I have been considering the oxymoronic title for the fifteen days of leave that US Service Members are given at a some point during their year of deployment. I am on the last leg of my very long journey back to Afghanistan. Writing in this particular state, when I can’t even remember my last full night’s sleep, may prove to be fruitless or, at the very least, will demand ample grammatical editing. Nonetheless, I attempt to write now, from the hollows of the C-17 that will deliver us to Bagram in about three hours, because sometimes being “in the moment” yields a little more honesty.
I think R&R officially stands for Rest and Recuperation. I have yet to find someone who achieved even any semblance of these words. Most people who actually go home and see family and friends find themselves being pulled apart at the seams. And, this is not at all surprising. Fifteen days, out of a whole year, are not many. Between spouses and children and parents and extended family and friends, sharing quality time with any one is challenging. It is a wonderful feeling to be loved and even harder to say no to invitations and opportunities to get together. As a chaplain, it is my job to remind people as they prepare to go on their R&R, that they need to take time to truly rest. Now, I realize just how difficult this is to accomplish.
Looking around the exhausted passengers on our C-17, it seems that most of us are strangely invigorated. We may be tired from sleep depravation, but sleep is not the only way to be reenergized. As hard as it was to balance all the people I wanted to spend time with during my break, I realize that the experience of being with each of them, telling stories of the last eight months and articulating the gift of life that we have the chance to embrace if we so choose, has helped me to know better the blessings that have surrounded me during this particular season.
Through my own experience, I realize that R&R cannot really stand for Rest and Recuperation. Maybe Reconnecting and Remembering are better words to describe this time. In a way, reconnecting is all about remembering-- re-membering relationships as much as remembering that there is life beyond the small piece of Afghanistan that we occupy for this year. As wonderful as it is to remember or re-member, it is also hard work and sometimes even painful. For soldiers who go home to young children, remembering requires opening one’s heart to love despite the fact that two weeks later, those close connections will be somewhat severed. This is hard, not only for the soldier who comes home knowing that he will have to leave again soon, but also for those family members who receive him. One’s inclination is to protect oneself from this jarring back and forth.
Yet, there is no time but the present. We are where we are. We don’t always get to determine the length of our stay or have the opportunity to control the way that life unfolds. In fact, we hardly have any say in the matter. As much as transitions demand proper time, when there is not much time to work with, jumping into the deep end may be the only way to make the most of these precious days. One of the surprising realities I experienced, was how easy it was to rejoin the communities of my past lives. I know part of this ease is due to the practice I have had over the past five or so years. Knowing how difficult hellos and goodbyes are, I would rather sneak in and out, without having to deal with those bookends. And, in a way, as life continues to come round and round, there are not many true goodbyes. Instead, there are endings of chapters always with the possibility for characters to reappear on the scene. This is just the way life is.
It is good to be back in Afghanistan and to rejoin those who sojourn with me in this place and time. Soon enough this chapter will end, too. Knowing this, I look forward to making the most of it.