The Summer of a Thousand Goodbyes
Live like you're running out of time—because you are.
My life as a military spouse has been one long symphony of leaving and being left. Most military families typically move every two to three years. Each summer for fifteen years, I've said goodbye to about ⅓ of the people in my world. It's the season of streets lined with moving trucks. This year it's my turn to go. In mid-May, I kicked off a six-week sprint of farewell picnics, parties, and ceremonies. The "Last Time Tour" is still in full force and the exhausting parade of goodbyes continues.
I married into the Air Force fifteen days after I turned twenty-two. My prefrontal cortex wasn't even fully formed, but I went in with eyes wide open. When my husband raised his right hand, took his oath, and signed his name on the line, mine was informally included too. I knew what I was getting into. Kind of. Military life is a bit like marriage and parenting in that you can't fully appreciate how good and hard it will be until you're in it. There's no book in the world that will fully prepare you for the force of the experience.
The military has taught me many things, but perhaps one of the most powerful is how to treat time and opportunity. I've lived the whole of my adult life in short segments. It's changed me, for better and worse. Something happens in your heart and mind when you know you have a limited time—you get busy making it count or you don't bother. To self-protect, some people don't invest at all. They preempt the pain of goodbye and avoid connection. I opt for the other end of the continuum and have never been disappointed. I cut through shallow interpersonal surface-level nonsense fast. It's boring, and I don't have time for it. My relationships are deep and real, or they're not happening. Professionally, my military spouse status is sometimes a scarlet letter. I've been told more than once that I won't have enough time to establish myself and create what I really want. (This response, naturally, only makes me double down on my resolve to prove skeptics wrong.) I'm always cognizant that I don't have the luxury of messing around. Sometimes this results in my having a tendency to rush, but more often, it's led to intense focus, determination, and acceleration that has served me well.
Transitions are not my favorite thing. I've been forced to become agile, but I don't always love it. I find moving hellacious. As I brace for relocation, I tend to go through a grief process that includes sorrow and rage. Each time my address changes, I'm leaving a lot behind. I look at my life in boxes and my heart aches. Still, I've come to appreciate that's a good sign. In graduate school, I remember a supervisor saying, "if the ending hurts, it usually means something went right."
Soon I will turn out the lights in my empty home for the last time—a house that four short and long years ago I carried two car seats into. In this place, my babies grew into children. On moving day, they will walk out our front door on their own power. When we leave, it will hurt. It will hurt because it was so so good.
Being human is to exist in a world of finite time, vulnerability, risk, and uncertainty. In this milieu, you have to make a choice—play it safe and live small or go all in. I say go big, on purpose, with intention. It might hurt, but it will be a different kind of hard. Loneliness and living a life haunted by "what if" are tall prices to pay for self-protection. I'll choose the pain of loss and a life of love every time.
All we have is now. Take nothing for granted and make it count. Build a life that would make goodbye hurt and leaving hard.
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Wow, so beautiful, Joy. I agree with your outlook on choosing to invest and love hard instead of not engage and self-protect. You are right that the hurt of leaving means you did something right. What a book of memories you are creating. Best wishes on the next chapter.
Liz Wheeler (Yes, Mrs. Wheeler from Cosmos, South Elementary)
This is magnificent writing and a wonderful message. I would have missed it in my feed if Bob Seaaright hadn’t mentioned it on Twitter (thank you Bob) and I am so glad he did. Thank you for sharing your insights - Seneca would be proud of you...