Loving Forward

It’s a new year and it’s time to catch up. I have spent the latter part of the year in a kind of grand experiment. In addition to adopting 2 soldiers and a marine and sending 6 letters a week through Soldier’s Angels, I decided to offer to listen to anyone who needed someone to talk to online. I did this in a limited and controlled fashion and also talked weekly with my rector about the experiences I was having.

I started this experiment for a number of reasons. The first was that I discovered a site where there were many lonely and desperate people who seemed to need someone who cared and who would just be there and be present for them. I am made to care and love so it was a perfect fit. It called to me so strongly.

I have also been considering whether to go into counseling in some form as a career once my books are published and this seemed like a way to see whether I would be able to deal with some of the emotional requirements of that role.

If I even helped one person it would be worth whatever grief I suffered.

So, did I suffer grief? What was the result of my experiment?

Well it hasn’t concluded, because when I signed on to be present for people I signed on for good or as long as they needed me. Again, that’s just part of how I’m made. Loyal and devoted to a fault.

But I have met some people who became very dear to me because of their sorrows and their triumphs. Some just needed to talk over decisions that were weighing on them and they had no one they could seek advice from. Some sought a parental relationship, guidance, support and encouragement. Some were just lonely and wanted company. Some were in crisis and because I have been there myself I was able to reach out and take their hand. Some have become friends I know I will keep because our relationship grew from me listening, to me sharing in return. Some have already said goodbye because they no longer have need of what I offer.

I think that was the hardest thing. Letting go when they are ready to. Because of course, I get attached to each person I help. I fall in love with each person a little bit. I can’t help but see the beauty in each person when they share themselves and it is captivating. The more time I spend with them, the more I care. I don’t look for anything in return of course. But to no longer see their face or hear their voice when they are ready to move on is the hardest part. To no longer be able to check on them or worry for them when for weeks they were my concern all day, every day is painful. To no longer be allowed to care. This is where the grief comes in. I knew it would happen up front and that makes it little easier to bear. I gladly pay the price for having known each person for even a short while. They were a blessing in my life as I hope I was in theirs. But it still ouches.

You know I’ve written about loss and accepting it, how it is such a natural part of life. The thing to do is stay open, accept and love anyone you feel love for. Know that it will hurt when you lose them and spend your energy on learning how to recover from loss effectively instead of building walls to protect you from caring. Walls don’t work anyway. You end up caring and hurting no matter how hard you try to keep your distance.

So I let myself have a few days watching marathons on TV and sleeping in. I stare at their pictures and talk to them through my prayers. I think of all the things I wish I could have done with them or said to them. I carry a memento of them with me that I can touch as I go through my day. These little things help me move forward. I might not “get over” people or be able to stop loving them, but I can let them go on without me. For myself, I can keep my memory of them close and honor the feelings I have by paying them forward, always ready to love again.

What did you say? I didn’t hear you…

A soldier of the 1st platoon Comanche Co

A soldier of the 1st platoon Comanche Company of the United States Army secures a position on the road as they detain a suspect of setting a roadside bomb in Buwri Tana District in Khost Province on August 7, 2012. (Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages)

I just read a great article called Afghanistan War: Americans Tune Out Afghan War As Fighting Rages On.

You know what I find embarrassing and appalling? That most of the comments on HuffPo, a site I generally enjoy, are flailing and railing at past and current administration policies instead of understanding the important information in the article.

1. Afghanistan was the ONLY military action we took that was actually a response to the attack on us in 9/11. Despite strategic challenges and the nature of the beast that is Pakistan/Afghanistan, the US has made significant inroads and has accomplished important strategic goals. While people in the US may be “bored” and lump it together with Iraq because, I don’t know, both countries have an Arab populace… they are different theaters.

2. This article is about the lack of support the MILITARY, TROOPS and their FAMILIES are getting. That means there isn’t even a 5 minute piece on the nightly news covering the war. We aren’t sharing any of their sacrifices. There aren’t drives to write letters, adopt a soldier, send care packages in highly visible places. They exist, but it’s not front and center like it would have been in say WWII. I feel our forces are fighting for a just and honorable cause. They are attempting to keep the word we as a country made to our allies in the region. They are providing an alternative to the network of terrorists who want to abuse civilians and trade on their poverty to create safe havens for the very people we are trying to defend against. Do we see any of that? Not so much. This is just another example of how profit drives news. There used to be a law that a certain amount of time had to be dedicated to NEWS, no commercials, so no commercial interests or ratings mattered. Remember when the news was like that? If not, take my word for it. Every channel had DIFFERENT stories too, DIFFERENT depths of reporting and that’s how you decided who to watch. Not which pundit screamed the loudest.

3. I admire those who wish to be active against war altogether. Or rather you write in tones of disgust that you wish people would be active. Just remember that the men and women who are serving our country are being active, they are actively living a life of service. They are trying to make their life be about something bigger than themselves, something most of us aspire to do. Many of them come from poorer backgrounds and joined to learn a trade, skill or be able to afford college or provide for their families with a small but steady pay check. In exchange they promised to serve the needs of our country… which they do with bravery.

Their families also serve and share the burden. Are we not neighbors? Are we so uncomfortable at this situation that we shy away from such decent people who are working so hard on behalf of us for so little reward?

Also please consider your rhetoric. Believe me, I’ve been researching this lately and what I’ve learned is that service members read these comments and posts and words can hurt them. Service members feel rejected by the people of the country they love when they hear words like “their sacrifice is a waste” or “they died for nothing” They think of brothers and sisters lost. Not only is it offensive, it is untrue.
4. But what can you do? You are a smart, articulate person. Read up on this subject. I just created a Twitter list for my research, you can check it out here. Or you could read a Neswpaper style aggregation of the best curated stories updated twice a day by visiting The American Service Monitor.

They are both good starting points because they link to so many sources of information if you want to start to know what is going on. Even a few small actions can make a huge difference. I mean, did you know you can donate blood just for the military to use so that our troops always have enough? Or that there are ways you can help combat soldiers get phone cards so they can call a spouse? There are real tangible ways to remind yourself it’s not all congress, policy and helplessness. There’s you, able to make a difference to a real person who could really use some. I hope you’ll consider it.