I met him as a carefree college girl, completely unaware that the handsome guy in the blue plaid button-up across the room haggling a bet with his buddies was actually my future husband. He was also in the military and from the night we started dating, I began to see what that would really mean to us both.
After 2 years of long distance dating and engagement, when we finally were married, I officially became a "military wife." My stint in that role was short-lived (1.5 years) because he chose to pursue a civilian career-path after his duty station in Hawaii was complete, but the lessons I gained from it continue to mold my character to this day.
1. There is a greater sacrifice than my own
On a personal level, it's easy to get angry, to feel closed off, to ask questions like, "why me/him/us?" or "where's the good in this?"
There is sacrifice in a marriage and even more so when there's kids involved. You sacrifice consistency, stability, roots.
But when you live on a base or you engage regularly with other people who are also sacrificing, you realize that the sacrifice of many is also to the benefit of many.
A military is not just about you and your own problems, your own worries. It's about the bigger picture.
2. Patience is hard, but it's also a virtue
In the military, you never get the answers you want, when you want them. For as punctual as it is in some ways, in others, it's all waiting, pacing, wondering, hoping, dreading. You learn to live in the moment, to accept that some things are out of your control. That deployment might feel like a decade when it starts, but you take a deep breath and remember that a few months from now, it will be the past. You learn the value of a perspective and a few good, deep breaths.
3. There's no time to take your time
Military families must have a sense of boldness about them, a jump in head-first or get left behind mentality. When you move so often, you learn that there's no room to be shy or timid, no room to ease into something slowly or put it off.
I didn't do so well with the boldness memo when I was first introduced to this lifestyle and it only became harder as time went on. Lesson learned.
Short goals, small victories, fast friends.
4. Support unconditionally
Sometimes you find yourself in positions where questions are endless but go unanswered, when worry and uncertainty creeps in and it's out of your hands.
In terms of a relationship, it's then that you learn you can't always be everything to each other.
That's a hard pill to swallow but it's the truth. You learn to be what they need, to fill in the gaps, to say the words that need said or do the thing that needs done in that moment. You become a pillar of strength. And someone else becomes yours. It has nothing to do with lack of love or desire and everything to do with circumstances.
a marriage is not just between two people; sometimes you just need a whole circle.
5. Learn to be flexible
With whatever you have, whatever is thrown your way, you discover that happiness is constructible. You eventually learn to stop being angry over the unpredictable wrenches in your system and chalk it up to the bigger picture. In life, but especially in military life, the idea of planning ahead becomes almost insurmountable at times. There are so many factors out of your control that yes, you plan, but you also accept the likelihood that that plan will change.
The Sixth Lesson
To the families who have chosen to support our country by giving their lifestyle to the flux of our military, I have incredible admiration for your constant ability to live these hard lessons day in and day out. I only glimpsed the struggle of that lifestyle, and yet, I know that these lessons changed me. The character of the families that continue to serve is intense; they maintain that it never gets easier, it never becomes less of a struggle to practice flexibility, unconditional support, boldness, patience, and sacrifice.
So I guess that's where the the 6th lesson comes in: perseverance.
On holidays where we honor our troops, I hope you enjoy some fantastically heart-clogging American food, admire the magic of chemicals exploding in the air, and most importantly, hug a member of our military family who continues to persevere for your sake.
He/she will probably shake it off like it's no big deal, like it's "just what we do," but every now and then it's good to recognize how big of a deal it truly is.