Between Two Worlds

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365 days after I stood at Fort Benning and hugged my son and his buddies as they deployed to Iraq, I wrote about what it was like to live “here” while part of our heart was “there”. When our son deployed, we had been told to plan for an 18-month deployment, but if they were home in 15 months it would be a gift. They came home from that deployment in 12 months – which was a miracle in my book; my son’s unit just returned from another deployment – one that lasted 15 months.

I came to the conclusion back then that when you have someone deployed, you live in two worlds: “This” world and “That” world. I know those without someone in the military will empathize, but unless you have been through it, you can never fully appreciate how invasive this living between these worlds can be. If you are here getting yourself geared up for a child’s (or spouse’s) deployment, here’s what you can expect.

In This World, everything goes on as normal. You go to work (for those that work), do the laundry, clean the house, pay the bills…? You know — all the things “normal” people do.

But we’re not normal. We also live in That World — the world where the telephone ringing in the middle of the night is normal ’cause it’s morning over there. The world where news is everything and vague reports of improvised explosive devices can raise your heart rate 10 beats a minute and unconfirmed reports of soldiers’ deaths can cause you to inhale involuntarily. The world that can fall apart in an instant when the caller ID says it’s Fort XXX or there’s a knock at the door and the chaplain is standing there.

In This World, holidays are a day off or a reason to shop. In That World, holidays are markers of time passing… merely milestones until homecoming. First we got through Valentine’s Day,? then Easter (telling ourselves that they’ll be home next Easter), then Memorial Day (oh how we’ll celebrate next Memorial Day!), Independence Day (we’ll have the best barbecue next 4th!), Labor Day, Columbus Day…? just marking time in That World… the World where you live between goodbyes and hellos until it’s goodbyes again.

In This World, birthdays and anniversaries, the births of children, the marriages of friends and family are celebrated with a degree of sadness because your soldier is not here… your soldier is in harm’s way. Can you ever truly celebrate in This World when your heart is mostly in That World? We do but only because we are forced to live in This and That World.

We live in This World where the ringing phone is just a ringing phone — an annoyance, an interruption… but we are forced to also live in That World where we curse because the phone does not ring often enough or can bring unhappy news… where 21st century technology is a tether to That World but which we curse in blackout or busy times when we are plunged into unwanted silence.

In This World, shopping is a normal every day activity, but because we also live in That World, it is a lifeline to our soldier: shopping for the things they need… the things they like…? the things that tie them to home — to us…? tie them to This World… but where in That World — their World — soft toilet paper, cigarettes or their favorite salsa may be more priceless than gold.

In This World there are 24 hours in a day, but because we also live in That World, we live a parallel 24. As we progress through our days in This World, we are calculating the time in That World and conjuring up pictures of what our soldier is doing at that moment. When we eat we wonder what they ate today or if they had a hot meal at all...? when we shower we wonder if they had a hot water shower or whether it was a water bottle rinse off…? we wonder if they got our mail… and we wonder if there are others who got any mail at all.

In This World, “Where did the time go?” is a simple phrase. In That World, it is a blessing that the hour or day went quickly because in That World time passes excruciatingly slow –? especially those last few days until that plane touches down and the senior officer yells, “Dismissed!”

In This World, you are brave, tough, and supportive and you dare not admit to many that in That World you are also weary, frightened, worried sick and lonesome for your soldier and sometimes you cry about it for him and for you.

In This World, you smile politely when someone asks about the yellow ribbon pin or the purple “For Those Who Serve“ bracelet you wear… and you smile broadly when they ask you to thank your soldier for their service in That World.

In This World you wonder why people clap when some brainless actor or politician says hurtful things about the War or our military efforts while your soldier fights nobly in That World for their right to say it.

In This World you find that you talk back to the television a lot and that you stop watching or listening to most politicians and clueless celebrities who can’t seem to put aside their partisanship long enough to see the effect some of their mindless statements have on those that live in That World and are fighting a war.

In This World you wouldn’t dream of challenging someone demanding that we cut and run, but because we also live in That World, we have no qualms about telling them that they don’t know their butt from an indentation in the Earth’s surface and thoughtfully answer all their rote mumblings about oil, lies, wealth, WMD — and when they spout “We support the troops” — we don’t hesitate to ask them to prove it!

Before my son’s deployment, I thought that once our son — once Our Guys (my adopted sons in my son’s former unit) — were home, I would return to living in just one world — This World. However, now that these two most recent deployments are over, I realize that a part of me will always live between the two worlds. That World is now an integral part of This World for me… as it is for many others parents and spouses and aunts, uncles, sons and daughters.

In This World, your friends are those you know in your neighborhood and from the PTA or Lions Club meetings. For the families of those deployed, our friends in This World include everyone that understands all too well That World: friends who are serving, those who have served, the families of those who are deployed, have been deployed or are deploying and the people that really do support them… always ready with a helping hand, an encouraging word, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold in good times and bad. That World is a big world inhabited by a large family of which I am proud to be a member and for which I will forever be grateful.

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