In 1966 Robert F Kennedy made a speech where he used the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” I didn’t really understand the curse until recently. I thought it was a proverb but no, it’s a curse. We sure are living in an interesting time now.
Growing up I was an only child. I spent way more time with adults than children. I overheard a lot. I was a gatherer of intel. I think my parents thought it would go over my head or I was busy playing and wasn’t paying attention. In some cases I think they were naive about a situation. Here is a short list:
- I’ve never not known that each of my parents have an uncle who was murdered. The murders were never solved.
- My fathers brother worked for the C-eye-A (I don’t toy with that organization) in the 1950’s. He was killed while in their employ and my grandparents were told never to discuss it. A large article was placed in their local paper. Other than his name and the fact that he was dead the rest of the article is a lie. His death was an annual Christmas dinner conversation said in hushed tones, usually in the form of an argument. An aside: One of the greatest gifts I ever gave my father, besides his grandchildren, was a letter from one of the last people to see his brother alive. I contacted this agent after seeing my uncle’s name in a book. He wrote a letter telling the real story of what happened. People should never live their life without answers. Truth matters.
- My grandmother’s brother and sister spent time off and on in the same state mental hospital between about 1960-1980. I can attest that the videos Geraldo Rivera shot in the 70’s showing the horrors of how these poor people lived is true. I saw it with my own eyes. I was about 8. I spent less than 3 minutes inside the building because my mother immediately dragged me out when she realized. Those images are forever in my brain. No one should live like that, not human, not animal.
So as you can see I wasn’t shielded from reality. Rightly or maybe wrongly I did shield my kids from the things I thought they didn’t need to know. We had the usual rules: don’t talk to strangers was a big one. H was a chatty friendly kid. She’d introduce herself to anyone and every kid was invited to play. As she got older and she and her friends got more independent I worried. I was well aware of the dangers in the world. This was the 90’s. So many children were abducted and murdered in the 80’s and 90’s. I was an overprotective mother. When H would push for more freedom to go and do things with her friends along with my stay safe speech I’d begun to add : There are things worse than ending up dead. Of course my comments were brushed off. She had that typical teenage attitude: I’m fine, I’m invincible. When Jaycee Lee Dugard returned after being abducted and held for 18 years in 2009 I said to H who was in college- “See there are worse things than ending up dead.” The look on her face said she finally understood.
When The Husband and I got married we moved 3000 miles away from everything and everyone we knew. It was a jarring experience to go from living at home with your parents to living with my husband and having no support system. I think it was the best thing for us. We had to rely on each other. We had to learn to be a team. I also had to learn to be not only a wife but a military wife.
Being part of the military family is different than being a civilian. Even the spouse who isn’t serving is part of the overall mission. When the service member goes off to do their job the spouse has to handle all the at home jobs while stressing over the work that their spouse does. Very quickly I learned to look to the other spouses for support, guidance and example. The most important lessons I learned was flexibility and resilience.
When The Husband finished his training (he was now a real B-52 navigator) we moved another 3000+ miles to our new home away from the support of our first group of military friends. This is where real military life started. I had to get used to monthly alert where The Husband would live in a bunker on the other side of the base for a week where they were ready to respond immediately to any need. FYI if a B-52 is needed immediately that isn’t good. I had to get used to schedules changing for any reason from illness to weather. More times than I can count The Husband went off for a simple day at work and I got a phone call later saying he was states away and would be home in a day or two. This is all the tougher when you have to explain to a child that Daddy won’t be home until later.,
A military spouse has to get used to hearing “I can’t tell you that or I’ll have to kill you”. Yes, it’s a joke of sorts but it’s true. There are a lot of secrets. The Husband had a top secret clearance. His job as a B-52 navigator involved bombing. It was the 80’s and 90’s. Yes. He was trained to drop nuclear weapons. On more than one occasion I was told something like I’m going away. I can’t tell you where. I’ll be gone for 24 hours. You’ll know where I was before I get back. Those times involved a lot of watching the news and hoping that everything went well. Once (thank God only once) on the weekend we were moving from one home to another on base The Husband learned he was leaving for an unknown amount of time and he couldn’t tell me where he was going. I knew things were ramping up in the Middle East. The Husband left me, a nearly 2 year old H in a new home full of boxes with furniture just dumped in any room. My mother jumped on a plane to come help. Mother’s just know when they’re needed. The Husband was gone for 7 months. A few weeks in I learned where he was on the cover of Time magazine. He could not confirm the information to me when I spoke to him on the phone.
After those big events in the early years of our marriage I felt strong. We had endured whatever came our way and we were enjoying our life. Yes there were difficult events but we survived and thrived. Then The Husband lost his job, a reduction in force. We moved in with my parents while The Husband looked for a job. The civilian world doesn’t have a need for his specialty so he had to change career field and start over. Through serendipity (I love that word-some might say through God’s guidance) when he started his new career at the post office he met someone who helped him reignite his old job, this time with the Air Force Reserve.
There have been lots of bumps in the road: cancer, 9/11, the death of our parents, and this pandemic. But with each challenge has come the lesson that I am strong. I may struggle. And I have struggled greatly- like the day my neighbor told me a plane from our base had crashed in Canada. Both of our husbands were flying at the time. We were lucky. Our husbands came home. Others didn’t.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. When we are tried we learn just how strong we can be. When we need help we just need to ask. When we see someone struggling we should offer help. Always remember that we are a culmination of everything that got us to where we are, we have endured and we are just getting stronger.
We can gain strength from each other. How are you strong? Please share in the comments what makes you the strong person that you are.