Like many couples, my wife and I have discussed the value of flowers as a gift to express love.
Of course, a good arrangement is beautiful, and it’s culturally customary, and if you do some research, you can communicate a lot of great sentiments with the flower selection and color choice.
But they’re expensive, and they die quickly, and also they’re expensive, and then they’re useless and dead.
I’m not biased at all. These are objective facts. (/sarcasm)
As we headed toward my retirement ceremony, I thought about what I had seen couples do during their celebrations. Usually the active duty spouse gives the other spouse a floral arrangement or some similar token of thanks for all the support that makes being married while working in the military possible.
I certainly wanted to express my gratitude for all my wife has done and continues to do. People often ask, “Does your wife work?” And it’s like, “Yes, of course she does. She deals with four children every day while I’m sitting in my office or on a jet. She handles the whole household while I go off for months to fly missions somewhere else in the world. On top of maintaining and managing a home, she homeschools the kids – because she wants to, not because I’ve ever asked. I can go to work and focus on my job because I know I don’t have to worry about what the boys are up to, or what’s happening at home.”
For over twenty years of marriage, she has stuck with me through all the ups and downs and sideways corkscrews of life. When everything goes pear-shaped or when we’re flying above the storms, she is there, supporting and encouraging no matter what.
But flowers. They’re just going to wither. They’re going in the trash a week or two later. What’s the point?
At first, Jami and I thought about using something like the platinum-covered rose I bought her. Something that says, “Yes, flowers, but actually one that will last.”
Because, hey, eternal love and “not wasting money” and all that obviously super-romantic thought put into this expression of thanks (more sarcasm, I hope you could tell).
Later, Jami said, “You know, maybe it’s selfish, but I think I want some flowers. Is that wrong?” This is my wife, who is worried that after twenty plus years as a military spouse, it’s not right or perhaps too much for her to get the spotlight and a simple bouquet of roses and carnations.
“Of course I can get you flowers. This is your celebration too.” That’s what I think I said.
“God, I hope they’re not TOO expensive,” or something similar, is what I’m ashamed to admit I thought.
It wasn’t until I was standing in the room with chairs arranged and people filing in for the ceremony that my slow and stupid brain finally clicked into gear and understood.
Yes, flowers wither. Yes, they’re temporary. You can’t buy one and have it last, expressing forever the sentiment when it was given.
But that’s how our love works. It’s not an “I said ‘I love you’ when we got married, dear” kind of thing.
Love is expressed in the day-to-day decisions, the small sacrifices and acts of service, all the little things we so quickly forget which add up to a confidence and certainty that wow, this person really doeslike me.
Plenty of military marriages don’t make it. I’m not judging or assuming anything about them, but I know that my wife kept choosing, day after day, to show her love for me through consistent decisions and deeds that proved her commitment.
That’s all any of us can do to build a real relationship — keep doing the small things, the messy jobs, the hard decisions, the stuff we easily ignore in favor of something flashy or showy.
Love is expressed day by day. At any point, the relationship can wither and die if left unattended, if not nurtured, if not refreshed.
Maybe flowers that wither are exactly the right kind of way to say, “I love you.” Maybe I needed that reminder that saying it once with a big gift isn’t the same as saying it every day with small but meaningful acts of service and devotion.
We joke about the “new year, new me” phrase people hashtag or share, and I suppose there must be some people who actually use that unironically.
For me, it’s more true this year than it probably will ever be!
As of 1 January, I am officially retired from the United States Air Force after 24 years of service!
I posted some time ago about all the chaos and upheaval in my life, and how that would affect my writing and my activity on my site… but I had no idea what a mess of paperwork and bureaucracy I would be wading through to reach this point!
We’re not even done yet, as a family, but we’re close. Over the next few days, we’ll hopefully sort out details like driving legally, closing out our old home, and proving that yes in fact I do have a job that requires me to be on Okinawa.
The next month or so will be full of forms and procedures to get me back into the building I just left last week, along with finalizing all the details of military pay and housing expenses. That said, now that the hectic holidays and (most of) the terrifying transition to civilian life are behind us, I can start posting here and getting back to the writing I so often claim I love.
Over the next few posts, I’ll capture my thoughts about retirement (my coworkers are awesome and took great care of me), and I definitely want to show off the view from our new place at Toguchi Beach on Okinawa.
On Friday afternoon, one of my coworkers celebrated escaping moving on from the military.
She’s the wonderful individual who routinely asks me in a friendly but annoyed tone, “Where’s my book, sir?”
Though I never have a good answer to that question, I thought at least I could give something personal and special as a thank you for all the encouragement that her persistence has given me.
I drew up the three main characters of my fantasy series–Josephine, the Soulforged holy warrior; Kaalistera, the shadow-bending assassin; and Lyllithe, the outcast Devoted touched by the Void. It’s hastily-drawn and imperfect, but heartfelt.
When I presented her this gift, it led to a discussion with a couple of other co-workers, and my friend praised my book for its well-rounded characters and exciting action.
Of course, my initial reaction was to cringe a bit, shrug my shoulders, and deflect the praise, because I see all the flaws and mistakes where I should have spent more time to put out a better product.
However, it’s always a meaningful and special experience when someone expresses genuine interest in your creative work.
If you know someone who is involved in creative endeavors, you can show them a little love and spark them to put in the work with a simple expression of interest.
“What have you been drawing lately?”
“How’s writing going?”
“What’s your band playing next?”
“Where is my book, sir?”
Then endure their awkward look of embarrassment, nod politely, and let them continue on their way–probably with a smile on their face.
If nothing else, you might get a drawing out of it.
So NaNoWriMo is over, and I have another 50,000 words down on my future military / psychic reconnaissance novel. A few middle and ending scenes need to be filled in, and it’s all a disordered jumble in one document at the moment. But I’m happy to have completed my 2nd NaNoWriMo event.
I learned (or re-learned) a few things along the way, which I’ll post over the next month.
But more importantly (to me), this frees me up to focus on revising and publishing my fantasy novel that I finished in late Spring. Thanks to several very helpful and thoughtful first readers, I have some solid suggestions on fixes and changes.
I’m going to start posting the first few chapters as a lead-up to the book being publically available online–which should happen by Christmas. It’s my present to me… and maybe to some of my friends who are already after me to work on book 2.
If all goes well, this year’s group of Okinawa NaNo participants will also form a monthly writers’ group–something we wanted to do last year but couldn’t due to various military commitments and obligations. I’m ecstatic, since I maintain that’s the absolute best way to grow as a writer. I enjoy it so much I wrote a book about it, called Elements of Critique.
And sadly, when I look at the news out of my hometown Chicago and other places around the States, I see very little has changed from the stories dominating the headlines last year. When I completed my first NaNoWriMo, racial tensions and community relations occupied my mind. More importantly, I could not ignore the wide gulf of animosity I saw on social media between people holding opposing viewpoints. And I wondered if anyone really considered the hurting families and broken lives in the aftermath of Ferguson and other flare-ups of racial tension. My book, Not to the Swift, is my effort to understand and empathize as a fellow father, husband, human. Seeing or considering what others go through reminded me how much I have to be thankful for.
I hope Thanksgiving and the oncoming holiday season find you well and give you the chance to count your blessings. Maybe that can be another Christmas present we give ourselves. Gratitude and contentment seem truly counter-cultural in the West, so this is our chance to be ironic hipsters and go against the flow.
Packing a bag again for a few days away from home. At least it’s not months.
Explaining to my 4 year old that I’ll be gone for a little while. At least I’m leaving when he’s awake and I get to say bye for now.
Cancelling my leave that was scheduled for six months in advance because “we don’t have the bodies.” At least I didn’t spend any money on it and it’s not use-or-lose leave that might disappear on October 1st.
Stepping onto a plane for the 11th time in 13 days. At least I’m supposed to get some down time later this month.
Hitting my maximum allowable flight hours within a particular period and then got the waiver to just fly more. At least they’re still paying attention to the rules. At least we’re not in a situation like combat where dire and urgent need trumps the regulations for routine missions.
Flying several days for questionable reasons with little chance of accomplishing the mission. At least it was with a good crew that is in the same frustrating circumstance with me, so our individual miseries have great company.
Landing each day with enough time to get home, sleep, and go do it again the next day. At least the schedule changed so I usually see my kids’ faces for a few minutes before they go to bed or before I leave for work.
At least I am coming home each day (usually). At least I am not in a combat zone, threatened in the air or hunkered down on the ground. At least my family is well taken care of, and at least my wife is unquestioningly supportive and undeservedly patient.
I often joke that “I love my job” when there are reasons to complain. At least there are parts of it that I really do love.
Not all our servicemembers can say the same. Not all of them can claim the “at leasts” that I can. My heartfelt thanks to my brothers and sisters in arms in crappier places working longer hours doing harder jobs in worse conditions. Much appreciation also to the family members, friends, and loved ones who provide that support to the men and women wearing America’s various uniforms. You all make me proud.
I raised my right hand and swore an oath of my own free will. At least I serve a nation that–while admittedly imperfect–rewards honorable service in support of lofty ideals instead of demanding subservience to the whims of a dictator or ideology.
Bangor, Maine is a popular stop on the itinerary for various trips I’ve taken around the world.
The best aspect of the trip (to me) is that every time I’ve come through, I’ve been warmly greeted by a small assembly of retired military members, veterans and just plain folk with a firm handshake, a smile, and a “Thanks for your service.”
But tonight we showed up after 11 PM, figuring the airport would be closed.
Applause and cheers echoed down the hall as my companions and I made our way to the waiting area. Probably a dozen plus men and women stood at the door to catch us as we came in.
After 11 PM.
I’m old enough, even I want to be in bed after 11 PM.
I answered each of them with “Thank you for your service.” Because some of them served–probably at times with harder challenges and more demands placed on them than rest on me. And all of them took the time to come out and show some gratitude to men and women currently serving the nation.