September has been interminable. It is as if time in Afghanistan has stopped altogether. Though it is not rational, and I know, at least cognitively, that time has passed no differently this month than any other month of my life, it still feels as if October will never come to pass.
Experienced deployers assure me that this feeling is perfectly normal. It is a part of the deployment cycle. No one is able to fully escape its clutches. I like to think that the departure of my closest friends and the added frustration of the burn pit have made my last thirty days that much more challenging. The headaches and allergic reactions alone are enough to put anyone on edge.
I have never been one to bargain with God, but these past few weeks, I realized that I have been making deals with myself. I will be in a good mood if the burn pit blows in the opposite direction of camp, I have thought. I will be satisfied even when the burn pit is operational during the day if, at night, when the wind typically shifts in our direction, they stop the fires, I have reasoned. Despite my deals, nothing with the burn pit has changed. Every morning, I peer out of my door to face its ugliness. Every time I look in its direction, I am disappointed again. I don’t know why I think tomorrow will be any different. My irrational expectations have continued to be my downfall.
Today, though, I feel as if I turned a corner. Perhaps I have just reached that last stage of the process of grief: acceptance. I will be here until the end of my 365 days, and there is nothing that I can do to change this. I have no control of my surroundings but only influence the way I respond to my circumstances. I know this. I have known this, but I have been fighting it all month. Whatever prompted my emotional reboot, I am grateful. These would have been three very long weeks had I not regained my sense of care for everyone around me. There is a camp full of people who have to stay many months after I leave. I don’t need to infect them with my misery. It’s not a good scene when the chaplain is the one making the room darker by her mere presence. That is not who I have ever been, nor is it who I want to become, even when things are tough.
Yet, I also realize that it has been a long eleven months. I have used the last of my reserve and the fumes (literally) are not enough. But, one of the interesting observations I have had over these days is the how much little gestures of kindness have given me needed energy. One of my neighbors helped me remove a splinter from my finger last night, and it was as if she had offered one of her kidneys. Another neighbor brought me a stuffed animal which she found at the airport on her leave. Yet another, one who probably has the busiest job on camp, took from her precious sleeping time to commiserate with a group of us in the bathroom. I have spent so much of this deployment giving, that I haven’t noticed just how much of a difference receiving can make, even when the gift is something small.
I have realized in these difficult weeks just how much community matters, even when it is not the close friends and family that we might choose if we had a choice. The never-ending month of September has reminded me that, ultimately, completing this deployment will be possible because of the people I am surrounded by, people who step up to remove splinters or take an extra moment to write a note of encouragement. I will only get to the finish line because people have been willing to share their support and remind me, the one who is supposed to be doing the reminding, that we are all in this together. It is okay to lean on someone for a little while, even if that person is a stranger.
Someone once said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day which says I will try again tomorrow.” Living through September has taught me that this is so true.