It’s not unusual to see postings on social media of soldiers returning home from the Middle East. Many are joyous: mothers and wives returning to children and husbands, fathers and husbands returning home to their families, even the occasional exultant reunion of human and canine companion. Granted, it’s pretty rare to see a video of a cat jumping and whirling with excitement about someone’s return. For cats it’s more like, “Okay, you’re back. Water bowl’s empty.”
Other than the cat, though, everyone seems to understand that it’s a pretty special thing. We smile, we hug, we cry. We caress the face of our returning beloved, needing that additional reassurance that she or he really is standing there in front of us. Many of us give thanks that nothing that we dreaded has occurred; our loved ones are safe and sound and we are reunited once again. Over are the long days of trying to stay busy and not worry and the longer nights of sleeping alone with the occasional dream that we dare not mention to anyone, especially to the one who is gone.
We know enough of those stories of IED’s and mortar shells, suicide bombers and blown-up hotels to know that it is not a given that this story has a happy ending. We’ve seen too many flag-draped coffins, too many deeply scarred bodies and faces to believe that it can’t happen to the ones we love. Even in the age of Skype and video chats, it is only that moment of actually seeing and touching and holding and being held that we truly believe that they are home and safe.
Knowing the joy and comfort of such moments, we sense something of the relief of others when we see those pictures of strangers. Certain images are captured and shared and we experience something like empathy as their joy, even if only in a slight way, becomes ours as well. These moments help us hold to hope and we use them to help us heal from all that separation has cost us. We long for a time when such leavings and losings will all be behind us; we ache for knowing that nothing could ever again separate us. And deep down, we know that this ancient and persistent desire is for an end to mortality itself, a longing for eternity.
Until then, we do whatever it takes to make it from one day to the next. We pray, we hope, we take the kids to their games, we do the thousand things that must be done. And when we see the pictures on Facebook, we smile and sometimes share.
But I will tell you this, when the pictures are of your own son and you remember the call when he told you that the blast was close enough to break windows in the building where he was working in Afghanistan and you see him sitting there safe and whole and with his own sons gathered around him, touching his face, you know that you are grateful and glad.
In that instant, it becomes more than a picture; it becomes God’s own grace. And in your gladness you remember that one day, there will be no more leaving.