If I could go back and talk to myself on September 10, 2001, what would I say? What advice could I give myself on how to get through the next decade?
I think about this hindsight when I try to remember what I was feeling on certain key days in my family's military history: as the WTC fell, as the president announced that Saddam had 48 hours to comply, as Shock and Awe started, when the Saddam statue came down. I try to remember what I was thinking on those days and whether what I predicted really did come true. I remember arguments after 9/11 about how long the war would last, I remember those initial reports that Saddam was killed during Shock and Awe, and I remember elation when the statue fell, thinking it meant the end was nigh. Some predictions were true, some were not.
But all of this happened before my husband ever became a part of the War on Terror.Michelle Keener's husband was standing next to that Saddam statue when it came down.
Paul and Michelle Keener went through the first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment, back when everything was still uncertain. How long would it last? Would there be chemical weapons? When would they come home? By the time my husband went a year later, many of those questions had already been settled. But despite the fact that hers was a Marine in OIF I and mine was a soldier in OIF II, what I liked most about Shared Courage: A Marine Wife's Story of Strength and Courage is how much Michelle's deployment story seems to match mine. We've noted before at SpouseBUZZ that deployments are like snowflakes, but Michelle's experience seems quite similar to mine: nothing phenomenally bad happened, nothing phenomenally good happened, but something was happening within her every day. Michelle was active as a Key Volunteer, helping pass information throughout the unit to other wives. She busied herself sending care packages and watching the news. And she watched as a friend received that awful knock on the door. I think Michelle's deployment experience is the top of the bell curve, a typical snapshot of what we go through when our spouses deploy. The book is nothing flashy, nothing preachy, just a strikingly personal story of the basic ups and downs that we all experience. I think every deployed spouse can find a piece of him or herself in this book.
So what makes Michelle Keener's book worth reading if it's just like everyone else's deployment? Her attitude. She writes:
William Jennings Bryan has a quote that I found not long after Paul left on the second deployment: "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice." I tried to keep that thought in mind while Paul was gone. I never had a choice in Paul being sent to war, but I did have a choice in the way I dealt with that fact. I could spend all his money, I could file for divorce, I could cheat on him -- or not. I hated the fact that he was in danger, hated it every day, but I didn't try to blame fate or God or even the Marine Corps for it (most of the time). This wasn't a cosmic conspiracy or even some grand political agenda. This was just the life we had chosen, and it was too late to change our minds about it now. Maybe that is why it was always so hard for me to answer that constant question from friends and family, "How do you do it?" Maybe I should have responded by asking them, "How do you do your life?" Because really, it all comes down to the simple fact that this is just my life.
Michelle took deployment as a fact of life and dealt with it the best way she knew how. She didn't let her sadness get the best of her, but neither did she let deployment be her martyrdom. It just was what it was. I think she had a very mature attitude about the entire process, and I found inspiration in many of her passages.
I personally would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what an average deployment is like. I wish I could go back and give it to my September 10th self.