“Where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Homesick in Heaven
A couple of months shy of three years away I am finally home. With my assignment at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune complete I have a few weeks to be with Judy and our dogs before going back to work at my new assignment at the ethics faculty and Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College. In that time I will also be helping Judy take care of a lot of things around the house that we have had to put off simply because she couldn’t do them alone. Of course that will take more time than the 3 weeks, but such is the cost of serving and being away from home for years.
I came home whenever possible over the past three years and Judy was able to come down the Carolina sometimes too. However those visits were just that, they were visits and even on the trip home the trip back was already planned. So even with the visits on the whole it was a very long and trying experience for us. You see in the past 17 years or so I figure we have been apart due to deployments, mobilizations, training exercises, schools, official travel and assignments like the one at LeJeune for about 10 years. 10 of 17 years apart and that doesn’t count all the time apart since we were married. I figure that in 30 years of marriage close to 14-15 have been spent apart. This doesn’t count the times where I was doing on call work or standing duty in the local area.
We have missed a lot of time together and it has been difficult. However this not unique to us but is something that really is a unique aspect of military life. I know that I am not alone in this, there are many like me, men and women who have spent the majority of their marriages away from their spouses. The amazing thing is that not that so many of our marriages fail, but rather how many survive. This is not new. Homer wrote in the Odyssey:
“There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”
It really is amazing that our marriage has survived the years of separation, the deployments, war and return. It is amazing that we survived despite the many times that I volunteered myself for deployments because of my own need to prove myself worthy of the uniform that I wear and the oath that I took.
My need to serve I think was rooted in the same primal need that motivated men before me to leave their homes to serve their country. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the professor of Rhetoric and Revealed Religion at Bowdoin College who volunteered to serve in the Civil War and won immortality at Little Round Top felt it and wrote about it. Chamberlain, as much a philosopher, theologian and academic wrote about this need that is so much a part of the human condition: “It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”
I have spent too much time away, seeking to serve and act for what Chamberlain called “remoter ends, for higher good.” I am sure, that knowing me that there is the chance that I will answer that primal call again. There is something in my heart that always calls me to the sound of battle, but as a peacemaker, reconciler and proclaimer of the love of God in places that God seems to have abandoned.
However, today I am just glad to be home. To be able to wake up and go to sleep again in the same bed as Judy, hold her, to be with her and to experience life together again. Since coming home yesterday we have spent time together, celebrated my return with friends, rested, relaxed and even went out and saw a movie together. Molly and Minnie our dogs are happy and for the first time in three years I am not spending a Saturday preparing to leave.
Last night I was exhausted. I slept but my dreams were vivid, as they tend to be. However, for once they hey were not nightmares, but they were very real and dealt with me trying to come home. In them I was stuck in a European airport, missing flights, drinking beer and trying to get home. People that I knew from different parts of my military experience showed up in the dream, though they didn’t seem to recognize me. I guess this was because probably they were not the people that I was that close to or send a great deal of time with, but rather people who even when I knew them seemed more concerned about their career advancement than with other people. All were comparatively minor players and acquaintances of my life and career. They were odd dreams because I hadn’t thought thought about most of them for many years. Strange, perhaps it is the “Mad Cow” of PTSD that brought them back, perhaps something different. I don’t know.
I finally awoke late in the morning as the dream ended. Judy was already up, Molly I am told had spent an hour trying to wake me up by barking outside the bedroom door. But I didn’t wake up until the dream had ended with me finally arriving home.
When at last I awoke from the dream I was home.