September also means it's time to begin packing and preparing for the arrival of the chaplain who will replace me. Over these months, I have accumulated enough letters, cards, and artwork to cover the walls of my office and my bedroom. From pictures of new babies and families from church to random people whom I may never meet but who, nonetheless, sent boxes of girl scout cookies and toiletries for my soldiers, everything that has come through the mail has found a spot on one of my walls. They are a shrine to the kindness and generosity of countless people who have helped to make this year a little brighter for me and many of the soldiers and sailors with whom I work.
As much as I dread peeling each thing off my walls, I also know the whole process will be deeply cathartic. I know I can't keep all of it. Well, I guess I could, but I doubt that I will ever revisit such a large bundle again, at least in its totality. Instead, as I take each letter, each card, and each picture off the wall, I will give thanks to the person who sent it. I will remember the gratitude I felt when it came in the mail. I will acknowledge, once again, that it is the smallest gestures of care which make much of the difference. I am sure that there are a few I will keep, but for the most part, I also realize that bringing closure to this time of my life now, and not putting it off, will help me live better in present time. Life is always moving forward and letting go, as hard as this is to do, is how to stay engaged in whatever comes our way.
Already soldiers have talked about how sad my office will be without my brightly covered walls. I know they are right. I will be sad, too. But empty walls signify our impending departure. It's not quite time. There are still weeks of work left to do. Yet, with September on the horizon, we all feel the ground shifting beneath us. We hold it all in both hands-- the grief for our losses here and the excitement for what is soon to unfold. Shortly, the walls here will be bare, but I know there will be other walls to fill, too. For this, I am surely grateful.