Today is the first day since January that I have had a bit of space to be alone. Between spending last moments with friends preparing to leave this place for good or the myriad of crises which have plagued my unit over the past few weeks, I have been alone only when walking to and from appointments and meetings. We live on a fairly small camp, so there are always people around to greet and visit with momentarily. Being alone has proved difficult, particularly in my line of work. It’s my job to be with people, and there are always people who long for companionship or just a chance to get something off their chest with a safe listener. In these months, even my extroversion has been put to the test.
This morning, however, as I force myself to remain in my room for a few hours without the company of a favorite television program as a distraction, I find that being with myself, alone, has made me sad. The adjective “sad” seems rather juvenile. This is a describer that children often use to express their emotions as they are learning to differentiate between shades of feeling. “Sad,” might mean a whole spectrum of emotion from discomfort to sorrow to heaviness, yet when such a feeling descends upon one’s heart, sometimes it’s too painful to investigate it any further. Being “sad” is a simple name for a complex experience. The etymological journey of this word certainly reflects this fact. From Latin roots meaning “enough” to Old, Middle and now contemporary English, it has carried such meaning as “weary,” “weighty,” “steadfast,” “sober,” and “sorrowful,” this list somewhat in chronological order. It would seem that over time this word has not so much altered in meaning but just added dimensions along the way. On some level, being sad encapsulates all of these at once.
I am strangely grateful for my sadness this morning. In this rare moment of stillness, life has finally caught up with me, and I have had the space to feel the loss which I have been able to keep at bay by until now. Buffering oneself from grief is easy when there are so many distractions. But, I should feel sad, and probably more than just on a quarterly basis. We have sustained our own losses over these months. While they have not been through bodily death, for which I am deeply thankful, these losses have still been significant.
Recently, a few of soldiers had to go home without any notice. For those who work with them on a regular basis, their absence has been described as a kind of death, and a traumatic one at that because there was no warning, not even a chance to say good-bye. When people leave here, most of the time, they never return. On a cognitive level, we may realize that there will be a chance to see them sometime in the future, but on a more visceral level, because they are departed from this strange alternative universe we call “deployment,” it feels like they are gone from us forever.
When a friend with whom I often visited with in the bathroom- of all places, I know- went home because it was the end of her deployment, I literally stopped going to that bathroom. It was just too painful. I knew that I would look for her whenever I was there and hope that she might come in every time someone started to open the door. It was just easier to avoid this altogether by changing my habits and leaving the old ones behind. As ridiculous as this must sound, because it sounds completely silly as I write it down, it is a strange experience to feel such loss, when in reality, no actual loss has occurred. She is just in California.
But, even when a death has not taken place, loss still exists. Even now as I write, I listen to a “playlist” of South African choirs which was given to me by a dear friend in Cape Town. Whenever I listen to one particular song, it brings me back to a moment in my car which I shared with her on the way to my farewell luncheon. I remember us listening quietly and the feeling I felt then, that things would inevitably change once I got on the plane to travel back to the US, returns to me. I miss her as much now as I anticipated I would then. I know I can’t go back in the same way, even when I wish that I could.
For today, at least, I have allowed myself to miss the people and the places I have known and loved. They are surely worth my sadness for I know in many ways what I knew and loved of them has slipped through my fingers forever. Yet, even as I type, I remember that their threads are still part of me and mine a part of them. I also know that in surprising ways I will meet them again somewhere down the road, perhaps not as I could have ever expected. This doesn’t make me feel better right now. Life is sad at times. None of us are immune. But, that’s ok. It’s just the way it is.