September 06, 2011
By Jacey Eckhart
I’ve never seen her swim. I only imagine Ginger in the water. I imagine her in goggles, her face turned to the bottom of the pool, her feet kicking out a rhythm, a cool flip turn at the end of the lane. I imagine Ginger in peace.
And Ginger shouldn’t be this peaceful. She should be haggard by now. She should be jittery. Ginger has been an Army wife for more than 30 years. One of her children is a helicopter pilot. The other is at West Point gearing up for a career in the Army. Because of her husband’s job Ginger attends a lot of memorial services for men and women who are much too young to die. Soldiers who are other people’s spouses and parents, other people’s tender sons and darling daughters.
While I could imagine Ginger in the water, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to carry that kind of worry every day. How do people do that?
I’ve been to funerals. I know they leave you drained for days even if the person was 90 and in pain and the process of death had taken a long time. How do you handle it when you witness the loss left by even one soldier? How do you handle that constant reminder? Me, I would just keep circling McDonalds drive-thru, swallowing burgers and pushing down the emptiness.
But Ginger swims. I don’t mean she just exercises in the way that magazine articles might tell us to meet stress by sleeping well and eating right and exercising. (Burn CALORIES!!! Create ENDORPHINS!!! ) Those things alone are good, I think, but they are not everything. There is more to those things than just checking them off a to-do list. That is why I wanted to tell you about Ginger. Because while she swims she recites the 91st Psalm. Not just the verse “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” Ginger printed out a copy of the psalm and took it to the pool in a plastic sleeve. She memorized the whole thing and recites it while she swims and focuses in turn on her husband, her children, her neighbors, these soldiers.
I’m not telling you about this because it is some kinda magic and you should go jump in a pool. I am telling you about Ginger because she is deliberate in her efforts to handle what her military life has to offer. She deliberately chooses to quiet her mind, to quiet her body, to focus on her Army family. I see this a lot of experienced military wives--which may be why they have managed to stick with it so long and have fewer face furrows.
I want to be that kind of person myself. I want to have a deliberate practice of military life. Not all the time. Just when I need it. Because the closer my life resembles a normal civilian life—regular meals, a constant dent on my mattress, another adult to license the cars or paint the cabinets or recite multiplication tablets—the less I need to be deliberate.
It is when things get edgier, scarier, less predictable, less normal (in all the blessed sense of that word) that you and I need to be deliberate. When you are so worried that you don’t know what to do next, when you are pacing, when the thought of the safety of your family member is with you ever minute, then you need to be deliberate every single day. Not only to do the walk or the run or the swim, but to do in in a deliberate combination with a spiritual practice that centers a person, calms a person, provides peace. Because it looks to me like that makes all the difference.
Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at email@example.com.