(Thank you to Col Chris and Vickie Ireland for bringing forward this focus and conversation to the 352 SOG; Command Sergeant Major Chris and Lisa Faris for sharing their story; and to Doctor Krystal White for sharing her opinions. You can see more about the Faris' here — http://news.wfsu.org/post/faris-family-fights-their-military-marriage; and learn more about and from Doctor White on her weekly AFN radio program here: https://soundcloud.com/afn-kaiserslautern-1.)
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Resiliency. This word bounces off my tongue lately like a beach ball at a rock concert. Hands in the air, we all take a turn shooting it up and out into the crowd to see who might get it next.
In the United States Air Force, presently, this has come to the fore, along with the term “Preservation of the Force and Family” (POTFF), utilized as a noun and pronounced POE-TIFF.
After more than 10 years of constant deployment, nerves are shred; families are torn; and the divorce-rate escalates like the United States deficit.
We are in deficit — collectively and one-by-one. Many of us feel we’ve paid out more than we’ve brought in; spiritually, in our minds, our relationships, and physically in our worn-out and broken bodies.
Command Seargent Major Chris Faris (Senior Enlisted Leader, US Special Operations Command) and his wife Lisa paid us (RAF Mildenhall, 352 Special Operation Group) a visit last week. They, like many, are searching for their own answer to the question, “What is resiliency?”
They share their story in hopes they may make a difference —maybe save other marriages, while they work on their own. Theirs is a heart-wrenching tale; one that reaches most of us on some level or another.
Some whisper, “I am lucky.”
Others fret, “I am fucked.”
Collectively, we share the same outlines, but the lines in between are made of individual words formed into unique sentences. For we all come to the table bringing vocabulary from our personal language.
So we talk about this word, resiliency. We wonder what it means for ourselves, for our family; for the United States Air Force; for the United States.
I asked this through a Facebook post last week. In our present-day version of spouses network, this is where I meet and sometimes help people most; our FB group page. I am learning to adapt.
In my role here now, I feel responsible in part to help the active-duty military spouses in my husband's squadron to find their own definition; to remain strong; steadfast in their choices.
“What does resiliency mean to you?” I posted.
Those who responded, came forward with their own trail of words to define what it means to them.
I worry about that; about finding lasting meaning in this term that gets used more and more. I worry it will get worn out; overlooked; forgotten.
One fire-cracker speaker, a clinical child pshychologist who came last week to help us find the answer, calls it “failing forward.”
I like that term. As a person; a wife; a mother; a United States citizen. I may screw up often and again, but somehow I am rich in my ability to do this — fail, and yet still move forward; hopefully with more patience, if not wisdom.
Is this cultural — an Americanism? Is it our own take on the British bent — “Keep Calm, Carry on?”
As a nation, we were reminded again of our vulnerability, and our will to bounce back, a few weeks ago in Boston. We watched in horror as we bore witness to another act of terrorism.
Some of us missed the explosion by minutes. Some of us didn’t. But we all felt the aftershock. No matter how close or far away we were from Boston’s finish line.
I asked myself as I sat on the counter absolutely fixed on the events as they unfolded, “Where have we gotten in 12 years?” And at what cost? Hurt and anger screamed, “Exactly nowhere.”
But I have to believe the sacrifices we continue to make mean more than the sum of their parts. I thought of those people in Boston as I sat in on a session yesterday focusing on individual resiliency.
“In order to find the answer (to the question of resiliency), you must know how to define yourself. Know who you are, and where you want to go,” suggested the visiting spitfire psychologist.
And then I’m thrown back into a conversation I had nearly 15 years ago. I was a different person then, only the question was roughly the same, “Who do you want to be?” “Where do you want to go?”
I was in the midst of leaving my chosen career field to explore new things; to start a family, and little did I know at that moment, to enter a life of service as a United States Air Force spouse.
I had enjoyed a certain measure of success. I feared leaving, yet felt I had to — to move forward. I couldn’t answer then. And I was around 31 years old. I filled the void with sarcasm. “I don’t know, a rock star?!”
I can answer that question better now, all these years later. I am not a rock star.
I am a runner; a swimmer; a cyclist. I have a passion for words; and movement; and music. I show love through service — to my family; to friends, and to my country.
I am a fiercely devoted mother. Sometimes I try too hard.
I am a proud wife. Sometimes I don’t try hard enough.
I find God easily when I’m in the woods. I find him less so in man-made structures. But I show up anyway.
I am an American. I’ve come to learn that this distinguishes me no matter where I am in the world. I am a United States Air Force spouse. I find this to be more or less of a distinction depending on where on home soil I am standing.
And with all this, I am adept at failing forward.
I am resilient.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
A lot can happen while driving.
I don’t mean the obvious catastrophic outcomes of poor driving choices made countless times a day by everyone behind the wheel. No. I mean moments of clarity. Captured between the lines of a busy, regular day of to-ing and fro-ing.
Part and parcel of parenting, and all of its phases, I am smack in the middle of that chunk of time between adolescence and adulthood. These are trying times. I take comfort and find some solace in the recognition that I still am needed — if only to give my kids money and a ride.
I try and maximize the opportunity on the road to spend neutral time. Especially after the usual chaos and frequent battles that ensue getting out the door. Sometimes we connect through music; sometimes through silence. And in a rare cosmic treat, when the stars align, and my kids open up to me, I try not to let the resulting eagerness mixed with joy jump off my face like a neon sign blazing; scaring them back into silence.
The other day, my youngest daughter and I, in an unusual moment, were the only two in the car. She was sitting in the front passenger seat; even less seldom. Not only is she third in line to inherit that magical mystery throne, but also when I look at her through the blurred vision of my lastborn, I see only her three-year old self.
We were coming home from piano along the backcountry roads in England, which only the bravest of hearts traverse with any speed. They are bumpy and twisty, and at any moment you might need to pull full-stop to the side (if there is one) to let an on-coming tractor the size of a freighter pass you by. It’s a constant game of chicken.
Besides the cautionary crash speed, it’s just nice to take it slow sometimes. It’s planting season, and the deep chocolate earth is combed into perfect symmetry, opened up like mother Earth herself, lying in wait for the farmer’s seeds. (I just wrote that!)
So we were riding together in shared silence when I broke it. No I CRASHED it.
“Gabby — have you ever picked a booger so perfectly formed and GI-normous, you were simply amazed you found it in your nose?”
She looked over side-long, sort of long and slow, and said simply, “Mother.”
I laughed out loud and maybe for the first time that day. Then I decided. My kids are going to be just fine — in spite of me.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Feet. Or fate. I was standing in the shower just now thinking of what to get you for Valentine’s Day, when I looked down at my feet.
You love me in spite of them.
Remember the Eddie Murphy movie with Halle Berry? He had to check her feet before he knew for certain he loved her? I always worried about that — the sight of my feet, and how they might effect your affection.
So much so, my feet tend to be stuffed into boots (see there is an explanation for my boot fetish!), or running shoes. They are battered and worn. They are not things of beauty. Open toed sling backs have never been my thing.
I only recently succumbed to pedicures — after standing barefoot in yoga for hours, bent in half (like a Japanese ham sandwich!), staring at my toes. I always felt them undeserved of such fine treatment. But then, I had to look at them all the time. I learned to love pedicures.
Just like I l learned to love my feet. They have gotten me through nearly 45 years of life — 25 of them spent with you. There were times when our feet walked in different directions. But they found their way back.
I know we will be okay if, at the end of the day after all this time, yours still connect with mine under the covers at night.
Your feet, in sharp contrast to mine, are things of beauty. We first met because of your feet. Sitting in a political science seminar, I looked over and saw them. They were stuffed into boat shoes of the kind I knew only people from Lake Erie tended to wear. Then I found them to be quite nice with nothing on them, at all.
Growing up, you could walk a straight line down the lake road from your house to mine — about a million feet. But we didn't know each other then.
So you see, our feet were fated. And feted, we shall be.
Friday, January 18, 2013
I used to have a newspaper clipping of Lance Armstrong winning the Tour De France taped on my office door.
At the time, I managed several people on a marketing team and thought it served as an inspirational tale for all. The picture showed him crossing the Tour De France finish line in first place. This was the first win in his comeback tour after his battle with cancer. I don’t remember the headline. The picture was enough for me.
I’ve followed Armstrong, and his story for years. I lived and worked in the professional cycling world for about a minute in life; enough to have known personally many of his past teammates and the culture in which they’ve participated for years.
The issues with the sport of cycling do not come down to one cyclist; no matter what his ill deeds.
But I, among so many of us, held out for a long time, hoping his claims of innocence were true. I hold on to the ideals of achievement, born purely out of raw talent, untellable hours of work and mental discipline most of us will never know. That ideal serves as inspiration to me, in sport as in life.
He put in the hours. He had the talent, and the mental discipline, which convinced many to follow, and, which, by his own confession, is what eventually led him here. I’ve worked in both the professional sports arena, as well as professional performing arts. For a long time, I’ve been struck by the similarities in personality traits between those who succeed in both worlds.
The mental discipline of athletes in endurance sports and professional ballet dancers is amazing, and the innate selfishness it takes to become the best is at once both awe inspiring and off-putting — to me anyway.
In ballet, the acceptable underbelly culture was litheness, to the point of ill-health, brought by ongoing anorexia and boughts of bulimia.
These activities aren’t considered illegal.
They’re just unhealthy — to the point of being lethal.
But it was what people did. They just didn’t speak about it. If others didn’t “know,” then, well, they didn’t have to do anything about it, or pass judgment, or feel one way or the other. It was easier that way.
Armstrong did not do this on his own. But he falls alone, and to me, perhaps that is enough. I search for forgiveness. But maybe it’s easier for me, as I haven’t been personally affected, as have so many for such a long time.
I find it striking, and maybe a little scary, the judgments brought by the general public, with only a peripheral understanding of this world, and what those who’ve succeeded for years have known, and have participated in both willingly and apparently unwittingly.
Are we, the general public court of condemnation, more upset of the actions of one person, the amount of time it’s taken for the story to fully unfold, or the decades-long blind eye that everyone has turned, as long as everyone played along?