On the 4th of July, that day of all days, my baby brother deployed to Afghanistan.
For my family, this meant two things. My brother, an Army psychologist, had to leave his base in Europe and say goodbye to his pregnant wife and two year old son for the next year. It also meant that, as of the 4th of July, both my brother and sister are now living in Afghanistan.
As I spent the long holiday weekend at the beach, enjoying the company of my family and good friends, my mind was elsewhere. It was on a military plane that was flying my brother to a war zone. It was in the isolated desert compound where my sister lives and in the helicopter that transports her to various work assignments. It was with her husband, my brother-in-law, patiently waiting for his wife to return home to him. It was with my pregnant sister-in-law, living alone in Europe with her toddler, missing her husband tremendously. It was with my two year old nephew, not old enough to grasp that his daddy won’t be there every night to read him a story before going to sleep.
My brother and sister, the two people I grew up with fighting and loving along the way, do not live typical American lives. And when people you love are living an extraordinary life, it makes you appreciate your ordinary life all the more.
A few months ago, my sister called to say hello. It was 2 am her time and she had been watching her DVD’s of the TV show 30 Rock. While watching the show, she had become homesick. There is always a little ache within her – she always misses her husband and her family. But what surprised her were the little things that caused her to miss home even more, like watching a TV character drink a Starbucks coffee while casually walking down a busy city street. It was a simple reminder of her former life. She longed to do those little things that most of us take for granted, the simple things that provide normalcy. We don’t give walking down the street with a coffee in our hand a second thought. We don’t consider going to the grocery store to buy fresh food or go window shopping at the mall a big deal. Why would we? Living ordinary lives gives us the power and freedom to ignore everyday things.
When families are separated for a while, for whatever reason, it’s not just the big events that will be missed. My sister has had to miss wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and funerals. My brother will miss the birth of his second child and his son’s third birthday. But, perhaps even more importantly, is that they will also miss the normal everyday family stuff like cooking and eating meals together, going on a walk around the neighborhood, enjoying a fun day at the park or beach, or reading a story to your child at bedtime and giving him a kiss goodnight.
I spent the 4th doing what most American families were doing, spending the day with family and friends and enjoying the fireworks. My normal and simple life will continue as usual, but a big part of my mind and heart will be in Afghanistan for a while. I will be waiting for my brother and sister. Waiting for them to return back to an ordinary life.