My son has sent me a “Build-A-Bear.” Dressed in the latest digital camouflage ACUs.* (Build-A-Bear hasn’t yet caught up with multicam.) It came with a note in my eight-year-old’s handwriting: “Press left paw for I love you and I miss you.” Sure enough, when I press the left paw, my son’s voice announces, “I love you and I miss you.” I set the bear on my green army field desk.
The bear arrived when I was weary of work and devotion to duty. Unlike the typical day stateside that comes with a beginning (0630) and an end (1700), the days on deployment are not so easily demarcated. There is no “home” to go to, only a cot in a tent just yards from where you work. I walk home every night to a tiny room, seven by nine feet, with a single light. No one is there waiting for me. No one welcomes me at the end of my day. Work continually expands to fill whatever space is available. Nights alone can drag on. Phone calls home are too short and too distant.
At times like this, we all must focus on what truly matters. Many will try to tell you what that is but you must decide for yourself. It’s different for each of us. Some say that your meaning and purpose have already been determined. They point to a holy book, creed, or theology. They say what you are meant to be is contained in those particular words and no others. But you must choose to accept the book, adhere to the creed, or subscribe to the theology. No one can choose it for you.There is no way around it.
There are some values honored by all faith traditions: compassion in the face of suffering, love in the face of hatred, hope in the face of fear. But on some long, lonely nights, what really matters is closer to our hearts than any of these eternal values. Right now, what matters for me is a stuffed bear dressed in ACUs and a voice that says, “I love you and I miss you.”
*ACU: Army Combat Uniform. The familiar digital camouflage pattern uniform worn by members of the U.S. Army.