Since the word spread about Katie’s deployment, I have developed a new awareness. Several people who I have known for years have reached out to me to share their own military connection. For some it’s a son or a husband or niece or nephew. The look in their eyes is something I had never seen before. It’s a knowing. A recognition of a deep shared emotional experience. It’s empathy. Everything I am feeling was there in their faces, even in the sound of their voices. I realized that I am now part of a family who have a special connection to each other and to this experiment in democracy we call America. They are the ones who receive the bill for the freedom we all enjoy, and it’s their family members who serve in the military who are called upon pay those bills.
Before this happened I really had no clue what it meant to be a military family. I thought I did. Katie would put on her uniform one weekend a month and head out the door to drill and at the end of the day she would always come home. We shopped at the commissary and enjoyed the other benefits of military service. I’ve always had a deep respect for those who serve in the military but I really felt like I didn’t belong whenever I was on a base or with Katie’s Navy comrades. The truth is I never really understood the sacrifice military family’s make every day because I wasn’t making them. In some ways now I feel ashamed.
It’s a very complicated world. Six billion of us ride around the sun on this big ball of dirt called the Earth living vastly different lives, engaging in commerce, consuming resources, forming countries and alternately ignoring, helping or killing each other depending on the circumstances. Our military serves all over the world and today those complex circumstances mean we are also in Afghanistan. I don’t think I can read enough articles, watch enough news on television or have enough conversations to ever understand it all. I just know this one thing. Circumstances have again called our military to fight to defend the rest of us and my Katie will be one of them. Even if I did understand it all, I’m not afraid to say I don’t like it one bit. But you see that’s the whole point. It’s because of our military and the families they leave behind that I have the freedom to say it.
Very soon now, I will be one of those Americans who have family in harms way. Like all military families I wouldn’t ask another to sacrifice one of their loved ones so mine could stay home. That’s not how it works. This is for us to do. But I understand now that I won’t be alone. We walk among you everyday. Nearly anywhere you go there may be another who has the same feelings inside of them, another with a family member serving our country that receives the bill for our freedom and prays that the payment isn’t too high. We are the families, the loved ones, who help make it possible for our military to do the hard job of defending the rest of us. My job now is to live up to that standard and carry the burden with the same strength, composure and compassion that other military families show every day.