Photo from US Army News
Photo credit Kevin Stabinsky (USAG Fort McPherson)
I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.
~ William Shakespeare
Early this fall, I had the honor of guest posting on Act Today for Military Families. I thought it fitting to copy that post here today, as we pause together as a nation to express our collective gratitude to the men, women and families who make unfathomable sacrifices every day in the name of service.
The following is what I wrote.
I am sitting across from my dear friend, Paul in a restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. His lovely and very pregnant wife, Gretchen and I are chatting, and since I adore her, I feel badly that I’m only half listening. Instead, I am plotting my strategy.
I know Paul’s not going to take it well, but I decide he doesn’t really have a choice. I see my opening and quickly excuse myself from the table. I return, trying to subdue the smug grin that would otherwise scream, “Victory!”, particularly since I’m the only one playing the game.
We finish dinner and Paul asks for the check. My face reddens as the waiter explains that the lady (that would be me) has already taken care of it. Paul is NOT happy with me.
I have come down to visit Paul and Gretchen because Paul will be deploying to Iraq – yet again – in a matter of days. I’m desperate to spend some time with him before he disappears for ANOTHER fourteen months. Before he heads a world away from the impending birth of his beautiful baby girl. Before he misses most of her first year of life. Before his wife welcomes her into a world where her Daddy is an abstract group of photos on her crib.
So I am, at least in theory, their guest. Which means that technically I shouldn’t be scooping checks everywhere we go. But I can’t help it.
I have never really known military folks up close, and seeing what they go through I am overwhelmed with gratitude for their service to our nation. I keep telling them that, but it’s not enough. I have to DO something.
But no matter how much I offer to help with, well, anything, Gretchen smiles serenely and tells me she’s all set. She’s not just a military wife, after all, but also a West Point Graduate and a Black Hawk pilot who once outranked her husband. So she really is all set.
And no matter how many times I offer to send Paul whatever he might need while he’s overseas, he says, ‘If I think of something I promise to let you know.” So, at least for now, this is what I can DO. I can covertly pay dinner bills.
Paul sets his fingers on the table. “Jessie,” he begins – one of only a handful of people in my life who still call me that – “WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS?” His voice is angry.
His tone surprises me. Mine matches his and I realize that I’m almost yelling at him as I say, “Because I’m supporting our troops, damn it and you’re the only troop I know!”
He laughs. I laugh. We all relax. He’s known me long enough to know that it’s not worth the fight. I simply have to DO something.
As the years go by, Paul will deploy yet again. This time just days after the birth of his second daughter. Not once will he nor Gretchen flinch. It is simply what they do. I will watch them take it all in stride. I will try to understand it. But no matter how hard I will try over the years, I just won’t be able to wrap my brain around that kind of call to duty. I’m embarrassed that it’s so far beyond me, but it is.
Though not military, my husband and I were both raised to deeply appreciate and value the everyday sacrifice that comes with service. We were taught to thank our servicemen and women at every opportunity. To welcome them home with honor. To support their families while they are gone. To never take freedom for granted. To understand that it is their service that allows us to live the lives that we do.
Four years ago, our lives changed. Our little girl was diagnosed with autism. As we grew into the role of autism parents and began to find our voice as advocates for children with autism, our circle of friends naturally widened. People came into our lives who shared similar challenges. Among them were more military families. Paul and Gretchen were no longer the only soldiers in our lives. But these were military families with autism. Care packages were no longer enough.
These people struggled on an entirely different plane than the one on which we lived. No, suffering is not a competitive sport, but there was no denying that their lives had an added dimension of HARD. Wives stumbled through major medical decisions without their husbands because they simply couldn’t be reached on time. A dear friend was at her wit’s end as her little six-year-old preverbal Houdini managed to sneak out of their house, cross a street and get into a neighbor’s living room all in the space of her mom using the toilet. Children languished on interminable waiting lists for the only available therapists or neuro-psychs, unable to qualify for the services they obviously needed because they didn’t have a diagnosis. And worse still, there were the relocations. God, the relocations. Is there any greater hell for a child with autism than an entire re-arranging of their world and the loss of all that is familiar?
A dear friend’s husband volunteered for a harrowing deployment because it gave his family a better shot of staying in a place that was working for his child. After years of struggling, she was finally thriving. She had found a school that understood her and a staff that believed in her. She had found a team of doctors who not only had the expertise necessary to handle her rare seizure disorder, but who had been able to see her consistently enough over time to be familiar with her condition. She was making real and measurable progress. It didn’t matter. Within a matter of months, she’ll be leaving behind the school that cared, the doctors who understood, the therapists that believed and the structure and routine that she relied on. Because that is what military families do. Autism or not.
My heart has ached for these friends. I’ve watched as they’ve been forced to fight wars on two fronts. I’ve done what I could to help, but it’s never been enough. How could it ever possibly ever be enough?
I recently saw the video for ATMF on a friend’s Facebook page. I was heart-broken. I was enraged. I was encouraged. I was hopeful. Someone was fighting for these families for whom I care so deeply. Someone was offering me a way to really help.
I wish I could change your world with the sweep of a magic wand. I wish scooping checks and sending care packages could make a difference. In the meantime, please know that out here in the ether, there are armies of people like me – people who are quite simply overwhelmed with gratitude for everything you do. We are here for you. We are here for your children. And now that we know how, we will DO something.
Thank you and God bless.
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