Let No One Sit Alone

Shoulders slightly hunched, grey slacks, a simple button-down shirt, and a face hidden by a mask. One lone voice danced with the solitary music of a piano, so crisp compared to the many voices of a choir. The sunlight held him, softened by its journey through the stained glass windows that surrounded the sanctuary. He sat alone in the pew.

For the first time since March 2020, our family attend Mass in-person. The service looked different with masks and many of the pews roped-off. But what I felt was profound, soul-gripping, and tangible. I felt the power of the Church — a community joined by Faith.

I’ve sat alone before.

Looking at that man across the aisle, I was reminded of times when I sat alone in Church. We met in a wooden hut when I was stationed in Honduras. In Iraq, it was a trailer and in Afghanistan, a dusty, green tent. Often, there was no priest, so we simply gathered to pray. Rank fell away, the mission stopped, and what was left was us — no longer alone.

Loneliness is hard to count.

We are reminded many times each day to give 6 feet, but I wonder how many people are painfully aware of just how far that distance is. We will not see a number scrolling across the bottom of our TV screen. There will be no positivity rate, testing center, or quantifiable metric to track. What does it mean to “quarantine,” to the man who already sits alone?

I am thankful for community.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I have not been alone. Since March, it has been hard to say if I have ever been alone. There are no quiet places in a house with small children. We work, educate, play, and live within the walls of our home. I have complained about many things since March 2020, but never about being alone.

Community is family.

Over the last year, my definition of family expanded to more than my relatives. This year, family became those with whom I’ve weathered the COVID storm. We met on walks, under trees, on porches, and in driveways. Just like when I was deployed, the places we met became our sacred Church. And the spiritual power, came from the people gathered rather than the place.

As we celebrate our meal this week, there will likely be many changes. But space and place are no barrier to love. It could be just a waive. Perhaps a quick text or email. Or even a beer on a back porch.

This Thanksgiving, let’s all find the man alone in the pew.

Sharing Our Best with America

Grinning youthful faces, covered in dust, wearing sunglasses, armed…

My social media fills with memories on Veterans Day when my friends and family uploaded pictures. The pictures take me way back — to places with sand, rooms made of plywood, and the howl of a UH60 main transmission. We lived for hot meals and real eggs. We went on missions that bored us, then scared us, then bored us again. We worked out a lot.  We played video games. We had some heavy days…

Decades later, the faces on my phone, remind me of the joy I had living, and serving with America’s very best.

On Veterans Day, my family or non-Veteran friends will often thank me for my service. I usually find this awkward, and mumble some response while walking away as fast as possible. How could they be thanking me? These were some of the most awesome years of my life. The grimy, grinning faces on my phone fill my soul with as much love as my kids’ baby pictures or photos from my wedding day.

Thank you America – you gave us the very best!

This year on Veterans Day, it can be hard to find joy in America. Anxiety and apprehension weight the air like humidity on a summer afternoon. Wounds of division remain raw. Neighbors, friends, and family are than more likely to tell negative stories, lament case counts, and opine about lock-downs.

The eyes always to the phones…

On one single day — Veterans Day — images of smiling youthful faces drowned out the dismal social media feed in my hands. Those dusty smiles reminded me of my incredible military family. These men and women were at war – yet still they smiled. Buoyed by their strength, I raised my eyes and moved forward.

Each face has a story.

Our Veteran stories open a window to a world where we pushed the dark of war away with love and laughter. We had belly-splitting laughs, epic missions, and a few days of deep sorrow. Swipe by swipe, the faces gave me the strength to pull away from consuming negativity — using memories of a time when America’s very best came together during the very worst.

Share America’s best with America.

This year, I vow to change the message on Veterans Day. Rather than awkwardly slinking away when a stranger says “thank you for your service” – I will share the best of America with America. That stranger just gave me an opening to change the narrative of the day. Some stories are here on Veteran’s Voices but there are many more. As a Veteran community, we have seen the very best of America. Let’s share that with America.


Statue in the image: Prince of Swords, Nicole Eisenman (2013), Carnegie Museum of Art Pittsburg PA

Extended

I expected it would happen…but held out hope that it wouldn’t.

In 2007, when I was getting on a plane to Iraq for my first deployment, the US military was in a surge. It was in the news. It was all we talked about. Everyone in our unit knew of units that had been extended. The unit we were to replace was finishing up 3 extra months in country, making their 12 month deployment 15 months.

I expected it to happen but hoped—by some miracle, or oversight—that our little unit would slip through the cracks and just do 12 months.

I got my extension notice within 24 hours of setting foot in Iraq.

Today, I again feel like I am getting on a plane and hoping for the best. As COVID cases increase across the Country, I get that feeling that timelines are about to shift on me again. I thought I had a general idea of when things would end and I could get back to normal. Maybe my timeline was linked to the seasons, or school schedules, or the holidays…but as I sit trying to make plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I start to wonder if my deployment is about to be extended.

How long will this last…

It is easy to focus on all the things I am missing. Deployed to Iraq, I missed weddings, reunions, ski trips, and going out on the weekend. Every day felt like the one before and like the one after. My life was on pause and everyone else was moving one without me.

The timeline isn’t mine.

As 2020 starts to look like 2021, it’s easy to focus on the bad news of what could come. I can refresh my news feeds, flip the channels, or frantically pour through dashboard data. I can look to other cities, states, and countries to try to see what could be next. I piece together stories, charts, and maps – all in an effort to project when this will end.

Bring on the extension.

Unlike Iraq, the COVID deployment won’t take me away from my family, into a foreign country, or expose me to war. I watch movies with my husband, play with the kids, and call my mom every single day. I go to Costco, get meals delivered to my door, and explore the natural beauty of our Country through some incredible parks.

If 2021 brings more time with my family; if I can sit under a tree, watch the leaves fall, and have a beer; if back deck dinners are becoming fire pit evenings…than maybe deployment isn’t all that bad.