Not all who wander are lost.
We’ve all seen this quote on a poster in a travel agency, or as the caption on a millennial’s Instagram photo capturing a perfect sun flare bouncing off the treetops of the rainforest.
But missing from this cliche quote is the second half of it. The part that all military families can relate to.
… but all who do are probably homesick.
As people who are constantly on the move, military families have learned to be resilient human beings as flexible as Gumby, and innovators at turning any destination into a home. And let’s be honest, each one of them makes it look easy because well, hashtag milspouse power.
But despite making it look flawless, servicemembers and their loved ones aren’t impenetrable from the disease that stems from an ever-shifting home base: homesickness. It just manifests itself in unsuspecting ways.
A spouse can be going like the Energizer bunny all day, taking the kids to school, washing the never-ending supply of uniforms, cooking a casserole for the block party on Saturday, and taking the dogs to the groomers that it isn’t until her eyes start to close that her mind can, at least, slow down. Thus, freeing up all the brain space for those hibernating, dormant thoughts of an old life to haunt her like sweet, nostalgic ghosts.
When military life, kids, jobs, and deployment keep a person busy, it’s easy for a nomad to sweep the power of homesickness under the rug, and cast it aside in triumph, especially when she’s ten years into the military lifestyle. She declares victory over the nostalgic obstacle with an “Ooh-rah” flourish.
…Until a hoard of memories rushes in at 1 a.m., leaving her in a foggy mist of images like family get-togethers, brunch dates with her sisters, and game nights with nieces and nephews.
And as she lies there, without a single idea of the next time she would get to even have an hour like that again, her heart hurts. She is exposed. She is homesick. The thrill of success over conquering a wandering lifestyle, suddenly cracked with the disease. Because that’s what it is, right? It holds the word “sick” after all.
Sara, an uprooted Texan now living in Hawaii with her USMC pilot husband summarized one of the biggest struggles like this, “I think the hardest part about the sacrifice is watching your siblings and family members all share experiences and holidays together when you’re not there.”
But what if the homesick nomad realized he isn’t afflicted by a disease at all? What if he redefined the problem? When you have homesickness, you have life. Because those people you so dearly miss? It is because you love and are deeply loved in return.
Those laid back, Saturday morning brunches you cherish so fondly? Your heart aches because the relationships were so mutually deep that you wish you could just fly in one day each week just to drink a mimosa with those girls. But the truth is, you can still do that, because your home base isn’t going anywhere.
Instead, Sara encourages other military nomads to combat homesickness by avoiding the trap of comparison.
“Try not to compare your new duty station to your home. Just jump in and embrace this new area and way of life,” she said.
Redefining the Disease
So go ahead and miss the people and place you call home. But don’t let the sadness steal your joy in the adventure you get to have now. After all, if you didn’t have a place to call home, complete with people and activities that made you come alive, you wouldn’t ever feel homesick, now would you?
The truth in homesickness is that it’s not a sickness at all.
To be homesick is to be truly alive and deeply loved.
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Photo credits: Renee Dolan Photography