“Thank you for your service!”
The cashier at the commissary smiled cheerfully as she handed my ID back to me.
I usually answer with a polite, “It’s an honor!’ because it is. Supporting my husband while he serves our country is an incredible honor that I take seriously, and it fills me with pride. Some days and weeks and months, it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice at all.
But not that day.
That day I just muttered, “Thank you for saying that …” and bagged my groceries before the lump in my throat threatened to turn to hot tears.
That day I was feeling every bit of that service. And it felt like sacrifice. I felt it in a way I would have never expected when I stood next to my husband as he took his oath of office. When he swore to defend the constitution, I imagined I would feel the sting of loneliness during deployments and training. When he vowed to discharge these duties faithfully, I thought vaguely of the rigors of military life and took a deep breath when I thought of the potential harm he might find himself in. I considered the sacrifices and thought myself prepared.
What I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice was a place to call home; our sense of belonging; the feeling of putting down roots. I didn’t really understand it then, but when I stood next to my husband while he pledged his life to our country, he also was pledging my life. And up until I married him, my home was my life.
We’d been married six months when he took that oath. We’d barely unpacked our boxes in our first tiny apartment together, and it wouldn’t even be another six months until we were packing them up again to head south. Eight years later, and we’ve unpacked five times since then — five new addresses where I’ve hung our wedding pictures and put out a welcome mat.
Five different cities have seen me venturing out with trepidation to introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Cari. We
just moved in…,” and five times I’ve grieved goodbyes that have felt more and more difficult with each move.
I am honored to sacrifice. But some days, like the day I almost cried at the commissary, I have craved home so deeply I could taste it.
Some days, instead of duty stations, I want family. I want my kids to sleep over at grandma and grandpa’s house and to be able to have lunch with Nana. I want my toddler to play with her cousin who is just months younger than her instead of thinking she only exists in FaceTime.
I want familiar streets and neighborhoods and to feel like we belong to a community instead of feeling like we’re borrowing a community.
I want the predictability of knowing where we’ll live, not just two years from now but 22 years from now.
Some days I don’t want to be thanked for my sacrifice. I don’t want to make a sacrifice. I want to put down roots.
And I’m not the only one.
All military families are sacrificing more than meets the eye.
Military families are moving and worrying and adapting in ways we never could have imagined before we began our military journeys.
We are birthing babies and celebrating milestones without our partners; we are learning new languages and adopting new cultures; we are changing careers and cobbling together resumes from ever-changing work histories; we are managing our hopes as they rise and fall with unexpected and changing orders. Every military family has made sacrifices in ways that often go unrecognized and unseen.
As I left the commissary that day and drove off base using the GPS because I still didn’t know my way around, I took a deep breath and instead of thinking of what I didn’t have, I tried to start thinking about what I do have. Because, as you all know, we military people have also become very skilled at adjusting our attitudes; surviving and thriving.
I may not have a place I call home, but I am rich in what I bring with me wherever I go. I have friends that have become family. I’ve seen places and met people that have made my heart feel larger and the world feel smaller. I’ve got couches and kitchens in five different cities where I am welcomed with warmth.
I am a better person because of the new friends we make and a stronger person because of the goodbyes we have to say. When I stop and look again through that lens, I’m able to take a deep breath and remember that my sacrifice is an honor. In fact it’s a joy.
So next time you thank a military spouse or child for their service, don’t be afraid to really thank them. And if you’re the one feeling the sting of sacrificing a place to call home, it’s OK to cry at the commissary.
Just remember you’re not alone.