We’re coming to the end of what is called the “summer move season” in the military. Numerous personnel serving in the Armed Forces change duty stations in the summer—it’s designed to help the transition in school years and things like that. But it also means I’m facing an interesting situation—where I currently serve, there are only three Marines I can point to who were part of this base when I got here in 2010. We’ve had almost a complete turnover in personnel. There are, of course, numerous civilians who were here for my entire tenure, and will continue to work at this base long after I’m gone. But for those who wear the uniform, the transition and all that accompanies it are just part of the job.
One of the challenges that we face in such a context is the challenge to say goodbye. This comes in two ways: the emotional cost of separating from people we have grown close to, and the physical representation of that separation (the goodbye itself). On the one hand, it’s much easier to forego the physical “goodbye.” The season is busy enough that we can wind up not seeing each other, never really having to express any sort of farewell. This eliminates the emotional cost—if I don’t see the person, I don’t have to feel the feelings of sadness that come with their departure. Because, after all, we’re not really known for our skill at expressing our feelings in this job (but I bet many of you who don’t wear the uniform understand the dilemma I’m talking about). The other hand, though, is our option to mask our feelings underneath other feelings. I can use anger to hide my sadness—“How dare you leave me and go somewhere else!” I’m sure there are other options, too—but notice what our tendency and desire is—it’s easier not to deal with sadness.
Yet, there’s a cost to our avoidance. The people whom we’ve grown to care about never know how it is we feel. Sure, we can assume they know; shrug it off with the assumption that somebody knows they’re important to me. But if that message never makes it from brain/heart to actual speech, they’re unlikely to have known. So, why do we avoid expressing care? Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it seems less than masculine for us guys, and sometimes we just aren’t willing to put in the effort. In these days, I have to remind myself of the example of David when he departed from his friend Jonathan (1 Samuel 20). It would have been easier for David not to have parting moments with his friend—after all, Jonathan’s dad (Saul) was trying to kill David! But, he pays the cost of an easy getaway in order to find out how things really are—and in the process, has a chance to weep with his friend over their parting.
Now, I’m not saying you have to cry every time you’re separated from someone. You probably aren’t going to have that level of friendship with very many people in your life. What I am saying is that you should consider what that friendship has meant to you, and make the effort to communicate that to the people around you. Even if nobody’s moving, that sort of periodic reminder helps encourage us to stay in relationship, to grow as people, and to care deeply. All of those things are well worth the risk and effort.