Recently, a friend and I were reminiscing about family meals with grandparents, high school crushes, and the transience of relationships, particularly in our business where three years is about as long as you will ever “know” someone before either of you will be shuffled off to a new destination, likely in opposite directions. “It’s funny the memories we keep...” she said, laughing as she descried a reoccurring scene at her family’s dinner table.
I guess, somewhere deep inside of each of us, lies an infinite tapestry of memories, with many of its colors and textures long buried and even, in some cases, forgotten. It does seem, depending on personality and outlook, that some hold on to certain kinds of memories more than others. I have continually repeated this refrain to myself, just this week. I won't take the annoying dysfunction or even the faces of those who seem to be best at dolling out unnecessary stress from this time and place in my life. Instead, I will carry the moments of grace which afforded me good life, even here.
Over half of our deployment is over, and already I am starting to mourn its eventual end. It’s not that I don’t want to go home or have the freedom to see and connect with those I have loved much longer than these last six and a half months. But, my heart also aches at the sight of the finish line because I know that what I have had here and with whom I have shared, it will never be the same. There is always loss, even when what comes next is full of promise. I have felt this way about every graduation, every life passage, and every goodbye I have ever experienced. It never gets any easier.
As frustrated as I have felt on some days, the good that I have known in this same space has made it all worth it. There are only so many memories that I can keep prominent in my mind’s eye. Of course, there will always be laughter about the ridiculousness of some situations and people, but there will be a lot more celebration of the gifts discovered in this wilderness. There may be things I will swiftly forget, but there are other things that I hope will linger in my heart, reminding me that no matter where I go or who I go with, friendship is always a possibility.
Six months into my Afghanistan experience, these are the memories that I will keep:
Bringing the light of Christ into the dark and cold Christmas morning, surrounded by many I will never see again but who, in that moment, filled my heart with immense hope for the whole world.
Gathering at the gate of our camp with a small group of virtual strangers and giving a final salute to the medical unit who was at the very beginning of their journey home.
Laughing and talking for hours with new friends, trying to make the most out of whatever time there is left and realizing that it is possible to love well, and maybe even to hold on to that love, even when life unfolds in divergent directions.
Giving one of my soldiers his first communion and glimpsing, through a dim glass, the significance of this foretaste of heaven experienced here and now.
Coloring with an Afghan child in the middle of our detention facility and being reminded that God is still creating something good and inviting us all to be a part of it.
There are other memories I will keep, too, moments of grace and sadness, moments of joy and tenderness, but I will save those for another night. For all these things and more, I am surely grateful.