I was on the phone with my friend Sheila, bemoaning the demise of our hopes for a weekend reunion we’d planned with another friend, Bonnie. We three met while stationed in Germany. Our latest assignments brought us within driving distance of one another, and in February we had planned to gather in one place for the first time in several years — until an untimely ice storm made the roads between us impassable.
I stood at my window, holding the phone and glowering at a gray sky.
“We don’t have another weekend we’re all free before we move farther away from each other,” I said to Sheila. “I was looking forward to being together again.”
“Me too,” she said, “but I know you’re out there.”
Her words captured a truth of military life. Knowing my friends are there even when they aren’t near has comforted me on some cold bleak days.
When I was new to life as a military wife, I didn’t have a history of friendship to reassure me. Leaving friends was more painful then, because I didn’t know about the new ones to come. I also didn’t know then that the strongest friendships would survive the inevitable separations of military life.
Over the years and duty stations, I’ve bonded, and then parted, with some extraordinary people. Often just knowing they are out there has inoculated me against the strangeness of another new neighborhood, another collection of unfamiliar faces and places.
Having those friends from the past gives me hope that more friends are in my future, but sometimes the present is still a challenge. Even when you have lots of friends, a mobile life gets lonely. With friends scattered across the globe, there’s always someone out there to miss.
Our first overseas assignment was a particularly difficult transition for me, and making new friends seemed fraught with misunderstanding. One day, I was talking to my mom on the phone across several time zones, telling her all about a new acquaintance who said something unkind to me.
“Don’t listen to that,” my mother said. “Remember what your true friends say about you.”
She reminded me of Beth, a good friend and on-base neighbor at our previous assignment. Thinking of my sweet friend changed my perspective, and my mother’s wisdom — as it often does — applied to more than the heartbreak du jour. It helped me realize that the rewards of good friendships go beyond the time spent with those friends. Memories of good people can keep me company, even counteract insults — and a little talk with Mom doesn’t hurt, either. Instead of taking those hurtful comments to heart, I let them go, and ended up becoming friends with the person who said them.
Building friendships requires time and proximity, two things that are not always abundant between military friends. It takes effort to cultivate the relationships we value most and to stay connected in a mobile life, but the lasting rewards make the effort worthwhile.
At every duty station we find some friendships that will not outlast that particular assignment. These relationships are still valuable and true, but we can’t bond for life with everyone we meet and like. Some friendships will result in stronger bonds, which will stay with us for more than a two- or three-year stint. These are the friends we can call no matter what the time-zone difference, those we’ll travel across the country to see. Whenever we meet we pick up where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we were together. Every friendship is valuable, but these are truly golden.
I know I’ve been fortunate to make friends all over the world whose companionship will be with me wherever I go, even when we’ve gone our separate ways. Whenever I feel isolated or misunderstood, I will remember you, and I can weather discouragement, unkind words and lonely days.
I am stronger, because I know you’re out there.