Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Before leaving Iraq, I thought, wrote, and meditated at length about the process of reentering “normal” life once I came home. On every one of my previous four deployments, I had more or less just picked up where I left off with family, friends, and job. There were some rough spots in the transitions (particularly on my last return, when my son was 2 and we more or less had to start over in our relationship), but for the most part coming home was like putting on comfortable clothing after it’s been altered slightly.

This deployment, however, was completely different from any of the others. In the days leading up to it, and for the first month or so, it seemed like the worst possible thing that could have happened to me and my family. I was rudely reminded that yes indeed I AM still in the Marine Corps, no matter how much I want to close this chapter of my life. As a friend in my congregation put it, “this is what you signed up for.” Well, maybe 17 years ago – but yes, this is my reality.

After about a month in Iraq I realized that my situation, although unpleasant, sometimes frightening, and often lonely and boring, was a rare gift. I will never again have five months (or even five days, perhaps) almost completely to myself to read, write, think, learn, and grow. I decided to take advantage of the gift of solitude, and use the time and space to discern the type of person I want to be, and how I want to live my life; much of what is written in these pages reflects this search.

Part of this discernment was a decision not to just put on the old clothes of my life, but to intentionally and mindfully apply myself to truly live a life where relationships and process come first, and issues and outcomes are not the central focus of my existence. Obviously this change could not happen overnight, so I began planning my reentry.

My plan for reentry was to prioritize my time and energies thus: first, to take care of myself, incorporating the spiritual practices of writing and meditation into my daily routine to form the stable base of my new way of living. Second, I would apply my ideals of relationships over issues within my own family. Finally, I would ease back into life in my congregation and wider community, keeping true to this standard and setting my boundaries accordingly. If only it were so easy.

My first weeks home were sort of like a honeymoon – the kids were well behaved, all was well with my wife, and I enjoyed being welcomed home by those I encountered. I felt like the king of the world, and thought “boy, this is a lot easier than I expected.” Then a few cracks started to appear – I felt familiar old feelings of frustration arise with my family over little household issues, I was overwhelmed by the welcome I received from my congregation, it became obvious our car needed work – and I began to think “wow, this is not as easy as it seemed.”

We went to North Carolina for a week of vacation, and life was grand. The weather was perfect every day, whether it rained or shined, we got along well, did lots of fun things together, and I got to play my guitar and ride singletrack often. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had put on my “vacation clothes” without considering how it would feel to take them off again.

Reality struck back with a vengeance when we returned from our trip late on a Saturday night, to a house in chaos and two extra people (the woman who has lived here since I left and her niece). After unpacking the car, I retreated to bed with earplugs in, hoping it would all go away.

Of course when I woke up Sunday, life was still there. As the week progressed, I felt like a stranger in my home and congregation, and I wished to be back in my simple, monk-like life in Kalsu. It seemed that the only people who were honestly glad to see me just because I am me were the kids and the dog; everyone else seemed to want or need something from me, whether it was doing the laundry and finances or taking on responsibilities in the congregation. Now I thought “man, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

And so it has continued – the highs have been very high, and the lows very low. Sometimes I feel like I’m on top of the world, and sometimes I feel like it’s the end of the world. I don’t know how long this difficult process will continue, but if it’s this hard, it must be worthwhile. I can only envision the beautiful new set of clothes I’m weaving as I live this life, one day at a time, just trying to be me.


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