The week before my last night at home, I would climb into bed (usually pretty exhausted from all that had to be done and the rising tide of emotion) and say to myself “I’m going to miss my own bed and miss falling asleep next to Mac.” But that last night, after last minute triple checks (which still didn’t catch that I left my uniform cap in the dining room…thanks Morgan for finding it!), I never really slept. My heart and mind were racing. When the alarm went off at 4:40am I was glad to get out of bed and make coffee.
It was great to have Mac and the boys at the gate before flying off on the first flight of my deployment. While sitting there I felt it gave me a few more precious moments with them, but what I realized as I began my day of travel to Norfolk, that being with them at the gate was the bookend to feeling grounded and connected. A feeling that truly resinates as I write this entry just over one month later. I was in transition…I was traveling away from everyone I love to a big unknown. Not just an unknown of people, but an unknown of what to expect, what to do, and how to be me.
I claimed my bags at the airport and went to the USO lounge to wait for the shuttle. Everyone there seemed to know what to do…where to put your bags, what was available as snacks, when the shuttle might come. Some were doing homework, many playing games on laptops or iPads, some sleeping. I sat down and started writing. I was now a part of a group of people and culture that….well, I thought I knew; the “one percenters” that I have devoted the last 25 years to supporting. I sat in the USO realizing prior to today, I was looking through a lens. I really didn’t know the world of those who wear the uniform. How is that?…when I’ve helped them being effective parents in this world of military service…when meeting with them after their loved one has died. My goal as a Mortuary Officer has always been to support grieving families and “wrap them in blue.” I sat in the USO lounge realizing I entered the Looking Glass and found that “Air Force Blue Blanket” … and the purple blanket (all our uniformed service members), only to discover it is a fabric with yarns and weaves I simply didn’t understand.
I vividly remember my conversation with Mac when I was in Norfolk. I told him that this was the weirdest trip I’ve ever taken; it was a feeling of stark transition and that I felt lonely. Lonely in a way that was not sad but…disconnected. His reassuring words and brought me back to the “why of it”. That this will be an amazing experience, one he is proud of and wished he was able to share with me.
One-plus months later…it feels like a lifetime ago that I traveled through the Looking Glass. I’m here, I wear the uniform. I’m proud…and challenged…and working my butt off to support our one percenters in a way I have learned and been trained to be and do. May my blessing be a gift to all who serve us.