We heard so many wonderful stories in Tacoma, but there is one that I can't seem to get out of my head. A beautiful milspouse sat quietly in the front row the entire day. She finally stood up near the end of the day and told the audience that she had been trying to build up the courage to speak. Clearly, she was nervous. While she was at the microphone, speaking with a shaky voice and starting to cry, a milspouse from the back of the room got up, walked up to her, put her arm around her and stood with her while she spoke. Another rushed a kleenex up to her. I got the impression that they didn't know each other - it was simply a case of spouses offering support to another spouse, but I could be wrong.
What the spouse said to over 250 of us broke my heart.
She was dealing with guilt, and she didn't know how to handle the guilt. This lady's guilt wasn't a product of something horrible that she had done, which made her story all the more difficult to listen to.
She began by saying that she and her husband had been dealing with some really tough issues over the last couple of years. I won't go into detail, and it's dangerous to assume anything, but I think everyone who was there walked away with the same impression - that she indeed had been through a lot, and it couldn't have been easy. She went on to say that the guilt she felt was that her husband had not yet deployed. Apparently, some spouses had told her that she couldn't imagine what it's like because she hadn't been there and done that. She was made to feel as if she were somehow an outsider because she didn't have a deployment under her belt.
Now, I can't possibly know the details of her conversations with other spouses. Nor can I know if the spouses had purposely belittled her for this and intentionally made her feel guilty. But it didn't matter because what I am certain of is that whatever happened had an enormous affect on her. And not in a good way.
I looked for this lady after the conference and couldn't find her. I desperately wanted to talk to her. Mostly, I just wanted to hug her and tell her how beautiful she was, and that I'm glad she had the guts to stand before strangers and share her story because it was something we all needed to hear. I pray that she is reading this right now because I want to let her know that she touched all of us with her courage. I'm sure that she made everyone in the room stop and think about how we treat one another, and how unproductive it is to try and compare situations.
There's all kinds of guilt in this lifestyle. There's survivor's guilt - My spouse survived and hers didn't. My spouse walked away from the bomb and hers was maimed. There's area guilt - My spouse has never been to Iraq, and hers has. There's involvement guilt - She's always volunteering and I don't have time to do it. On and on it goes. Well, guess what? Each of us has a different family dynamic and grapple with different issues. Each of us have spouses who perform different tasks for the military and go where they are called. But in the end, we're all part of the same military and we share a very unique lifestyle. We're all better off building each other up rather than tearing each other down, intentionally or not.
Pettiness happens, in and out of military circles. Some people aren't happy if others aren't miserable. Yes, perspective is always healthy, but some people jump at the chance to remind someone that they have it worse. And frankly, as I think we all realized in Tacoma - that might not be the case at all.
So to the spouse who stood up and spoke - Thank You. You offered all of us a lot to think about. And I think you are one fabulous woman!