This is a photo of me, on a glorious beach on Salt Spring Island, where I spent a evening roasting hot dogs and making Smores. It was a relaxing weekend, spent strolling through the town of Ganges, sipping fresh lemonade, and snacking on tarts from the local bakery. It was relaxing, but something was missing: My family.
I’ve only spent one other birthday away from my family and that was my first year in basic training. I was turning nineteen, and we were in the field for the day and it was literally pouring rain. My comrades and I were soaked to the bone, trying to follow maps and write orders as our ink slowly ran off the pages. Before getting on the bus to head back to the base, my sergeant had me roll in the mud nineteen times…for each of those nineteen years of age, more as a joke than anything else (with a caveat that I didn’t actually have to do it). To say the very least, it wasn’t the most pleasant birthday I’ve ever had.
But at the same time, it was. My friends, the same friends who just took me to Salt Spring Island, took me to the mess and bought me my first legal drink. We listened to some music, laughed a little, and bonded over the same, difficult shared experience of basic training. Although this past birthday was a little less physically arduous, it was that same kind of birthday; simple, quiet, surrounded by friends, and spent camping. But camping with Smores is a whole more fun than camping with rifles and rain.
Although it was fun, this past weekend was also emotionally difficult. During a tour of the Comox Air Traffic Control Tower (where both of my friends work), we talked of military life, military gripes, and at the same time, a mutual love we share for military life, and I found I couldn’t help but stifle some tears during our conversation. That moment was the first time that I had felt a sense of belonging since I’ve moved to Vancouver, and oddly, it was back with my peers in uniform. In my two months out here, I hadn’t thought that I missed the Canadian Forces, or the life that came along with it. But here we were, talking about the military, and I felt like I was home again, where people understood me. I’m yet to find that comfort in civilian life and it’s making me nervous about the future ahead of me. The date of 11 September, 2011, is looming; the date I will officially be out of the Forces and into civilian life. It’s funny that ten years ago to that exact date, was the terrorist act that shook the world, and led me to join the military in the first place.
I got back into the car to get ready for our Salt Spring excursion, and I cried. I cried for the career that I’ve lost, for the friends that I’m worried I’ve left behind, and for the home I moved away from. I cried for all of it because at times, in this journey to chase my dream, it feels far out of my reach, and I’m worried I’m losing sight of myself, of what I want, and of what it all meant to me in the first place.
I only needed to come back from Salt Spring Island to be reminded that just because I’m leaving the military doesn’t mean I lose the friends, or the experience, that came along with it. Just because I moved away from home doesn’t mean I can’t go back to the ones I love, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t create a new one.
My life is changing, both rapidly and in a difficult direction. As I manage my Grave’s disease, I can only hope that this year will teach me more about myself, the limits I can push myself to, and all that I’m capable of. There are always lessons to be learned from hardship and I plan to learn all of them. It will be a year of growth, and for that, I’m thankful in advance.
Grave’s disease may be making me sick, but it’s not doing me in. Bring it on, Life. I can take whatever you’ve got.