These next few weeks will mark a great transition of soldiers on our camp. As turnover abounds and new personnel arrive and others prepare to go home, those of us who are somewhere stuck in the middle experience both the excitement of new possibility and the sadness which accompanies departing friends. In the military, change is just about the only thing that we count on. Learning to live with the coming and going is just part of military existence.
Over the past few years, I feel I have gotten less emotional about leaving. It’s hard to do, especially when a place has become a real home and the people who are connected to it have become real family. But there is something about leaving which propels you forward into the future, even if it is with a taste of bittersweet in one's mouth. When called to leave for ventures yet unknown, the sense of excitement is hard to deny. The sheer demands of leaving force those who go, literally, to take those physical steps forward. This means it is impossible to hold on to much of what is left behind, at least in a physical sense.
In these weeks I have realized something of what it means to stay behind. So far, I have hardly been the one left over in a place, negotiating the same space minus the presence of one who is dear. Now I realize why every time I have left a home, I have done so carrying with me goodbye gifts and keepsakes. In the absence of the person, small reminders of them make the adjustment more bearable. I realize, however, this is more for the person who is left behind than for the one who has left in the first place.
I spent the last couple of days staying up way past my bedtime, knitting a hat for a friend whose deployment ended a few weeks earlier than expected. I only had about three days to finish the project, and while I could have mailed it home to her, I couldn’t bear the thought of her leaving without something from me which might remind her of how much I love her. I realized, as I knitted furiously into the night, that my offering was much more about my own need to give something than it was for her to have something else to carry with her throughout the days and days of travel which she would be sure to endure leaving Afghanistan. When she mentioned that I didn’t have to do this, I told her the truth. It was more for me than for her. It helped me to say goodbye, let go, if I knew I had sent her on her way not only with my words of care and blessing but also with something to hold in her two hands. A real, tangible symbol of friendship during a season of our lives, a friendship which months and even years later I will still be cherishing in some way.
Being left is a whole new experience. Over the next few weeks, more friends will depart, and I will continue to experience a sense of loss. That’s ok. It just means that people matter. When you love people well, it’s impossible not to want to hold onto them. That is just a part of life. Sometimes it hurts.
I also know that this revolving door of people will yield ample possibility for new friendship, new memories, and new reason to celebrate the surprising gifts we find when we least expect them. What feels like empty space will be filled out in due time, but not in a way that erases what, or in this case who, was once there. Instead, when we love, the space just gets more expansive so that new people can be included. When we are open, there is always enough room for the old and the new. Love is gracious that way.