For over a decade, I spent a few weekends, weeks and months a year in uniform for the in the Army National Guard. Last month I deployed for most of the year 2018. It’s amazing how much can change in a few months. One moment you are busy with family life, a busy career and lots of passion projects and the next you are leaving it…kissing it all goodbye in the name of service. It struck me how wrong it feels. How unnatural it is to leave the people you love, you care for, you even helped create. How hard it is to kiss my family, bees, garden, work life and community goodbye.
What is it about service and the pursuit of one’s destiny that brings us away from the people we love? I am reminded of the line in Paul Coelho’s Alchemist “true love never keeps a man from pursuing his own personal legend”. Even Martin Luther King wrote to his wife, asking “for God to hourly give him the power of endurance” longing to be with his family, but living out his call in Atlanta. How many of us struggle to find the balance when our careers, our passions, service bring us away (at least physically) from the people we love? How many more of us let the fear of leaving what we know keep us from going where we’re called? Or perhaps let our ambition forsake those we love?
Leaving isn’t just something felt by military or emergency responders. What mother hasn’t felt this same way, struggling to go back to work after having a child. I remember when Rachel, my wife, went back to work after our daughter Adella. She needed reminding that she was a doing the right thing. That she was a good person, a good mom and that leaving for work was indeed her path. I struggle with the same thing. I suspect most do when our path takes us away from the ones we love.
So what role do others play in this? A few weeks ago, I was involved in every decision in my family- guiding the kids on how to eat, what to wear, when to go to the bathroom, and wrestling every chance I got. Now, as I sit on the plane, having kissed my precious faces goodbye, I am painfully aware that I will need someone else to do that. I think this is where community comes in (at least I hope). Friends that are family and family that are friends make a meaningful life possible. I can’t be home to answer Adella’s million “why” questions or tell Indy not to hit…but Rachel, Jen and my community can. I have to depend on them to care for the people and things I love while I am away.
Why is it that service often requires depending on others? Sometimes I wish it weren’t so. That we could serve in a bubble, unaffected by choices, or that my hearts desires for love, comfort and service could easily coexist. This is not so. People need each other to survive. I think the ancient tribes knew this. They built homes that reminded them of this intricate balance. These yurts were based on a circle with tension across all sides, any pressure on the circle required an equal and opposite force. The ancient tribes believed that the circle represented the dependence of life on each other. Service, no matter how small or great, exerts force on the circle of community, requiring the Coretta Kings, Rachel Sparks and community to pull against the circle to balance. As I said goodbye to my family, I am thankful for the force of my circle. Our society reserves honor for the part of the circle that wears the uniform, but most of us know that the strength comes from the other side.