Happy Birthday, Navy. I fondly remember the first time you and I were formally introduced. I was in a bar, in Tallahassee, Florida where I ran into a high school classmate of mine from Denver, who had gone on to become a naval aviator. I instantly fell for him, and you. Your traditions, your strength and your breadth of capabilities (and let’s not forget flight suits and dress whites) all appealed to my sense of patriotism and love for our great nation.
As with any long term friendship, Navy, we’ve certainly had our ups and downs and our fair share of disagreements. I’m not sure I’ve fully forgiven you for that time you sent my husband back on deployment less than four months after homecoming. Or how about the move from Guam when you lost part of our shipment? I’m still replacing items from that.
Mostly though, Navy, as with all of my closest friends, you’ve helped me grow. You’ve taught me invaluable lessons about myself, marriage and life.
Here are 5 things you taught me.Flexibility. In a lifestyle where the only certainty is change, you’ve taught me how to manage my expectations. I’ve learned to write dates in pencil, how to get ready for a formal event with 20 minutes notice and the definition of “hurry up and wait.” You’ve taught me that duty comes before dinner reservations, annual inspections take priority over anniversaries and that even the best laid plans are subject to change (usually twice). With that, you’ve also taught me:
Resilience. In addition to “hurry up and wait,” I’ve also learned to “bloom where you are planted.” Whether that’s Norfolk or Newport, San Diego or Sasebo, you’ve taught me how to make the most of the hand I’m dealt. You’ve taught me how to make a house a home, even when it’s on a base, thousands of miles from family. You’ve taught me unbelievable strength, grace and resourcefulness. I’ve learned to navigate continents, commissaries and contingencies entirely on my own. I’ve written wills, I’ve decorated walls and in a vernacular that deems me a “dependent”, I’ve shown over and over again that I am anything but.
Courage. I’ve listened to the stories of the men and women who have come home, and I’ve cried countless tears alongside friends for those who have not. I’ve watched my spouse stiffen his bottom lip when mine can’t stop quivering. You’ve taught me that courage doesn’t have a rank, doesn’t know a gender and isn’t limited to the service member. I proudly fly our colors and understand what the empty table at all of your events means. I’ve seen that flag presented as a triangle, and you’ve taught me the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. You’ve taught me what it means to respect the uniform and the importance of tradition.
Sacrifice. You’ve taught me what it means to go without. While some of our friends have sacrificed truly everything, you’ve shown me what it looks like to be missing a part of our hearts. As our children just said goodbye to their daddy for the foreseeable future, you’re teaching the next generation what it means to believe in something bigger than them. You’re teaching them about service, bravery and, more than anything, about sacrifice. They’ll feel it at their Christmas pageants this year. They’ll notice it on their birthdays. You have taught me and are, in turn, teaching them, the importance of giving, pride and honor.
Trust. Not many marriages could survive the ambiguity that comes with life in the military. Navy, you have taught me unparalleled trust in myself and in my spouse. You’ve taught me to have patience when communications are down, to have understanding when dates are extended and to have faith that the training you’ve given my spouse has prepared him for every scenario ahead. You’ve taught me to trust my instincts and that vulnerability is not a weakness. You’ve taught me that absence can make the heart grow fonder, and you continue to give me hope that the man I fiercely love will come home safely.
Happy birthday, Navy. You’ve introduced me to some of the greatest men and women I’ll ever know. Thank you for the lessons of life and of love, and here’s to many more years together.
Photo courtesy U.S. Navy.