I live in a civilian community now, and while I couldn't have more support from them when my husband is gone - and often when he is home as well! - it is still fairly common for us to have communication glitches. My gallows humor definitely draws some weird glances - even from people I've known for years (although they've pretty much learned to roll with it). Our penchant for acronyms is really not "normal", either. And then there was that time I got up too late to make my son and daughter lunch for their summer camp and they ended up taking MREs.
There have been times when I've sat down with civilians who didn't know our family was military until it came up in conversation, and the reaction was not positive. It has happened, but it's happened rarely enough that I can count each instance on one hand and still have fingers left over. Most often, the reaction people have upon finding out we're a military family is curiosity, and there is also usually a desire to show some sort of connection; for instance, a grandfather who fought in World War II or a father who had been in Vietnam.
Sometimes, though, when our military affiliation comes up in conversation the first reaction I get is, "What can I do?"
Although this happens a very good percentage of the time I talk to people, it never fails to astound me - particularly in today's economy. It's not the experience my father had when he came home from Vietnam and went back to college, that's for sure. And the offers I get are sincere. People who are overwhelmed in their daily lives, sometimes underemployed or stretched thin with college tuition, mortgages, and car payments still have a first and genuine impulse to do something to show they care and that their support is tangible.
This happened to me earlier in the week when I was at the gym for my regular Monday boxing class.
I'm a regular there now and I know a lot of the people who show up on a regular or semi-regular basis. When the coach paired us up to practice a simple jab/cross combo I found myself with a gentleman that I regularly say hi or wave at when we find ourselves in the same class. We hadn't had a chance to talk before, and I found out his son is attending Harvard. He found out that we're an Air Force family and that my husband recently returned from another deployment.
As the exercise progressed, we talked about another mutual friend of ours who is also a gym member and I mentioned how awesome I thought she was because whenever I tell her that we're looking for donations for one of the military charities I volunteer for she finds a way to donate. Every. Single. Time. And she does it without a second thought, as reflex.
The gentleman in class then asked which charities I volunteer for - and when I told him about Sew Much Comfort he was immediately intrigued. So much so that after class he asked for the web address. I was glad to spread the word and that he was interested, and I did not expect that the next time I saw him in class (Wednesday) he would let me know that he had actually followed up and checked out the website, then donated his monthly tithe there.
I thanked him profusely, which he waved off. Then he thanked me again for introducing him to "such an interesting and worthwhile cause." It really felt great.
And it just illustrated something that I've felt so many times before - that people really want to help, they just don't always know how.
There are many good and worthwhile military charities out there - from the all encompassing household names like Soldier's Angels to more mission-specific organizations like Hire Heroes, even military families plugged into the community and network have a hard time finding what they are looking for. I can only imagine how much more difficult it might be as a civilian to connect with an organization that supports the military in a way that they can really connect to. And even more importantly - and organization that is honest.
When you don't understand the lingo and have no one in the community to refer your questions to, zeroing in on the best use of your donated time or dollar can be difficult.
It's easy to miss that, I think. Our world can be tough to understand, and even tougher to be a part of on the civilian side of the fence. And honestly - when you're three months into a 12 month deployment with multiple toddlers at home, a sink full of dirty dishes, an angry mother-in-law, and a dog with anxiety issues - who wants to play Ambassador for Military Families? No one, really. The energy is just not there.
Sometimes, though, the opportunities show up wrapped like presents underneath the Christmas Tree. All you really have to do is unwrap them and say thank you. And those opportunities, when they show up, can be a bright spot in an otherwise dingy day.
I remember every time a civilian has approached me to offer help without being asked, not because it has happened so rarely, but because those are the times that it is really driven home to me how much people care.