All five of us, miracle of miracles, sit at the dinner table, eating chicken that Lane grilled and potatoes that I made just like any other family in America.
Our conversation drifts to the following weekend and I mention a BBQ that we have been invited to- can we go to that?
“Oh, no, baby- that day is my buddy’s Alive Day party. I really want us to go. He’s awesome, you’d love him.”
“Wait- what? His what?”
“His Alive Day party. He got shot in the head seven years ago but didn’t die- did you catch that?! He got SHOT IN THE HEAD AND DIDN’T DIE- and so he throws a party to celebrate being alive.”
It is simultaneously so absurd and full of joy that I bust out laughing. What’s a normal reaction?
It is now that I remember to look around the table- our three girls, hearing about a man who got shot in the head as they pull apart their dinner roll and it occurs to me that, no, no, we are not just like any other family in America.
For a moment it’s still funny and the very next, I think about where he was when he got shot, how my military husband goes there, too.
Once Ellie asked Lane why he has to leave to train so much and his not-so-tender response was “Well. Ellie. We’re training for war, kiddo.”
So goes our life- in one moment it’s funny, the next moment it’s terror; the back and forth dance in my heart and then Mae asks me to pass her the potatoes.
Back to normal rhythms the next day- which is to say, the gone-and-then-home cadence we military families march to- and Lane is gone for the rest of the week. It’s the last week of school, full of celebrations and awards ceremonies, just like any other kid. Lane’s trip causes him to miss Brennan Grace’s awards ceremony on Thursday.
I look out at the audience around me and see Dad’s in business attire sitting next to Momma’s and grandparents, all with their cameras raised. I’m taking pictures too, for memory’s sake sure, but also to show her military Daddy how she walked up on stage not once, but twice. I’m taking pictures so that he can see it, too.
That evening after the awards ceremony, I’m racing the girls into the car for swimming lessons and Brennan races to the bathroom and throws up, no warning. Her stomach is tender to the touch and I first take her temperature and then start googling appendicitis. As I’m feeling around her stomach pretending I know what I’m doing, my mind goes through scenario planning: “Okay, if I need to race her to the emergency room at midnight, do I wake and take all three girls? Who do I call for help?”
For a split second, I mourn not living close to family so deeply it physically aches. Do they even understand how much I have to do on my own?
But to do that is to risk feeling alone and vulnerable and scared, which is not an actual option. So I quickly fold up and pack those feelings away, take a deep breath, steel myself. Everything hinges on my ability to stay strong and so I do.
I keep going because I have to; it’s simple, really.
And so I set out a ball cap and sports bra next to my bed, alongside the iPad and snacks, just in case I have seconds and no time to think.
In one moment I’m overwhelmed, the next I just do the next thing. Who else is there to do it?
And I feel myself white-knuckle it through the night I’m trying to hold together.
I’m at the gym, stretching my legs and tying my sneakers, chatting with another friend.
“My husband was called at 2 in the morning last night, did yours get the call?”
And we talk about how much our military guys have been gone lately, the exhaustion of playing the role of both mom and dad, the stress of the job- both theirs and ours, how life sometimes feels like it’s falling apart and right now? Right now we don’t feel like we have the strength to hold it together any more.
I find myself fighting tears, right there on the gym floor, and I’m not sure exactly why. Because of the stories we shared about our kids, probably. Because of how we both just understand each others’ life, probably. But also sometimes I’m just tired.
And then we start doing burpees so there it is again-
Feel one thing, feel the other, just keep going.
I think a lot about all of this, honestly- probably because this military life is my day-to-day life and I wonder sometimes how to live it and live it well. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live another one. One that’s maybe not so stressful? One that’s maybe not so transient? One that maybe doesn’t keep death at our doorstep?
What was I saying about mixtures of emotion?
I think that is what is so difficult about the military life. It’s this one thing, yes, but also the one thousand moments before it, too, and the one thousand moments we know are coming after.
Show me a military wife and I’ll show you a woman who has paused when her phone rings with an unknown number, hesitated at a knock at the door.
But also? Show me a military wife and I’ll show you someone who is stronger now than she was a year ago, who has overcome more than she ever realized she would.
Show me a military wife and I’ll show you how she’s going to change the world.
The world is broken and hurting and a military wife knows a thing or two about breaking and hurting.
Everyone is walking around with their own heart shattered to pieces in one way or another and we know a thing or two about shattered hearts.
Neighbors and colleagues and three-year-olds need to be reminded that they can do hard things and we know a thing or two about doing hard things.
Transformation happens in the spaces where you’ve been broken open, and I wish there were another way around it. But then? Look around and there are a thousand others in the middle of their breaking and you can say, See this? This is how I made it through. I think you can do it too.
We live life alongside the elite and courageous who do brave things and do them well. We know a thing or two about running toward when everyone else is running away and this is the love that is going to heal a broken heart, a hurting world, a lonesome toddler.
We military wives are stronger now than we used to be, after all, because pain can be one of the very best teachers. It teaches us how to stand at each others’ side, hold the other up at memorial ceremonies and funerals and Sunday mornings while the guys are gone. We know how to mother each other’s babies and feed them snacks and take care of them when each other can’t. We open our circles to the new wife, the lonely wife, the young wife because we know what it’s like to be her.
We do keep going, always, but now? We’ve learned how to keep going toward one another, with one another, always, always for one another.
We are resilient and gritty and I can only point to the hard things that have taught us to be this way. It’s all a training ground, you see?
And so I think through all of this and believe- Sure, this life is hard, but what if that’s the point?
If we choose to, it’s right there in front of us waiting for us to notice- do you see the love? No really- do you see it, though?
Look to the people to your right and to your left, the ones doing brave things and doing them well, and this is where you see the hard life is one of the very best places to learn that Love holds.
Do you still wonder if the hard life is the good life?
Come run in my circles, let my people take care of you for a hot minute, and I don’t think you’ll have any more questions.
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