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Unsupported Support…

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We are the unsupported support. We  provide support services to those deployed in far away places.  We are the keepers of their secrets; at times, they are the keepers of ours as well.  We become part of the “far away family” that only those familiar with long term deployments can relate to.  We celebrate their successes, share in their sadness, and stand side by side with them in places others would dare not go.  We create sacred and safe places within which they disclose the deepest secrets and fears.  We maintain the integrity of the moment and when they introduce to us their demons, we welcome them with open arms.  We provide normalcy in places where abnormal becomes the norm.  We normalize the experience of disbelief and despair.  We walk with them through the battlefields that remain active within them.  We mourn their losses.  We deactivate the demons that fuel rages, OCD like behaviors, and drinking binges that only a select few understand. We are the unsupported support.  We reap the reward of beneficial part of their breakthroughs.  When we can, we see them safely thru to other side of the images that, before us, they could not escape.  We provide the peace of mind that acceptance provides.  With us they are not judged.  With us they nothing more than individuals who did what what they had to do in less than optimum conditions. We support them in their darkest hours and become the light by which they find their way home.

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Turkish Taxi…

The taxi driver insisted that I sit in the front seat. As we exited the airport area I immediately noticed the run down buildings on either side of us. A combination of different stages of renovation; some were bare concrete, some had been partially knocked down, and others were painted bright pastel like colors. I assumed that the buildings still standing had stronger, more solid foundations. Perhaps the others were simply outdated and/or too old to remain useful. Oddly enough each one, in its own way, added to the uniqueness of the area.

I noticed a man, wearing a rumpled white button down dress shirt that was more out than tucked in. His blue jeans were loose but even as he walked under the light, the slight bow of his legs was very noticeable. The bright reddish orange glow from the cigarette he held in his hand seemed to set the pace for his walk. Occasionally, he would look up, take a drag, look down again, and then continue walking. The backpack and small suitcase on wheels that he pulled along slightly behind him, made me wonder if perhaps he lived nearby. He didn’t seem to be in any sort of rush. Maybe he was going to surprise someone? Maybe he was going home to an empty apartment? Maybe someone had simply forgotten to pick him up from the airport? Who knows? I watched this man, in the side mirror until I couldn’t see him any more. As I meandered through the many metaphors in my mind, I exhaled a little bit. I was almost relaxed when the taxi driver said something. I was lost in my own thoughts and (since I don’t speak the language) I didn’t try to figure it out.

Suddenly, all of the buildings seemed to become one big blur. We went from a cruising along slowly to warp speed in all of what felt like a few seconds. This man who, obviously thought we had to have been there yesterday, loved driving with lightening speed. He was laughing (probably at the terrified look on my face ) and saying something (again) that I didn’t understand. I think I almost saw a very large Mosque but cannot be sure because it went by in a flash. When he finally slowed down to “too fast” I was beyond relieved. When we stopped in front of the hotel, I remained seated. Not because I wanted to spend any more time in the taxi, I just needed to wait until my legs stopped shaking. I used the weight of my backpack to steady myself as I paid the taxi driver. Ironically, the very thing that I  complained about earlier ( the weight of my backpack as I lugged it around the airport terminal), was now the only thing that kept me grounded.

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Pack Light…

Pack light…

It doesn’t matter where I am seated, watching the other passengers rush to exit the airplane is something that I enjoy. This trip was no different. As soon as they were able, damn near everybody, stood up. Some were standing in isles, some were doing a half stand, and hanging on to the back of the seat in front of them. It always makes me laugh a little inside. The door to the exit hasn’t yet been opened but there they are – awkward stances in all – holding on to carry on’s with all their might, staring eagerly ahead. They are like children waiting for the recess bell to ring. Just like that, the door open and they’re off. Everyone, except of course me…the people watcher.

Everything about this trip had tested my resolve. From realizing that I would have to pay an additional three hundred dollars to check an extra bag to the trip (literally) down the stairs. The back pack that had been my pride and joy, acted as a constant reminder of what happens when we refuse to let go.

We are burdened down by the things we chose to hold on to; either because we think we need them, or simply because we don’t know how to let them go. That “trip”down the stairs from the plane was, for me, life’s little metaphor. Figure out what you really need and take only half of that with you. Leave the rest behind or you will stumble, fall, and/or get caught up in your own stuff.

Technically, my back pack landed on Turkish ground before me. I think (what was left of) my pride did too. I collected myself and headed toward the little shuttle – only to be told by someone who’s expression was everything but friendly, to move over to the other side of the runway. It isn’t that I understood him. Clearly, he thought I had a hearing problem because he began saying the same thing over and over louder and louder each time. Finally, he began motioning, pointing, and making gestures with his hands, until I began doing as I was told.

I made my way over to few other people who were standing off to the side of the plane. Since none of them spoke English, no one tried to make conversation. Still, however, standing there in silence gave me time to collect my thoughts. Being there with them, was also much better than standing alone. When they moved, I moved. When they stopped, I stopped. Gave new meaning to “following the crowd.” I was laughing to myself and wondering (since they were the only other people there), if this meant that I was finally part of the “in-crowd” when the airport man began saying something. After he finished speaking, they started to walk towards the glass doors, so I did too.

Three very large, very heavy, and very, very, overpacked suitcases waited for me in the baggage claim area. I was more than thankful for the attendant. He put my luggage on a cart, pushed it outside, and waited with me until he was able to summon a taxi. Such a simple thing, but for me, it meant feeling less alone. He made conversation, and although his English was very bad, and my Turkish non-existent, I realized that I was just happy to have someone to talk to. It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes but in those 10 minutes the tenor of my trip changed. I began to feel proud of myself for having made it this far.

The attendant said something to another person who was standing there, and within minutes, a taxi arrived. He spoke with the taxi driver in their language. I only know this because I recognized the name of my hotel when he said it. The taxi driver popped open the trunk, of what looked a like a toy car, and then began to struggle with my suitcases. After quite some time, a great deal of effort, and the airport attendant’s help, they were finally able to secure my luggage.

Another one of life’s little metaphor’s; when you refuse to let go other people sometimes struggle with the stuff you hold on to.

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A Different Kind of Deployment…

“You feel like a shadow on the front porch of what used to be your life; looking in, very present, but only on the periphery.”

Traversing the world is wonderful, but missing out on time with your family, is not.  So, when the opportunity to take an assignment in my home state arose, I couldn’t have been happier.  If only I had known….

As difficult as being deployed is for the loved ones of those serving in the various branches in the military, it is that much harder on the service member. This is a “different kind of deployment” because although the service member hasn’t gone, their training schedules can keep them away for weeks at time and, in many ways, being just far away enough not to go home every day is much more difficult that not being able to go home at all.

You’re doing what you have to do to support them.  They are doing what they have to do as well – but it takes its toll on all involved.  There is distance – where before there was none.  You feel like a shadow on the front porch of what used to be your life; looking in, very present, but only on the periphery.

The back and forth takes its toll. Now you see them, now you don’t.  You look forward to being with them when you can, but even more than that, you dread having to “readjust” when you return to your life without them. You wonder if they really understand and/or appreciate the sacrifices that you are making on their behalf.  You don’t tell them how hard it really is and they don’t tell you.  Your conversations consist of things you will do and how great it will be.  It’s easier that way…but not really.  Things will never really be the same again. You dare not tell them…but it’s okay… because they probably already know.