There are these three books I'm reading, and I don't mean to get all military-family-advocate on you, but I hope you will too. Wish I could just freeflow my way through this post and accent it with pretty flower phone pics, but instead I guess I'll invite you into the formal sitting room and pour you some expensive tea to talk this out. One will agree to anything when gently caffeinated, am I right?
There's this thing I'm inclined do to anyone who isn't me, and I think I can go so far as to say that we humans do this to everyone living outside our own bodies: we judge from afar, we shove into predefined molds, we decide it's too complicated to try to imagine. That is my go-to response when faced with someone's uncomfortable story: "I can't even imagine..." Well, yes and no. It's hard, but recently I've become convinced that we should imagine. We should try; it's our duty as people who live in a society/country/planet together. This piece, "After War: A Failure of the Imagination" motivated me to try to understand those who have experiences that are foreign to me. I recommend that you go read it. I'm realizing that this striving for understanding must be an important part of living next to one another with any sort of friendship, sympathy, or love.
I hope I can apply this idea all over: with friends living through miscarriages, adoption loss, chronic illness, divorce, recovery from abuse or past trauma, depression. Before I say "I cannot imagine", with a too-swift movealong to "I'll pray for you", I bite my tongue to remind myself to try. I'm clumsy, but working on it.
Most of you dear readers are in or married to the Army. To those unaffiliated few who wade through my inside jokes, acronyms, and seemingly-but-I-assure-you-not-carefree world travelling: thank you! We tend to talk in terms of "in" and "out", but even inside this huge organization, experiences are so vastly different as to be incomprehensible even to the other "ins". Just think of the different ways we use the word deployment: to some it has meant their husbands are on a remote mountaintop in a country we'll never go to, being shot at daily. For lots "the biggest danger is getting their foot run over by a dessert cart..." To others it means their spouses are on a ship making port calls in countries we dream of visiting. Some live for it and some dread it. Some come back utterly broken, some come back disillusioned, some come back the same, some come back the better for it: stronger, empathetic, grown-up.
Some come back in pieces, and some in coffins. What a rare kind of extra-isolated grief in this age. As our presence in Afghanistan draws to a close, Americans are still dying over there, and I'm not sure most people even remember this.
I'm no book reviewer, and to be honest I believe I finished one book in 2013: Baby Led Weaning, and I say "finished" because I said "So you're saying I should feed my baby real food" and quit. Just kidding, I finished at least two. And to be extra honest, I was a biology major in college, which seems to shock people who mostly know me by my more right-brainy habits. But in the next couple of months I'm hoping to highlight three books relating to our fights in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere--what some call the long war: one Navy wife's memoir, one Army officer's experience, and a book of fictional short stories written by a Marine Iraq veteran. I hope you'll consider reading one or all of them, or one of your own finding.
It sounds self-serving to say: you should come over here and understand our way of life. With the diversity of lifestyles within the military sphere, there is no such thing as "our way of life". But given the widespread misconceptions about this elusive and/or fictional military life and veterans themselves, I have been longing for a little more crossing over. My husband is part of a small and shrinking percentage of Americans who've been in the military, and for so many of us it's a family tradition--meaning the circles of exposure are not very big. I don't say that to be proud or to lecture, but to point out the concentrated aspect of this lifestyle. Opinions differ on whether it's a sad thing or a dangerous thing to have a wide gulf of separation between the military and the "regular people", but we mostly agree that it is bad.
Take the media reactions after this last Fort Hood shooting. They were panic-ridden. The vets are going to snap! They will kill us all! PTSD equals violent crime, and Iraq vet equals PTSD! Or that one ludicrous Buzzfeed piece that looked at life on Fort Hood as if it were life on the moon. See? They're humans too! How cute. (You guys, everyone knows that it's Fort Bliss that's the surface of the moon!)
When we look at those who serve in the military--and spouses can be guilty of this as well--it's easy to make them into charicatures of themselves, "heroes, victims, and villains". It's also easy to use military families for the emotional release at the end of your commercials. How many post-deployment reunion videos have you watched? OK, now how many goodbye before deployment videos have you watched? Somehow those aren't as popular. And we, like everyone else, can be so easily put into the "I can't even imagine your experience" box.
So this is my bumbling invitation: come on over to our moon and have a look around. I'm feeling a little awkward about this, so please bear with me. This is really something different--hey, I'm not a huge fan of reading militaryish books, writing about books (hello insecurity!), or persuasive blog posts in general. Or, you know, actually finishing any blog posts in general. Also, at this point I've only read 1.75 of the books--through no fault of their own--so wish me luck!
First up: Wife & War: The Memoir by Amalie Flynn