Rhoda Lea

Thoughts on the Journey of Life

Archive for the month “January, 2010”

January 18, 2010 – Day 16

Today we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and as our troops train to march out and fight yet another war on foreign soil I am reminded of how far we have come.  I got up this morning and saw that my lovely husband had beat me in posting his photos to his FaceBook page.  I’m not complaining, just surprised – he never does anything when I ask him to and this time he did – Yea!  But, as I viewed his pictures of his teammates and his squad, I saw them with MLK’s “I have a dream” speech ringing in my head.

My father, like most men of his generation, served where he could when WWII hit our shores with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942.  He served in the Merchant Marine, which during wartime is a component of the Navy.  He wore a Navy uniform, just like Richard and I have done. My Dad spent the duration of the war working on grain ships in the Great Lakes and guarding German prisoners of war.  Richard too will be guarding interned prisoners as part of his duties overseas.  So many similarities.  How we fight our wars hasn’t changed much in almost 60 years.

What has changed are the photos.  Pictures of my Dad with his shipmates were studies in black and white where all the faces smiling from the scene were Caucasian.   Now the pictures are in color and the array of skin tones on those faces grinning from the scene are just as colorful.  The only black faces on my Dad’s ships were in the galley, cooking and serving the “true warriors”, and if my husband  had served at that time his face would have been seen there.  He would not have been in battle greens, leading a group of young men through the desert.

My man is proud of himself and proud of his troops.  Understandably so.  And, I am so proud to be his wife and the mother of his children.  I am also proud of our nation, where our Commander and Chief is of African descent.  We are closer to the day when “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  We are closer to “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”   I do believe that we “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”   And in my husband’s photos I see “little black boys… joining hands with little white boys…as brothers.”

Like Dr. King I too have a dream today.  I dream of the day each of these men return home, safe and sound, to their mother’s, their sister’s, their wives or girlfriends, their children.  I dream that day is filled with rejoicing and not with sorrow.  I dream they are whole, and not broken, not lost.  I dream that each of them is better, stronger, richer, emotionally and spiritually, for their days away from us.  I dream of happy tears on that day and pride in a job well done!  “I have a dream today!”

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January 10, 2010 – DAY 7 – “Between Two Women”

“Between Two Women”

I saw a movie once with Farah Fawcett and Colleen Dewhurst entitled “Between Two Women.”  (1986)  The movie centers on the relationship between a mother-in-law, played by Dewhurst, and her daughter -in-law, played by Fawcett.   We all know Farah Fawcett but Colleen Dewhurst is one of those critically acclaimed actresses we all recognize but can’t remember the name of who made her bones on stage.  She is most likely best known by my generation as the actress who played Murphy Brown’s mother on Candice Bergen’s hit show, Murphy Brown, and for her role as Merilla in the Anne of Green Gables series.  Ms. Dewhurst seemed to make a career of playing strong, formidable women with complex and chaotic emotional underpinnings.  Her character,  Barbara Petherton, in this finely acted, made for television movie, is no exception.

The story starts sometime in the early 70’s with a young and lovely Farah Fawcett falling in love with and marrying Mrs. Petherton’s handsome and talented, but irresponsible and underachieving son.   The son has had an on-going strained, then estranged, then strained again relationship with his mother since his teens, and chooses a woman for his wife that he sees as her polar opposite.  Where his mother is cold and demanding, his wife is warm and adoring, and they build a world together filled with bright, precocious children and great passion for each other.  However, the dark mark on their blissful existence seems, at first glance, to be the domineering, negativity of Barbara Petherton.  From their first meeting, Fawcett’s character, Val seems crushed and wounded by the strong-willed Barbara.

The film portrays the ever increasing conflicts between these two women over the course of 14 years.  Barbara’s constant interference, harsh but well-meaning advise, left-handed comments and unrelenting criticism eventually breaks down the underpinnings of the marriage and the couple separate.  They ultimately come back together shortly before Barbara suffers a debilitating stroke and it is the long-suffering Val that ends up caring for her up until her death.

The movie’s story is told in flashbacks from Val’s perspective.  This is important to note because what seems to be immutable facts about the character of Barbara bear themselves out to be somewhat skewed by Val’s perceptions.  Barbara’s son is indeed spoiled, pampered and temperamental.  The family is maintained by Val’s hard work and Barbara’s benevolence as he flits from position to position, never ever fully comfortable in his own skin or fully confident in his own abilities.  Barbara blames herself but can never fully admit her own maternal short-comings to the warm and caring Val.  As each flashback unfolds while Val cares for her incapacitated mother-in-law a bond develops between the two women that is seen through the poignant eyes of Colleen Dewhurst.

When the movie ended with Barbara’s death and Val and her husband looking at each other across her death bed, I found myself asking, “So what happens now?”  Val no longer sees her mother-in-law as the constant protagonist in her life and now has no delusions about her husbands short comings.  She has entered Barbara’s world and sees things as they truly are, with no rose colored glasses.  I remember thinking that Val would never again be that warm-hearted, idealistic, emotionally fragile woman her husband married.  She couldn’t be, she knew now that her husband was the talented, unfocused person her mother-in-law always said he was.  Barbara’s constant criticism of Val and her continual interference in the marriage was really about trying to help and protect Val.  She had no delusions about her son and saw Val as too soft, too gentle and too independent for her own good.  Val now sees this as clearly as Barbara once did and knows she can never return to being the long-suffering adoring wife.

Those of you who know my mother-in-law, Margaret, may believe I see myself as Val and Margaret as Barbara.  However, this is not true.  Margaret is Val, 20 years after the movie’s ending.  She is the child of the 60’s, with all the idealism and independence of that generation, who married the talented, charming, good-looking, unreliable and under-achieving son of a strong woman.  She is the person who continued to care for her ailing mother-in-law even after separating from her husband.  She is the aging baby boomer whose idealism has been crushed and whose independence is slowly being stripped away by age and economic instability.

What kind of son would Val have raised?  How would she have chosen to live out the rest of her life?  She was the caretaker, the giver, the warm-hearted generous woman who loved freely without counting the cost, but truly getting to know her mother-in-law had changed that woman forever.  Val would have been Margaret, clinging to her hard fought for stability, afraid of being alone in her old age, wondering if her children will care for her as she did for her mother-in-law and her mother.  She, like Margaret, would have fretted over her children’s trials in life and questioned the strength and stability of their marriages.  She, like others of her generation, would be plagued with questions.  Where did the time go?  Did I do the right thing by my children?  Should I have stayed with my children’s father?  Would their lives be better if I had?  Or should I have left him sooner, and spared them the suffering we had because of his irresponsibility?  Should I have worked less, spent more time at home, cooked more meals, attended more school functions?  This is not what the last years of my life were supposed to look like!

What I would say to Val is, you did a good job.  You have raised creative, intelligent caring children who are stronger than you know, or even than they let you know.  Their love for you runs deep and true, for you HAVE always been there, the one stable element in their lives.  You are the one person they turn to when they fall down and the one person they ever get to cry with, because they never let anybody see them sweat.  Your life may not be as you expected, but it is rich in love and care and concern for you and your well-being.  As much as your children seem to resent you, they love you more, and that is the one thing in your life that is unchanging and exactly as it should be.  Your children have something that you didn’t and that’s a realistic view of themselves and the world.  They live under no delusions and they know that’s a good thing, because they learned it from you.  Despite this lack of idealism, they face the world boldly and with arms wide open, and that is also because of you.

I understand Margaret and, despite our many challenges along the way, there is a grudging respect between us.  We are both passionate about our children, we are both independent and opinionated – and a little bit crazy.  We both are fiercely protective of those we love and when something happens we don’t like with our loved ones we blame it on “those other people“ in their lives.  We are often out of focus and don’t see things as they are because of the fierce love we have for her son, my husband.  We both waste a lot of time pointing the finger at each other and screaming, “It’s her fault” when life throws this lovely man a curve-bal and becomes hard to manage.  And, often, in those times when we should be pulling closer together and supporting one another, we drive each other further away.  I, for one, will do everything in my power to not do that this deployment.  Margaret has earned and deserves the right to be kept close during this time Richard is away.  She needs to hug her grandchildren often and hear the news on a regular basis.  I have come to realize that the strength of Richard’s relationship with both of us rests in my ability to be understanding, tolerant and consistent.  It requires me biting my tongue and ignoring the criticism.  For his sake, as well as my own, I will be kind, I will be patient, I will be loving, I will be humble, I will be … better.

January 6, 2010 – Day 4

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days.  Richie arrived on time in Gulfport MS for his final checkout and gear issuance at about 4:30 in the evening.  However, his seabag didn’t arrive until about 10:00 pm.  So he sat at the airport and waited and waited and waited for it.  I finally spoke to him about 11:00 pm from the BEQ (Bachelor’s Enlisted Quarters) on base.  Since then we have been able to speak to each other each morning with my wake-up call to him and each evening after dinner.  We are taking advantage of his availability at this time because we know it won’t last. He is scheduled to leave Gulfport this weekend for his Army training in Texas.

He’s got one more thing to do for his check-out from Medical and that’s the consult with the Doctor.  It’s a quick and painless process and he’s already met her, so that helps.  She just goes over his numbers with him and his personal health assessment, gives him advise about a more healthful lifestyle if needed, and then signs his paperwork.  This is important because without this paperwork they can’t start his pay and if it doesn’t get started by tomorrow we won’t see any money until the 1st of February.  Not a good thing.  We both have been in prayer all week that his pay gets started without a hitch and that his pay starts coming in regularly come the 15th of this month.  We’re believing God for this little miracle.

You may be asking, “Why is this a little miracle?”  To explain, starting his active duty pay is dependent upon NOSC, Pensacola (Naval Operational Support Command) doing his loss correctly.  We don’t have a lot of confidence in them making this happen as they have been horrible about paying him his reserve drill pay in a timely manner.  He is attached to them for pay purposes, but does all his drills, medical, and administrative tasks out of Jacksonville.  He did his check-out for these orders he’s currently on here, and, just like his drill pay, everything has been forwarded to Pensacola via FAX and e-mail for them to do the system entries.  All of this is just another fine example of Navy planning, an oxymoron for sure.  We understand it, we know why things happen this way, we know why it doesn’t work, and we expect that the only people to suffer for it is the military member and his family.  It’s just part of the package of military life.  So you pray and ask God for little miracles along the way.

If Pensacola did his loss correctly, and if they ran their reports and verified his status had changed in the system, and if his status changed as it should, – then PSD (Personnel Support Detachment) in Gulfport will be able to post his gain today prior to the cut-off tomorrow.  Now if they post the gain and he still has what we call a “Ghost Record” from when he was on active duty 4 years ago, the gain will error out and they will only have until the end of the workday tomorrow to get it fixed to make the cut-off.  It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to clear that old record out of the system to enter the new gain in one short work day.  So you pray for the little miracles.

Having done this job myself for 10 years I know where everything can go wrong and its doubly stressful for me.  The secret to getting it right requires a watchful eye, running the necessary system reports, and time to fix what’s broken.  I really don’t trust anyone’s watchful eye, and I know that most people don’t even know how to run the reports, and there’s no time.  Knowing what I would do to get it done doesn’t help.  I know who to call, whose buttons to push to make it happen, and how to avoid things erroring out when you do the entries.  I don’t trust anyone else to know those things, because so many people I’ve encountered doing what I used to do don’t know how to do those things.  It’s maddening for me!

So, you take a deep breath, sigh, and say, “Woosaaaa!”  Then you utter a prayer, the Serenity prayer is a good one, and you trust what it says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, plans to give you a future and a hope.”

As for me, I have been working on my list, a little bit at a time.  Clean out closets and bag up Richie’s extra uniforms, almost done.  Make a mental note of things that he may want me to send to him and where they are stored – check!  Get ready for my yard sale to get rid of all the stuff I’m cleaning out of closets and storage – postponed for warmer weather.  Start working on my book again – check!  Apply for the open job on base that I got the inside scoop on – check!  Make medical appointments for the boys and I – waiting on our Tri-care cards.  Register for school – scheduled for tomorrow!  Get replacement drivers license – this afternoon.  Start working out – mmmmm, not so much – but I did locate my running shoes! Start the deployment blog – check!  Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my progress.

Today is the boys birthday and I am using some coupons I got for free bowling on base to take them bowling this afternoon.  They have an early release day today so it works out well.  I have a nice dinner planned for this evening and will bake a cake this morning.  Even though I plan on doing something a bit more grand for them later on I can’t let the day go unnoticed, especially while their Dad is away.  That would be like adding insult to injury.  So for those of you who know my little men, give us a call this evening to wish them a Happy Birthday.  They act like it doesn’t matter, but I know they love those phone calls that are just for them. (904-236-5156)

Happy Three Kings day, my friends, let’s all enter this Mardi Gras season with joyful and thankful hearts for God’s gifts to us of love, grace, and life!

January 3rd, 2010 – Day 1

We just got back from the airport dropping off the love of my life to begin his year long journey into what is, right now, the virtual unknown.  The day started with me waking up to the alarm and rolling over to bury my face in his warm back and then burst into tears.  Those tears were surprising as I have been so strong and in control since he got his orders.  When we jumped in the shower I was still weepy and he started teasing me to make the crying stop.  He would have rather dealt with anger, I think.

We all piled in the car at about 8:30, then half way to the airport I said, “I thought your flight was at 1:30.  I was a little surprised when you said 11:30 last night.”  At which point he started digging in his backpack for his itinerary.  Throwing it at me he says, “What time does that say?”  I look at it and say, “1:30.”  He pulls off the expressway and we proceed to drive back home, he was sulking and I suppressed more than one giggle.

Once we got to the airport he insisted that we park the car and go inside with him (which we never do).  Once he had checked his bag we found a little corner where we could all sit together and he took that opportunity to speak to our boys about their responsibilities while he was gone and what he expected from them.  Then we held hands and prayed together.  Richard prayed for his safety and God’s protection of his family.  He thanked God for His financial provision and recognized that the Lord’s ways are not always are ways.  I cried – big silent tears – but my heart was tearing in two.  He took half of it with him, I think.

We got up to go and he kept stalling – he walked us to the car and hugged and kissed us all there.  They were long, strong, tender hugs over which a slight mist seemed to hover.  The kiss we shared together was a little salty with our mingled tears.  Then I got in the car and drove away from him standing in the darkened parking garage, waving us goodbye, looking a little pinched and lost.  It took a few hard swallows and every ounce of strength I had, to stop crying and not slam on the brakes, to run back to him and cling to him sobbing hysterically.

The boys were very strong and brave when with their father, but very quiet and subdued on the ride home.  They asked “What happens to us if Daddy dies in Afghanistan?”  which I answered honestly and calmly.   Then Adam said, “Daddy’s last words to me were, ‘take care.’  I started crying because I kept thinking those might be the last words I would ever hear him say.”  I didn’t respond.  What does one say to that?  When we got home Sean turned to me in the kitchen and said, “I already miss Daddy.”  His chin quivered and his eyes teared up.  I hugged him tight and told him that he couldn’t spend the next year worried and upset.  That was no way to live.  He had to focus on the tasks of each day and find each day’s happiness.  I was glad I didn’t cry.  Then we made hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Things seemed better after that, I think.

In many ways the departure day is the hardest.  After that day you fall into a routine and life drives you forward.  But, for this day, and this day only, we’re going to indulge in a little sadness at our big man’s absence and that’s okay, I think.

Thus begins Day 1.

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Thoughts on the Journey of Life

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