Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Man you Have Become"

I am going on vacation in 4 days to the most beautiful, peaceful, most heaven-like place on earth.

A place where I grew up, my mother grew up, her mother grew up, her father honeymooned and his father bought a plot of land. A place where families have been friends for over a century. A place where my heart beats wild and my soul thrives.

I wish that I could put into words how magical this place is to me, my friends and my family. For as long as I can remember, winter was the enemy because it meant that this place was so far out of reach. People who vacation at this same spot only agree. We share our countdowns publicly on facebook now, but there was a time when there'd only be letters sent through the mail displaying our excitement of how close this place was to our grasp. We kept the cost of stamps down for this country for years.

As a child, teenager and college student, all I could do was daydream from September until June, (when I'd finally leave for this piece of paradise). I'd write stories, talk off classmates' ears, plan our endeavors with my family. In fact, my nickname in college was: "Hello-my-name-is-Emily-and-I-love-Lake-George". I couldn't contain my excitement. There'd be swimming and bonfires...grandparents and cousins...staying out late and making memories... all to look forward to.

My mind was always on Lake George.

And for some reason, for the first time in 27 years, I can't even bear to think about it.

There is a brick wall that I have subconsciously built around my heart and mind. Don't's not doesn't exist. Yes, I still had to talk to my boss and request a week off. And laundry and packing would probably be a good thing too. But I cannot allow myself to think about it. There is a growing pain inside of me, and its root is guilt.


I received a phone call the other day from my brother. His voice was shaky but strong on the other line. As always, the call started with me saying hello and asking how he was.

"Not good. I have some bad news."

As he began to speak, the blood drained from my limbs and I could feel myself going numb. Never allowing any of my own emotions to get in the way of his, I quickly chugged some water to avoid any potential lumps from forming in my throat.

"I'm going on a dangerous mission. I have 24 hours to pack. I won't be speaking to you anymore, and will only be able to speak to my wife once each month, max."

What do you say in a moment like this? Here I am, trying to decide which bathing suits to bring up to the lake with me, and all I can squeek out is: "I love you; We're praying for you; Stay safe."

The days of sharing a bunk bed with him in cabin number one are gone. His legos don't fall on top of my head in my sleep anymore. He's not the boy wearing the same "I climbed Dr. Jackson's Molar Mountain!" t-shirt day after day. We can't argue about who's night it is to hand-wash those dishes in the ice cold water. There's no hiking to the gazebo, driving up to Jabes, listening to Opa's wisdom, enjoying a day at Great Escape, having an in-depth conversation with Mr. Collins, or tubing behind Dad's Dream for him. He can't even walk into the Leiter's cabin and ask if he can have their bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'm pretty certain that he won't even be yelling at us that he has "gravel up his butt" during a game of Bloody Murder.

Instead, he's sleeping on a cot in a tent, wearing a camouflage shirt day after day. He'll be eating meals called MRE's, with no dishes to wash. He'll be hiking up a desert mountain, driving in a tank, listening to his sergeants' wisdom, enjoying any day he can talk to his wife, having in-depth conversations with her, and asking himself if this was Dad's dream for him. He'll be dreaming of the days when bacon and eggs were an option. And that gravel up his butt- it's sand. And it's no longer a game.

My heart aches during his absence. There isn't a moment at any point of the day when I don't ask myself "what is Robert doing right now...will he be the same when he returns?" I feel so horribly selfish as I ask my husband, "Should we rent a boat this year, or use the money to treat ourselves to a night out?"

Last night, I received a phone call from Robert's wife. These calls are just as anticipated as Robert's calls. Usually, Julia brings me news of her own life in Germany, where she lives with her husband in another country. She generally does not know where he is, what he's doing, what he's thinking. I miss my husband terribly every morning when we both depart for work. What could possibly be going through her mind?

After Julia and I laughed on the phone for a while, it was time to go. I got off the phone, and told my own husband briefly of our conversation over dinner. The following day, Jim wrote an email to Robert. It moved me to tears, as it's written with such raw honesty and truthfulness. It was never intended to be published; it was just an email between two brothers. I asked Jim if I could repost it, as most people don't have the opportunity to read letters like this. Here it is below. If you know Robert or anyone in the military, have tissues nearby:


Its been a while since I have had a chance to write, and I know that you may not be able to check your email often as you prepare for your next order, but I thought I would write this anyways, hoping that you may get a chance before you go.

I was driving to work this morning, with the sun coming up behind the grey clouds, not really shining, but colored a deep orangish red, fog laying over the fields and pastures as I drove down the back country roads. My mind drifted, as it always does on these mornings, to the revolutionary war, and the civil war (history buff here), and what it must have been like to be a soldier back then. Waking before dawn watching the sun rise in all it majesty as a new day begins, but realizing that now that there is light the movement of not only my camp, but the camp across the field. I find myself thanking God for the freedoms I have, and the life I live thanks to those Fathers and sons that came many generations before me. But today, with a conversation Emily and I had at dinner last night about her conversation with Julia, nothing more than two sisters catching up, but the fact that you were at the center of the conversation, if for no other reason than you being the strongest of many bonds that the two of them share...You popped in top my mind.

I looked at those fields of fog differently today, and with the suns rays starting to get though those dark clouds, I realized that, like I have told you before, I am extremely proud of you and what you are doing. But this time that feeling went deeper...

Robert, you took on this calling not for yourself, or really for others, but for Julia. There was a period of a day or two leading up to that final decision that you grew up to be a man. Not just any man, but a man of virtue. You gave your life, those things that you knew, the people closest to you, and you gave them to her. You devoted yourself whole heatedly to Julia that you made a very difficult decision...which has led you to where you are now. And where you are now is putting your self in those fields, feeling the fogs as you sit against a tree, gun in hand ready to do anything for Julia...but in the process, you have unselfishly done the same for Emily, for your family, for her family, for millions of other families, for me.

I am writing this to tell you that I am not just proud of you, but I am humbled and deeply appreciative of the man you have become. You have lined your self with those unknowns who have fought for those they loved the most, but have become the reason we all share the freedoms that we have today.

I cannot give enough meaning to this statement...

I am so proud of you brotha,


We miss you brother. Just as we did the day that you last left.


Catherine said...

This brought tears to my eyes. Having such a close bond with your brother is a beautiful gift. Another such gift is Lake George, where you and Robert have built memories for so many years. When you go to the Lake in a few days and undoubtedly feel the pangs of his absence, remember that wherever he is at that moment, he is thinking of you and the Lake and is probably smiling a giant Robert smile.

Tammy Frank said...

Emily, this is both a beautiful reminder of the meaning that Lake George has in the lives of so many people and a moving tribute to your brother, Robert. Enjoy and remember every moment of your time there as he surely would want you to do so. Robert and all of your family continue to be in my daily prayers.

Morgan Baxter said...

You are a very talented writer, Emily. You have brought me to tears twice now between this and your speech at Rob and Julia's wedding. Jim's letter was beautiful; I'm glad he let you repost it.

I too have been battling with the feeling of guilt that accompanies my excitement for Lake George and know it has to be a thousand times harder for you, who has a thousand more memories of Robert up there.

Erinn Spack said...

Emily this is so moving. I don't even know what to say! Robert will definitely be missed this summer, and we continue to pray for his safety. What an awesome tribute to and awesome brother!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, Emily. We have had so little time to get to know Robert, and so we treasure hearing about him from those who know him best!
Becky Larrabure (Your brother's wife's second oldest sister!)

mijoy said...

wonderful post!

trust me, it's hard for me to picture little robert in the red bow tie and the big strawberry on his forehead out there -- i am honored to call him my cousin!