'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. ~ Joseph Brackett, 1848
With a mere handful of days left before I start the trek home for my “Rest and Recuperation,” dubbed R&R by most service members, life has switched into a higher gear. Extra events have appeared on the calendar more frequently than usual, some of them added by me and others added by the powers that be. Nonetheless, the days are flying by, and there is hardly a second to pause and enjoy the little things-- random conversations, surprise visitors, and unexpected gatherings of friends. I have even found myself trying to avoid some of the people and the activities that I love and enjoy, just to get a few more minutes to answer emails or throw together Sunday’s bulletin.
It may be hard for some to believe that I would be concerned that “deployment time” is slipping too swiftly through my fingers. Of course, there are moments when October couldn’t arrive fast enough, but there are even more moments when I have an overwhelming sense of how incredibly rich this experience is and how sad I will be when it finally comes to an end. The days may feel long, but they stream by at breakneck pace. I thought surely I would have at least one season of sluggishness, one period of time when life slowed down to a snail’s pace, but so far, this hasn’t happened. I look at the calendar and marvel that it is already June. How can this be?
Without much latitude for entertainment, the simplest things have taken on deeper meaning. Real pleasure is known through activities which would elsewhere be seen as commonplace. Our lives revolve around a tiny axis and the level of care we are willing to share with the friends we have met here- over breakfast, over coffee, or just in brief passing conversation- has the power to make or break a day, or even a whole week. Life is strangely volatile and shifts on a dime. While it is easy to lose perspective and be caught up in sudden intensity, what seemed to be utter disaster one moment is almost always forgotten just a few days later. With hardly any space and the same people, same places, and same challenges day after day, it’s often hard to regain an even keel once it has been lost, to let the festering blister heal long enough before rubbing it raw again.
In the midst of all of this, life keeps unfolding. Meaningful relationships happen and we cling to one another, faced with a choice. What are we going to do with the time we have here? Will we make the most of it, or will we get bogged down in the drudgery? Most of us, on any given day, vacillate somewhere between these two extremes. But, in the end, its the life that we have been given. Every moment matters.
I was reminded yesterday afternoon, while working with a group of soldiers and sailors to get ready for two upcoming events for Operation Pencil, how simple acts of care and generosity can offer such peace of mind. For an hour, twenty or so volunteers prepared little backpacks full of school supplies which we will be given out to local elementary students in this next week. We had piles of notebooks, cartons of crayons, packets of markers, sticks of glue, “safety” scissors, and enough pencils to supply Afghanistan and then some. As we worked together, filling the bags and ensuring that they each had the right number of supplies, I realized that our ranks and job descriptions had softly faded into the background. We were just people, just a group of volunteers with a collective heart. We came to think about something besides our work and how much time we have left in this sandbox, even if just for an hour, and this time of service and working together was just what I needed to remember how lucky I am to be here.
It was all very easy, very simple. Yet, we all left that evening with a bit of levity. How organizing crayons and pencils could lift our spirits and make us feel a little more human, I don’t know. But, it did. Simple gifts often make all the difference-- not just here, but anywhere, everywhere.