, "Me. I choose him. This is what I am meant to do."
We have never apologized for this life. We have never asked for an apology from our soldier for this life. We have never asked anyone for an apology for this life. I can tell you that before a deployment my soldier is so very sorry that he has to leave me - but that is not the same. It is not the same apology. Because that one comes from a man covered in camo, with a gun crossing his chest, and a helmet on his head and it is said to a wife who is proud of him, and grateful for him, and understands the importance of what this separation is. To his, "I'm sorry," I respond with the same "don't be" often followed by an "I know". That is the only one I will take and no one understand the absolutely complexity of that apology like an army spouse.
To anyone else, we will accept no apologies for something that we willingly took onto ourselves. They are not warranted or appropriate. We have not suffered a loss; we have gained a hero. You have gained a hero - a protector, a soldier.
But a Thank You, a thank you we will always pass along.
"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.