There’s a particular conversation that replays itself frequently between me and my husband. No, it doesn’t involve taking out the trash, putting the cap back on the toothpaste, or making sure to turn off the light when you leave the room. It’s actually about something a lot more interesting, something that never fails to leave us both with a sense of awe and appreciation:
The people we meet because of the military life are such a small fraction of society, and yet I feel like my life has opened up to the whole globe because of them.
Since marrying the military, I’ve grown more and more thirsty to learn the stories behind each person I meet, to come to an understanding of why and how they came into this life, and how they navigate it day by day. I’m continually intrigued by people’s rich backgrounds, their dynamic experiences, and how they came to this life of service — whether as an active duty member or as a spouse. I’ve felt blessed to have learned from the stories of active duty women and men, “seasoned” spouses, wives of Generals, active and retired Special Forces operators, military daughters-turned-wives. They are all fascinating, and they all have given and accomplished so much.
But it’s the spouses who I want to focus on here.
One thought that consistently crosses my mind is how accomplished, resourceful, diligent, creative, aggressive, and determined military spouses are. This is a life of enormous sacrifice, and as a result, much chatter within the community can center around that which we’re without, that which we gave up. But what I can’t stop reflecting on is how much potential is alive and flourishing in our community, and what enormous gains, successes, leaps and bounds spouses make within this life every day.
I subscribe to Military Spouse Magazine, and in a recent issue, Suzie Schwartz, spouse of Ret Gen Norton A. Schwartz (USAF), reflects on this very subject. In her article, “Together: We Accomplish A Lot!”, she writes, “This community of military spouses has been built on the shoulders of strong and proud and passionate spouses before you… We always talk about being the small one percent of the population, so we must find ways to show how truly great that one percent actually is!” (Italics and bolding mine.)
In my own experience meeting people and in reading their stories in places like MSM, I’m amazed by the spouses who accomplish and gain so much even as they make sacrifices most would not. Lakesha Cole, AFI 2014 Military Spouse of the Year, started an online and pop-up boutique of handmade (by military spouses!) apparel and accessories. Her merchandise is now being shipped to customers in all 50 states. Air Force veteran and spouse Keena Alston established a Japan chapter of the Dress a Girl Around the World campaign, an effort whose volunteers sew and provide dresses to young girls around the globe. Writer and Navy wife Lisa Smith Molinari maintains an award-winning blog, The Meat and Potatoes of Life, and her work is featured in newspapers around the country.
I am sure that you, like me, can list dozens of friends and acquaintances whom you’ve met along the way, whose resourcefulness, creativity, persistence, and drive have amazed you and inspired you. For some, that includes public recognition like those described above; for others, achievements are made in private, on a smaller scale, but are no less significant: the stay-at-home mom of four who starts her own jewelry-making business; the professional concert pianist who earns her place in a new symphony or other performing group every time she moves; the mom who gives birth to her third child while her husband is deployed and manages to keep the kitchen clean, the kids fed, and the house standing until her husband returns; the widowed spouse and mom who leads support efforts to care for bereaved or other struggling families. The list goes on…
Like Mrs. Schwartz said, we are such a tiny fraction of society, and I think to many civilian people, this fraction is largely mysterious and shrouded with a heavy cloak. And yet — LOOK! Look at what we can do! Look at what we do do! We’re not so weighted down by our circumstances after all. When my husband was deployed for a year, and our daughter was born, I kept repeating to myself that there was nothing unusual about that situation, that thousands of women had done exactly that multiple times, and many of them were under worse conditions than I was. The fact was, I was standing on the shoulders of some pretty extraordinary women. I felt stronger when I remembered this.
And when I apply this mentality to the ordinary days, to the days when my husband isn’t deployed, when we’re settled at a location, when friendships have formed and memories have been made, I am buoyed by the remarkable achievements of those around me. I am driven to look inside myself and start laying groundwork of my own.
So, let 2015 be that beginning you are searching for, as it will be for me. Let us all not only search within ourselves and muster some motivation and fearlessness, but also let us secure our footing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and those who stand beside us. Learn their stories. Ask questions about their stories. Then climb on, and stand up.
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