Over the last couple of years, I've decided how to categorize white buses: They fall in the Love/Hate Relationship category of life.
I hate white buses.
From the moment we learn that white buses will whisk away our loved ones to a war-stricken zone, we dread the day that we'll stand by them all lined up, waving and smiling through tears. Plans are made, revised, re-written (isn't it true- nothing goes according to plan), and we do everything we can to make the most of the time leading up to white buses.
A year and a half ago, I stood by those buses. I tried to be strong for my husband and for my friend, who was also there, saying "see ya soon" to her husband. It's funny in a weird way - we all seem to carry on with small talk, sprinkle in moments of heavy conversation and prayers. We laugh, smile, and discuss how long it will take for "it" to sink in. Last year, I knew for certain that I'd go back home, carry on life as usual, and "it" would hit me in a week or so. Nope. I pulled out of that parking lot and cried the whole way back to the house. Thankfully, I had a wonderful friend in another spouse to share life with, and neither of us had to go it alone. It would be great if everyone had that kind of friend!
Recently, I stood outside those cursed white buses again. This time, I stood there for my friends, as they bade farewell to their loved ones. My husband and I walked around, visiting with friends, and praying for friends along the way. Prayers for safety, peace, relationships to flourish, and families and friends back home were spoken many, many times. Honestly, at that moment, I thought that day's white buses moment would be much less emotional... much easier, perhaps, since this wasn't my family's farewell moment. Nope. As I stood there holding my friend's baby while she tended to the needs of her other children and waving bye-bye to Daddy on the bus, I looked all around me. I saw friends crying, waving. I saw grandpa-aged men doing the same, waving farewell to their sons on the buses. I saw children, mothers, friends, fiancees, and volunteers all experiencing the same air of difficult emotion mixed with patriotism that lingered in the air.
It's an odd thing. Picture it: There they sit, all of the shiny, white buses, waiting in a long line, idling, as final details are taken care of. Everyone's been loaded onto the buses, and families gather on either side to catch glimpses of their loved one. Guys (in this last case, it was all men) open the bus windows, wave, smile, and yell cheerful words to their loved ones. This goes on until the very last moment when the buses roll out. Then, there's that moment - the one that I hate the most. We're all left standing in the parking lot, staring at each other from either side of where the buses sat. It's quiet. Someone sniffles. The buses circle around again, and everyone turns to smile and wave one last time. Quietness, again. The parking lot empties. Even though I've tried to explain the moment here in writing, words don't quite do it justice.
We gather all the courage that is within us. Military families are strong. We hate those buses, but we head home, ready to conquer deployment. Do we have everything together? Nope. We each face our own battles at home. For some, it's depression. That was my battle, last deployment. For others, it's suicidal thoughts. Some face celebrations that are missing a special person. Do we still celebrate? You betcha! We celebrate, still! We reach out to friends, family, God, and the many resources that the Military has for us, like support groups, family readiness groups, Chaplains and military counseling programs. This deployment grows us as individuals. We quickly learn that there's no shame in asking for help. Hindsight proves our growth - we can look back and say, "I did that! I never thought I could... but I did it!"
...Then, word comes that those same cursed white buses will be returning.
I LOVE WHITE BUSES!
We get to work, right away, to make sure everything's ready for our loved one's return. House clean? Check. Real groceries in the fridge (so he doesn't know I ate nachos for lunch and popcorn for dinner for 7 months)? Check. Photographer? Check. Sassy outfit for later (sorry, not sorry)? Check. Banner on the fence outside the gate? Check. We cross fun items off that list we've compiled, which now serves as its own kind of countdown, too.
After a few last-minute-schedule-change announcements, the day arrives!!! Those same people who had previously stared at each other after the buses left now gather in a field, in the sweltering heat, and emotion lingers in the air, once again. This time, the air carries the same patriotism as before, but now it's mixed with excitement, anticipation, and nervousness. Babies don cute new onesies that read, "I've waited my whole life to meet you!" Banners read, "Get out of my way, my Daddy comes home today!", and, "I've waited 192 days to see my Marine!". Pictures, laughter, flags, lined up rows of gear, happy conversation, bounce houses, and smiles are all common sights. All of a sudden, someone at the edge of the crowd yells out - "I see the buses! Here they come!" I LOVE WHITE BUSES!!
Y'all can't even imagine the kind of chaos that happens next. Imagine a flood of ants running at you, and you're supposed to spot the one that has a different head than the others. That basically sums up this part of a homecoming. They're all wear the SAME outfit, they flood off of the buses, and you're supposed to find the one that goes home with you! It's chaotic, but worth every moment! I'll never forget screaming at the top of my lungs, "CHAPS!! CHAAAPPPSSSS!!!". I never saw him. It still makes me laugh, today. My friend hollered, "Follow me, I'll lead you to him!". Next thing I remember, I was screaming and running toward him, crying and smiling. I jumped into his arms.
I love white buses.
Thank you for reading this. I've tried my best to relay to you what happens in many families' lives. We walk, sometimes run like Phoebe from Friends, through these moments, knowing that we will go through these same moments again. One beautiful day, love fell upon us and our spouses and never left. We decided to spend our lives together, and vowed to not let anything separate what God had put together in marriage. We said, "We're in this for the long haul, baby!". When our loved ones deploy, other military families become surrogate family and get us through until the day those white buses return, and then some afterwards and in-between. In all of their seeming power over us in that love/hate relationship we have with them, white buses bring us all together and teach us that we're made of a lot more than we realize, that God is still good, and that we always come out stronger in the end. Would we ever trade this life? Nope. Never.