The other day, I had a moment of “life review” which brought tears to my eyes. My emotion was completely unexpected. Thanks to the US Postal Service, somehow, in one short day, heard whispers from just about every season of my life. Over the past ten months of deployment, I have heard from many friends and even friends of friends, people who have shared generously and reminded me from great distances that I am both remembered and loved. Yesterday was a little different. Yesterday, it was as if all of my worlds converged at once. I was reminded that as far flung as all the pieces may be, they are never really lost.
Even though I have internet and a phone sitting on my desk, this year in Afghanistan, keeping in touch has been harder than even before. The nine and a half plus hours of time difference don’t help. But, it is more than an issue of timing. In this mostly insulated place, it’s easy to allow the outside world to fall away and to focus solely on the mission here and the people who are present. In some ways, this is necessary for survival. Not being totally consumed by this alternative universe is a daily challenge, one that I have struggled with over the months and often lost. Twelve plus hour days, day after day after day, without any reprieve makes it hard to care about much else, particularly what is happening at home. There have been many times when I have realized that making a phone call and being required to listen to news from the “States” may put me over the edge. Wisely, in my moments of sheer exhaustion, I have refrained from calling. An email has had to suffice.
Opening my boxes yesterday, and reading through notes of love and support, and from such a variety of friends, I realized something important. In this season of my life, when I have been at my very worst at keeping up and nurturing those I have loved most over the years, they have all, in their own ways, remained constant. I have promised phone calls to many of them and have barely made a dent in my list, but that has not deterred them from reaching out to me anyway, from being generous and loving, even if I have not been able to respond in kind.
Of course, in a few months this season of deployment will come to an end. My life will resettle in new, hopefully less chaotic ways. It will be time for me to get back in the garden and infuse my love and energy into the relationships that have grown up and deepened throughout my life, making it both full and good. In the end, this is what matters most. The moments here, of frustration or inanity, which have brought me to my knees and pushed me closer than ever before to the edge of not caring or having little or nothing to give back, they will be an invaluable reminder that our lives are always give and take. I have been loved well over this year, and one way to honor this is to give this love back, to remember that in new seasons, I may be the one to give support and care to another, even it feels one sided. This is what love is all about. This is what it means to be a friend.
Mostly, we are all doing the very best we can. There are plenty of days when we fall short. Yet, where there is mutual love there is also grace, for what we have done and what we have left undone. After this experience, I may not expect quite as much, but not because my standards are lower. I have realized that when a heart is heavy, staying afloat requires every ounce of energy that is available. In some seasons this is just about all that one can muster. I am grateful for all the ways my own load has been lightened, for the love of family and friends, and sometimes even of strangers. I hope I may return the favor in some way.
In the meantime, as one of my friends inscribed in a note to me, Garrison Keillor’s parting words at the end of his radio broadcasts, “Be Well, Do Good Work, and Keep in Touch.” If we continue to strive for this, we will find a way to hold all of life in two hands, honoring love and friendship in sunshine and storm and everything between.