On my husband's last night home on R&R, we opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate our future. We talked about where we'd like our next duty station to be. We talked about making the final payment on our car, the cruise we had scheduled for after the deployment, and my job prospects for the coming year. We were in high spirits as we snuggled together and drank that cheap bubbly. And then the phone rang.
My friend's husband had just been killed in Fallujah.
I've been lucky in my life that I've never lost someone too close to me. I think often when we hear about death, we have an immediate sense of Life Is Precious that quickly fades. When my friend's brother died, I immediately called my brothers to tell them I love them. But the feeling of urgency goes away after a short time and we return to "normal."
I have never returned to normal after Sean Sims' death.
People die all the time in the civilian world. I graduated from high school ten years ago. Of just the people I knew in high school, one drowned, one died in a gang fight, one got mistakenly shot by a hunter in the woods, one got randomly murdered for being in the wrong neighborhood late at night, one got hit by a car while he was jogging, one died in the WTC on September 11, one killed himself, and several have died in car accidents, including an old boyfriend. I know two people who have mysteriously disappeared without a trace. I know someone who has a brain tumor. We're all on death's doorstep, in one way or another. But most people don't think about life's dangers every time they step out the door. Few people face their mortality as often as we military families do.
After my friend's husband died, I thought about her all the time. She was my anchor to Perspective. When my husband's return date from Iraq kept changing and I was upset thinking we might have to cancel our non-refundable travel plans, I realized that my friend would give anything to have cancelled travel plans with her husband. When my husband does something to really tick me off, I realize that I'm lucky to have a husband to tick me off. Any time I feel like life gets to be too much, I think of my friend and how she'd trade places with me in a heartbeat. Job troubles, PCS woes, toilets that don't flush: she'd take any of that if it meant having her husband back.
Being friends with a war widow has given me an enormous amount of Perspective.
Military spouses derive their Perspective from a variety of places. Many spouses think about how hard it would be to be a Vietnam-era spouse, or WWII, or Civil War; we gain Perspective on our lives when we think of how hard it would be to do these deployments without email or webcams. Andi wrote a post about First Ladies, women who face many of the same issues we do but with far fewer comrades to keep them company. I have a good Army wife friend who repeatedly watches the episode of From the Earth to the Moon about the Apollo astronaut wives because she says those are the only spouses she knows who had it harder than military spouses; she gains Perspective from knowing that no matter what happens to her husband, she never has to face the idea of him orbiting the moon for eternity, never to return. No matter where we get it, we military spouses are all privy to that Perspective on life. We all know how precious life is because we stare loss in the face on a daily basis.
I wouldn't trade this Perspective for anything, even though I know it comes at a great price. I can never imagine going back to a time when I would let cancelled travel plans ruin my day. I choose to celebrate life's bumps and bruises because I am always aware that my husband is here to slog through it with me.
Muddy boots, filthy PTs, and dirty TA-50 are a blessing to be cherished. That's Perspective.