Last night, I was listening to Thursday's SBTR show with America's Favorite Mom, Patti Patton-Bader, and something Semper Fi Wife said caught my attention. She said, "I don't even know that I know who I was five years ago anymore. I'm not that person now." Semper Fi Wife and Patti were talking about how war, and serving those who serve, has a tendency to change one's outlook.
For so many people, war has changed everything.
Before September 11, 2001, being an Army wife (for me) was not unlike being an electrician's wife, or a car salesman's wife or any of the other hundreds of possibilities. I didn't eat, sleep and breathe the military lifestyle, as I do now. The honor of being married to someone who chose to serve his country aside, my husband went to work, came home, occasionally went in the woods to play soldier and occasionally went on TDY assignments, but, for the most part, it was a stable existence. Yes, we moved - a lot, but there were no combat deployments to contend with, there was no war to contend with and life was pretty good. It still is, actually. It's just a different kind of good.
It would be just over two years from the start of OIF before my immediate family was intimately touched by war because my husband's first wartime deployment didn't occur immediately. When it did, naturally I saw war through an entirely different lense. But I would be forever changed two years before my husband deployed, thanks to one little email.
I read an article about Ginger Dosedel and Sew Much Comfort. I was so touched by the story that I sent an email to Ginger thanking her for her work. From that email, a friendship formed. One that would change my life in ways too numerous to count. Long story short, I became the ambassador to Walter Reed for Sew Much Comfort. My first visit to Walter Reed left me shocked and saddened. I had never seen so many young men so severely injured. But those visits turned from sorrowful to joyful because the soldiers I visited made it clear they didn't want my pity. Little did I know, I would soon learn so much about life, beating the odds, overcoming obstacles and rising to the challenge from soldiers and their wives, many of whom were 10-15 years my junior, yet decades wiser, stronger and better.
The wonderful Ellen Miller told us something that has stayed with me since we talked to her on SBTR (a great listen). She talked about the "life stages" we go through and how we grow, evolve and change. I'm not sure when this war will end, but I've now come to think of it as an important stage in my life. Perhaps the most important. It's certainly the period of time in which I've experienced the most meaningful, personal growth.
Like Semper Fi Wife, I don't recognize the person I was five or six years ago. I'm not speaking for her, or trying to interpret what she meant with respect to her own life, I'm only touching on how her comment triggered me to think about my life in a post-9/11 world. War is a powerful force in so many ways. Like most people, I'd prefer war be rendered unnecessary. But for all its horrors, I've learned that war does have the ability to make some people better and stronger. For me, it has done just that. Ironically, it has little to do with my husband's service. No, it was the people, like our own Joan D'Arc, that I met while stalking the halls of Walter Reed, who unknowingly touched my heart, gave me a gift I'll always cherish and changed me forever. I've often thought about the pre-9/11 Andi and I'm appalled at how shallow and disengaged that Andi now seems. What did I do, aside from those things we all do to help a friend or neighbor out here or there, that mattered or empowered, challenged or made me a better person? Not enough. Not nearly enough.
Interestingly, what I found from my work with SMC is that it wasn't my effort that was personally gratifying, it was what the people I encountered gave me through their quiet strength and unrelenting determination that made a lasting impact on my life. When a soldier thanked me for bringing him some clothing, mentally I thanked him for proving to me that the stack of work I grumbled about before leaving the house, whether or not it would be completed on time, would matter little in the grand scheme of life, but watching him take his first steps with his prosthetics would stay with me forever.
I once met a soldier who chose to have both of his legs amputated although there was a possibility they could be saved. The dilemma for this soldier was that it would be a year or more before they knew whether or not his legs would recover. He wouldn't be able to walk during that time because both legs would be in fixators. Those many uncertain months would be costly for him. It would mean that he couldn't play with his young daughter in a way that was meaningful to him during that time. He said he'd never get that time back. If he went ahead with the amputation, he would be in prosthetics quicker, which would mean he could walk and play with his daughter quicker. And that's what he chose to do. And without remorse or regret, or at least without visible remorse or regret. Are there adequate words to respond to that? If there are, I couldn't find them. Then, or now.
Joan D'Arc always talks about finding the silver lining in the face of tragedy at our LIVE events. She knows a thing or two about that. Her story, and those of countless others, are inspirational, and it's why we have the empowerment panel during these events.
Hindsight shows me that I entered a new life stage after 9/11. Although I would have preferred a different method of learning an important lesson, war and its stream of casualties taught me that it's not where you've been that matters most, it's where you're going and what you do with the present moment that really, truly matters. This is a powerful lesson, and one I'm grateful that I learned while I'm relatively young. Lessons are sometimes learned and later discarded. I pray this lesson carries me through the rest of my life.
I'm fortunate to have this virtual community to lean on, and learn from. Each morning when I wake up, I can't get to the computer fast enough. I'm anxious to see what's been posted and what all of you have to say about it. I think of you as my family now, a family I likely wouldn't have if not for war. How else would this Army wife have met hundreds of Navy, Marine and Air Force spouses? Even when I enter into a new life stage, our bonds will stay with me forever. The horrors of war not withstanding -- and there are many -- positive changes in my life have occurred, and they occurred simply by watching, interacting with and learning from those who have paid an enormous price because of war.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not a perpetual glass-half-full person these days. I try, but I often fail. Just yesterday I was complaining about the PCS move which is only five days away, and what a pain it is to be managing three houses right now; the one we're about to leave, the one we're about to move into and the one we own which will have tenant turnover at precisely the same time we move into the new house. Add my other obligations onto that and it feels like I'm climbing Mt. Everest without the proper footwear. Yesterday, I even told someone, "It sucks to be me right now." But that's just my inner drama queen talking. She occasionally comes out for a stroll. Sometimes I run over her fairly quickly (which is fun), but sometimes I let her walk till she gets callouses on her feet (which never results in anything good).
I'm fully aware that there are people who find that war has changed them in negative ways, I've met some of them. So, I'm curious, and there are no right and wrong answers here, for better or worse, has war changed you? If so, how?