This Tuesday, I was able to fly to Augusta, Georgia, to see my brother-in-law, Noah, as he returned home from his deployment to Afghanistan. Katie, my sister, struggled through their time apart. There were a lot of factors that eased the intensity of their hardship—Noah’s placement as a doctor, my parents’ willingness to have Katie and Lily live with them, financial stability, good community, and almost daily FaceTime conversations. This was not Vietnam. The Internet connection was okay. Noah got all of the care packages that were sent to him. He even came home quoting Wreck-It Ralph, an animated movie that Lily knows by heart. They had watched it seven times in the aid station where he worked. It was a touchpoint that helped him seamlessly pick back up with his daughter. All of that is so good. But despite all of those things that made his deployment easier, I watched my sister visibly lighten when her husband ran down the bright, tiled corridor in that one-terminal airport. Stress evaporated off of her in waves. After tears and kisses and laughter she looked at me and dropped her head forward, her tongue lolling out of her mouth, her hands on her hips—The race was over.
I should have known she had been running a metaphorical marathon, but I didn’t really get it until I witnessed her relief. It cultivated an appreciation in me for people separated by conflict or hardship. People who wait and wait to hear if their kids have made it safely into the U.S., moms who leave their homes to take care of someone else’s children so they can earn money to send to their own, anyone who waits to hear if the people in their heart are accounted for whenever there’s a natural or unnatural disaster—people who are just hanging on. There’s something to remembering that a lot of people are holding their breath. The people who might seem aloof or snappy or dejected because they are mentally living in a different place, living in a world that is centered around someone who isn’t where they are.