My path to empathy began with Murphy’s Law. As a military spouse of almost 18 years (ok, 13 married, 5 long distance girlfriend), I have learned so much about empathy. I have learned that the military life is great with a few hardships along the way and the best way to survive is with a ton of patience, empathy, and a little grace. Now when I say grace, I mean, leeway, forgiveness, wiggle room, or a wink and a nod with a mutual understanding of “you got this, it’s ok,” said with pure, genuine empathy.
Murphy’s Law hits hard the second he deploys. I swear, the wheels on the plane barely lift off and it will start to snow. The truck will break down. The kids will act bonkers and develop some weird rash. The furnace is making a weird sound – wait, is that smoke I smell? My job has a really early meeting, soccer and football are at the exact same time at two different locations and we’re missing a cleat, and the dog keeps dropping the darn slimy tennis ball in my lap.
You would think the first thing I would empathize for is my spouse, but funny, he’s the last one I learned to do this for and honestly I still struggle. He’s the last person I give grace to but is definitely the most deserving. This is something I am working on. The first person I relate to and empathize the most for is the military spouse, as I truly understand their sacrifice, commitment, and courage.
I learned empathy through sacrifice and through sacrifice grew strength in commitment and courage. Each move meant starting over. Finding the perfect house, the right school, the best and safest neighborhood. Praying the kids make friends easily. Praying I make new friends easily. Searching for a job. Again. And routine. Again. This takes courage and is exhausting. Realizing the only job that will fit is a variety of small paying gigs so I can do the most important job, parenting. Fighting resentment. Why does he get to be the hero, travel the world, and be the hot topic of every conversation? When is it my turn to have my career be priority? Being glued to your phone, waiting for a phone call. Being nervous to watch the news. Missing phone calls. Missing my family. Missing my friends. Missing familiarity. We move forward. We march on with a sigh, a brace of the shoulders, and grace.
I have empathy for those spouses who have been hardened by deployments, training schedules, and moving. Those who don’t want to ask for help because she may seem weak, incapable, or God forbid, dependent. I empathize with those who don’t have their ducks in a row, put on a happy face, YouTube the heck out of any problem while fighting back tears of frustration and anger, and are occasionally (or always) late.
The best part of military life is the friends that I have made. I have learned that battle buddies are not just for soldiers. My best friends come from all over the world and have given me the best pep talks, morale boosters, in your face drill sergeant orders, and laughter when I needed it the most. They have empathized with me and given me so much grace. When I thanked my good friend for being in my foxhole she replied, “I'll dig the hole, I'll share my chow. I got you, buddy.” We need more battle buddies in our foxholes.
I have so much empathy for my kids. My kids have dealt with a ton. They have moved. They have watched friends move away. They have learned and relearned the meaning of normal. They are very familiar with Dad working late, never having a normal schedule, or not being home at all. Deployments were easier when they were younger. When they were little, it was really just missing Dad. But now that they are older, we add worry. Every time they hear the word Afghanistan on TV, they shoot me a look of worry, of knowledge of a country that is dangerous, and even anger because that country has our Dad and we don’t. They have learned to make the most of the short phone calls, written letters, drawings, and sending packages. My kids are resilient, strong, and brave. They take charge and lead. They are responsible, kind, and motivated. And darn it, they are sad. I wish more than anything that their Dad was here to share in the daily grind with them.
I also empathize with the sacrifice of the soldier. My husband has missed so many birthdays, holidays and firsts. First day of school, first lost tooth, first touchdown, first dance recital. First, second, thirds. He has missed our home, our routine, the kids growing up. I need to give him grace and remember that he has a lot on his shoulders. He has his brothers to keep safe, a team counting on him to lead. He has command to answer to. He needs to take care of himself. And then he has us. He’s providing for our family. He’s doing his best at balancing work and family. I need to give him more grace with that. I need to understand that he is very busy; that he can’t tell me what he’s doing, and that he’s still madly in love with me. He needs to understand that we are good; we are behind him, supporting him, cheering him on until he gets home.
It’s what we do with our empathy that defines us. You can empathize with others, but can you give them grace? Can you forgive them for being late, brushing you off, not calling right away, working too hard? I’m not saying everyday is a train wreck. We usually thrive; we stay busy and we keep on…but we have our moments. With that, we learn to take that moment, take a deep breath, listen to our pep talk, dig deep in our foxhole, and march forward. I’ll admit, yesterday was tough but thankfully, today is a new day. Let’s give ourselves the grace of a fresh start.
Lindsey Leiker- Hero, Wife, Mother