When he asked me to be his girlfriend a lifetime ago, I said "no way". I'd been set free from a marriage to an angry uniform-wearing man who blamed his job for his behavior, and I had no interest in walking down that road again. I intended to meet a nice musician/graphic designer and settle into an easy going life of jam sessions and deadlines... our biggest concern would be who was going to brew the coffee or the latest computer viruses. I didn't want to move away from my hometown, give up my career, leave my family, friends, and church behind... I knew NOTHING about the military. The war, war fighters, and anything political or military was a million miles away from my safe world in the patriotic peripheral. And I liked it like that.
But then, I accidentally fell in love with this guy across the country who lived a life I knew nothing about. I didn't care about his service, heroics, or little colorful ribbons that lined his uniform coat. But I liked his laugh. He made me shrimp pasta primavera from scratch and drove a nice truck (that's important when you're 23 years old). He held the door open, said hello to strangers, and told me I was pretty. He loved good beer, Jesus, and his mom. He was worth giving up everything I'd known for a life that I did not understand. I just wanted to be near him. So I said yes.
But I refused to conform. There was a time when I hated every aspect of military life. Helicopters were loud and smelly. Alabama was hot and sticky. He was gone all the time. I didn't like the fact that he couldn't march into his "boss's office" and demand to have our anniversary off. I would calculate his hourly wage and seethe in frustration and injustice. Don't they know who he is? What he's done? How lucky they are that he continues to serve day-in and day-out?!
Then, over the course of a couple years everything turned upside down and inside out. Lives were lost and I watch my sheltered world get crushed in a slow motion train wreck. In the light of day I was forced to recognize the magnitude of my husband's sacrifices and magnitude of my own selfishness. I decided to learn about military life... A life he chose long before he chose me. I use to be the first to say "I didn't sign up to be in the military!" but the truth is that the day that I signed our marriage certificate, I "signed up" for the military life. I know that's not the case for everyone, but for me it was a hard fact. He chose the military THEN me. I committed to this life when I committed to him. The day I owned that fact was the day that I fell in love all over again - with my husband, my country, and the power of hope.
One of my favorite memories as an Army spouse takes place about six years into our marriage. He had just returned from Afghanistan, and we were heading to a military ball. During his deployment, I'd worked for the Department of Defense. Part of my job was to be a dress uniform expert. I had to know all of the ribbons, stripes and awards, as well as knowing how to put the uniform together. Sean came out of our bathroom and it was the first time I'd seen him in his dress uniform since I started my job. I just stood there and stared at him for a minute, and I said, "You're kind of a bad ass, right? It's weird knowing what your coat means now." And he smiled at me and said, "Nah. I'm just me. You're kind of a bad ass in that dress though." Then, we went to the ball and ate too much food, drank too much wine, got in trouble for throwing food at our friends. We laughed and cried. We reflected on the years past. We breathed in hope and exhaled fear. That night, I sat at that table and looked around at some of the best people I've ever known. I felt so divinely favored to be among them.
I will not lose hope and I would not trade this life for anything.
Happy Veterans Day, friends, thanks for teaching me that it's so much more than a day off work.