Spring is a time of renewal. It is when dead deciduous trees come back to life with new growth, when grass starts turning green, when winter ends with warmer days, and when many species of animals bear their young. Easter, the Christian holiday that celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ, is also in the spring. It is a celebration of life returning to what was previously dead. Service members also go through a death and resurrection some years. It’s called a deployment.
Death rites are an important part of many religions. In fact, most major religions believe in life after death. Mummification was a rite to prepare the dead for the afterlife. Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in judgment and paradise. Hindus believe in a cycle of rebirth and reincarnation. Others believe in death and rebirth experiences during life. The Eleusinian Mysteries (Persephone) included a rebirth ritual in imitation of her six months in Hades. Christian baptism represents the death and resurrection of the believer. In the case of Christianity, however, Christians believe that the death and resurrection of the believer are more than symbolic. In the same way that a historical Jesus died and rose, Christians believe that the believer shares in this event by dying to fleshly desires while being born again with the indwelling Spirit of God.
Like these rebirth experiences, I have lately begun to see deployment as a sort of death. Service members experience something like death each time they leave. They must leave behind a part of them that is alive to family and friends. It’s like being buried in a tomb. There is the abrupt pain of separation, and then you seem to be interred into a life of darkness and emotionlessness, where you are cut off from real life and the ones you love. Many become Stoic or emotionless when talking about their feelings. As the afterlife is very different from your life on earth, your new life in the service seems to have no connection with the old. You have a new job, a new place to live, and new friends that are distant or foreign from the old. Of course, you don’t really die – memories of the life you left behind go with you, and you remain in contact with those you left behind. But it feels like a sort of death.
For me, this last deployment was the worst so far. The first two deployments I handled reasonably well. The first I was more or less in shock and was too worried about our dangerous mission to think about missing family. It was not until after we drove through Iraq in soft-shell vehicles and arrived at our base that I was able to call home and check on them. The second deployment, I was very busy, and in any case I was much closer to those in my unit. Most I had known my entire career. The last time, I did not know as many people in my unit, and I missed my family much more. Because I had to travel to another location to mobilize, I had a lot more time to think about my situation. It was much harder to leave them, and I found myself trying to keep in touch with them more than I had previously. Yet I still had a job to do, and so had to leave worries of family and job behind. It was, in a way, like dying. I had to put aside my old life and start a new one.
The good news is that there is a resurrection coming. Eventually, your mission will end, another unit will replace you, or your time will run out. You will go back to your demobilization station and start to wake up and realize that you have the rest of your life in front of you. When you go home, you will return to the good life and the ones you love. Your suffering and separation will end. The darkness of being stuck in another place and time will fade away. Life will return. When you walk off that plane to greet your loved ones, it’s like coming out of a grave to the crowds waiting for you. The stone is rolled away. You are filled with pride and joy to be rejoining the living.
As we celebrate Easter and spring this year, remember that there is life again after the deployment. You will return to life and love. Do not give up hope. There is a resurrection waiting.
Reprinted from 2018.
@ 2018 J.D. Manders