We say goodbye, my military man goes and does his military thing, my heart aches, my body aches, my girls ache. He comes back home, we’re on a walk around the neighborhood hand in hand, watching our little girls race ahead of us and back again.
A neighbor passes us in the car, slows down when she sees Lane, rolls down her window:
“You’re back already?”
I can’t say a word. Not a single word.
Lane, sensing me tense, is the one to talk to her.
“Well, it’s been several months, but yeah, I’m back home.”
“Oh! Well that just flew by! I can’t believe that went so quickly, that didn’t feel like any time at all that you were gone!”
My throat constricts, my heart is racing, tears spring quick and I can’t really name why yet, but my body is telling me something, I know that much.
In an effort to end the interaction, Lane, again: “Okay, then. Good to see you. Have a good one.”
She drives on and we keep walking, hand in hand.
Lane squeezes mine, lets me be the first to talk.
“It didn’t feel quick to me,” is about all I can get out.
“I know, baby, me either. She doesn’t know.”
“Still. It didn’t feel quick to me.”
Some time passes, it’s the morning hours, my military guy and I are each drinking a cup of coffee, sitting on the back porch in an attempt at an at-home date.
We’re putting jelly on our toast, passing the salt, he seems distant, I wonder why.
“Today is the day that Weston died.”
There it is.
Here we are, stirring more creamer in the coffee, processing multiple layers of hard at once, a familiar feeling in this military life.
“I remember his death felt especially hard because it was so shocking, right? How did he die?”
I wonder if this question is less for my own sake, but for his, maybe. If he wants to talk about it, ball is now in his court.
“It was an explosion. A hidden IED that had probably been there for years, no one expected it.”
The girls had been inside while we were out back but one hears us talking, shows herself through the door.
“Who died, Daddy?”
“A friend of mine, a few years ago. He was really loved by a lot of people. Today’s a sad day for us.”
She looks thoughtful, then: “How many was he when he died?”
Of the whole thing, this is the moment where tears spring sudden to my eyes. The child-like phrasing, the courage to ask a deeper question.
“Oh, sweetie. He was a young guy. 25 or so.”
And this is it. See, there is the before and the after of any given deployment, but these are the stories that make up that middle part. The reason my heart began to race on that walk, why I white-knuckled Lane’s hand after this time sure flew by.
I remember exactly how Lane’s voice sounded when he called to tell me about Weston.
I remember that while I was talking to him the girls were playing outside and one fell off a scooter, scraped her knee. I remember I hung up the phone with an emotionally-wounded husband to go tend to a physically-wounded child, apply a band-aid, kiss a knee and make it better.
I remember getting texts with pictures of the bombed-out city that hadn’t been liberated yet, of charred remains of buildings, rubble filling the streets, knowing he was walking through those buildings, walking through those streets.
I remember getting a glass of wine, hiding in our bathroom, telling God he got the wrong girl for the job, that I wasn’t strong enough to handle this, that he thought too highly of me to think I could do it.
And then I remember something new: I remember that somehow, I made it to the next day, and then the next one, and then the one after that.
And then I remember that we got through it.
How in the world did we get through it?
Oh, I can think of plenty of times I’ve wanted to quit things- a triathlon, a deployment, a toddler.
I’ve had plenty of moments like that one in the bathroom. You thought too highly of me, I can’t do this, it’s too hard. I want to quit, this is going to last forever, make it end.
Lane tells me that when he was in Ranger School, he had those moments too.
How he made it through?
By repeating this in his head: I’ll quit tomorrow. I’ll just quit tomorrow.
“That doesn’t sound super encouraging, babe?” I ask him one day.
“Well, I’d just say I’ll quit tomorrow. Then tomorrow comes, and I say I’ll quit tomorrow. You keep saying it and you keep not quitting and then you get through it.”
Keep not quitting.
Maybe that’s how we get through it all.
I’ve been reading a lot about perseverance lately, I think because we’re in a time when a lot of us are having to persevere through some major seasons of hard, major seasons of suffering, military and otherwise.
I can paint a picture of the summary, I think, from a day at my gym:
It’s an arm day, I’m tired. I grab light dumbbells for the bicep hold, my arms are burning. My trainer sees me, grabs a pair of heavier weights, brings them over to me, exchanges my lighter for her heavier.
She then pushes down on my arms, even more resistance for my tired self to hold up.
“What. Are. You. Doing.” I say through gritted teeth.
Without missing a beat: “I’m making you stronger.”
Next time I do the bicep hold, I can do it for longer.
I think about all of those middle times, the ones that were harder than I could bear, bigger than I could handle, and I think this is what happened in every single one of them- they made me stronger.
I think about telling God that I wasn’t strong enough to handle any of this, that he thought too highly of me, and I imagine him, tender and a maybe little feisty too, so I really get the message, saying: But you’re doing it. Look at how strong you’re getting. I knew you could.
Maybe God doesn’t think too highly of us after all, maybe he knows these times of endurance, of hard things, are the times that reveal what we’re made of.
Maybe he knows that these are the times that build the very strength in us that we will need later on, when the next hard thing comes.
Maybe this idea of perseverance is a lot more simple, a lot more accessible, than I’ve let it become: Keep Not Quitting.
It’s this perseverance that builds character in us which leads to unshakeable hope, which gives us the grit to keep persevering, and the circle goes round and round.
What makes our circle even more meaningful, though?
When we can draw one around each other, reminding the other we’re not alone, we’re bound together in our strength. See, I have strong, hope-filled days, just like you maybe, but then there are the ones when my hope feels a little shaky, ones I might need to borrow a little bit of yours.
Because if we all keep not quitting together, we all will be right there when the other needs her to say: But look at you! You’re doing it. I knew you could.
And look at that- we made it to a new day.
Struggling with the demands and depletion of military life? Maybe this will help: 5 Ways I Stay Sane in This Military Life. Click here and I will send it quietly to your inbox.
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