When I mention to people that I feel that I have been in mourning over leaving Afghanistan, mostly I get raised eye brows and looks of confusion. Missing friends and comrades is expected, but grief seems a little extreme. Yet, grief is what I have felt over these months as I have begun the process of ordering my life back in the United States. I haven’t been able to write, though this is as much a lack of discipline as it is any kind of writers block. Mostly, I haven’t wanted to face my struggle. Viewing it on the page in front of me, making space to think and write about it, would ensure that I would do just that.
The other morning in the gym, as I was changing into my uniform, I noticed that I had grabbed a t-shirt that once belonged to one of the girls I had been friends with in the beginning of my deployment. Seeing her name etched in the tag almost brought tears to my eyes. Not because I will never see her again. I know I will. But, just because I know that we will never share community in the way we did during the Afghan season of our lives. As bad as things may have been on some days, misery made great company. Friendships were so much easier to nurture without outside distractions. Visiting was a walk down the hall, not a plane ride away.
Very few of my soldiers have been willing to admit that they feel this loss. Yet, their actions speak much louder than words. In the last few weeks I have gotten more phone calls and facebook chats after hours. Some are worried about battle buddies drinking too much or acting depressed. Some are trying to figure out, even months later, how to reconnect with wives or boyfriends. Some are dealing with strange medical issues which have been exacerbated by stress. Some who are getting out of the Army are looking for ways to go back to Afghanistan as contractors. It is a high paying job which is more than they have been able to find here.
Now that the novelty of home has worn off, partying and eating whatever food we want doesn’t have the same allure. Driving our own cars is great, except when we are stuck in the evening rush hour. Having personal space seems like heaven except when it’s too quiet or lonely. After a year of living on top of one another, of constant contact with a concentrated number of people day after day, being alone is unfamiliar. Though some have had to adapt quickly, mostly those who have rejoined families and the routine that children require, many are still trying to figure out how to be satisfied with less-- less stimulation, less fear and worry, less drama, less extremes, less personality highs and low. In this case, less is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s still a bit deflating.
In the midst of this holding pattern that I find myself in, one foot in Texas and another wondering what exactly is coming next, I continue to remind myself that grief takes time and is never predictable. This loss is more intense than any I have ever felt, but there is a part of me that knows that I mourn for more than Afghanistan. All of the goodbyes over the last few years, from leaving school to leaving South Africa and then leaving church family in Maryland, all of these losses have been compounded. There are moments when we realize that things will never be the same as they were. It’s okay to miss people and places. They are worth it. But, I also know that I don’t want to miss what is beginning now. What has already begun.
As I encourage my soldiers, I hear myself consoling myself. “For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven... A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).” The signs may be barely discernible, but new season is coming.