Re-entering one’s life is difficult whether one has experienced a traumatic event (such as war…or a debilitating head injury, which some veterans have experienced), or something magical (such as a honeymoon…or the women’s retreat I just returned from yesterday).
For one thing, time presses on and never seems to afford enough space to process all one has experienced. After all, you can’t exactly just sit around all day reflecting, whether you would like to or not. In addition, something is always needing to be done; people may be waiting and perhaps needing or expecting something–like the old you to show up!
Such was certainly the case when I returned from London yesterday afternoon. I also held the desire of seeming like the same familiar person that left–not floating on some foreign cloud (like I felt)–yet internally desiring to do better on every level.
After reveling in a walk with my dog in surprisingly warm, breezy, unseasonal and unforgettable weather, then dinner out with my family, I felt both jet lagged and exhilarated. The phenomenal experience of traveling on my own for the first time since my injury seven years ago taught me not only just how far I have come, but also how far I still have to go.
Though I purposely planned the retreat to advance my own continued healing, I also missed my husband every bit as much as I feared I would. Traveling without him confirmed all the things I knew I had grown dependent on him for, in ways I was previously independent, and I wanted to thank him once again for his steadfast devotion, particularly during the hardest days of my convalescence (months…years!), and even now as I navigate what I hope are the last vestiges of my condition.
Returning to the U.S. on Veterans Day seemed the perfect time to thank my Navy Seabee spouse for his service, both to me over the years and to our country. I think of my husband at just 19 years old, working midnights and entering his 8 a.m. college chemistry course one ordinary day to find a group of his fellow classmates reading the newspaper, calling out to him, “Hey, when is your birthday?”….And my husband telling them as they looked up his date on the draft lottery. And then their exclaiming, “EIGHT! YOU’RE NUMBER 8!” And I remember the fear and the anxiety the Vietnam draft instilled at the time, 1969. Monday, December 2, 1969, to be exact. My husband will never forget. And fast forwarding to today when he happily sings in his deep baritone marching voice as he “swabs the deck” (aka., mops the kitchen floor), swishing and swaying enthusiastically, “In the Navy”! And how he always says he served, “Three years, nine months, and fifteen days”…(and sometimes adds with a smile, “in the world’s second largest nuclear navy” to underscore the irony of the Soviet Union’s threat at the time).
So in deference to all that, on my first morning back, I left the unpacking and reflecting for another day and planned a few outings to honor him.
First, I took him to a nearby bakery, Sweet T’s, that was offering free coffee and pastry to all veterans today. As it turns out, this is also the same bakery where I recently ordered our granddaughter’s first birthday party cookies, which just so happened to be delicious. I also wanted to register there for an upcoming workshop.
So I brought my husband to the bakery, where he received his free veteran’s cup of coffee and he got to pick out one of his favorite pastries–a cinnamon roll, which always brings him happy memories of his maternal grandparents, “Mom and Pop.” While he was enjoying the cinnamon roll (with a little help from me), one of his favorite songs came on in the bakery. It was a magical gift in its entirety, which left him touched and flattered, particularly after serving in an unpopular war, which always made him otherwise feel like “just an appendage.”
After the bakery, I took him to a nearby optometrist to schedule our eye examinations, which are long overdue. It felt good to get something so important accomplished. Next, we went to the bookstore, and I encouraged him to pick out a book–my thanks, once again, to him on Veterans Day. He was hesitant to accept the gift since, as new retirees and consequent “minimalists,” instead of purchasing books, we now prefer to patronize the local library. He finally settled on a new novel by one of his favorite authors, LILA by Marilynne Robinson, which he already began reading this evening, proclaiming aloud, “She’s such a good writer!”
By this time, my husband was feeling so charged that he made an unexpected turn into the home improvement store, where we spent the next hour or so picking out a lavatory, pedestal and faucet for a bathroom we are renovating, as well as a new light fixture for our dining room. This is an errand I left for London miserable not to have accomplished, so my plan of gratitude paid back in unanticipated spades! My day of surprises was not over yet, however…
For our last stop, I took my husband to a local park, which houses our veterans memorial. We spent time there listening to the rush of the fountain waters, reading the names on the memorial bricks, and snapping a few photos with our cell phones. Then it was time to return home to walk the dog who had waited for us patiently. By now the sky had darkened, the wind was biting, and the weather had changed to near freezing.
Just to show how really thankful I am, I insisted that I take the dog for his walk, and I left my husband to enjoy some well deserved down time, warming up and reflecting…I hope on what a great guy he truly is.
Thanks to all our veterans for their service to the armed forces.