Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Thousand of husbands and wives will hear the words "Thank you for your Service" in some form or another from the military chain of command and, hopefully, from their civilian community.
Why do those words stick in my craw?
Why can't I accept the thanks with graciousness and merely say "You're welcome"?
A couple of weeks ago, in a diary published by the MCM, I saw a commenter tell a diarist that she wouldn't thank him for his service because I told her we didn't want to hear it. I saw my words thrown back at someone else and it made me have to think very carefully about why the concept of "Thank Your For Your Service" makes me cringe.
The commenter didn't want to express thanks to an active duty member because of what I had said about my family in another diary. She took it to mean you shouldn't thank anyone who served in our Armed Forces. I made her question those words every time she wants to utter them.
Did I really mean to do that?
I know that there are active duty service members that really do appreciate hearing those words. I know there are family members too.
I guess, the hard part for you civilians is figuring out who wants to hear the words and who doesn't. That means you actually need to get to know us before you say thank you. Wow, imagine that, getting to know a military family. I know it isn't easy... we're a rare breed, less than 1% of the population serves. We're pretty hard to find.
We make it more difficult because we hang out on military bases and tend to live in housing sheltered from the civilian community. Our kids often go to schools with other military children and play sports with other military kids. But not always. A lot of us live in the community. A lot of us go to local schools, have jobs in town, sit at the soccer fields on a Saturday afternoon watching the kids play their games, and drink coffee at the local cafe. A lot of us live where there is no base support at all... we've either gone home to find support while a military member deploys or we are the husbands and wives of Reserve and Guard members. I can guarantee you that you have a military family in your neck of the woods be they active duty, reserve, guard, or veteran. There are military families to meet and to get to know everywhere in these United States.
The few times I've heard the words "Thank you for your service" or "Thank you for your husband's service" have been when my husband is deployed and someone has figured out from the context of a conversation that we're a military family. At that point in time, at some of the most stressful points in my life, the last thing I want to hear is that I need to accept your thanks. What I really want to accept is your friendship. I would really rather hear, "Do you have time for a cup of coffee? I would love to get to know you better." Or, "Do you live in my neck of the woods? I would love to invite you to the next neighborhood potluck?" Maybe you heard me discussing the lack of a military discount for family members when I was trying to take my kids to the Botanical Garden in San Antonio... we got the discount when my husband was with us but not when he was deployed. Maybe you could have offered to pay our entrance fee. I would have said no thanks, and you might have insisted. Either way, the exchange would have been a memory I could cherish.
Thanking me for my husband's service or even my own makes me generic. I become one of them, those military wives over there that are sacrificing their family time so that our nation can be a safer place. Ouch. That's where it really starts to hurt for me. I don't want to be sacrificing my family time, my family, for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. I do it because I love my husband and he loves his job. We both love our country but that has little to do with why he chooses to serve.
I don't want to be thanked for service at this point in time because I'm not proud of what our nation is doing. Being thanked for something I'm not proud dredges up all the bad feelings. And I so want to feel good again. I so want to be proud of my husband's job. When he's not at war, it's easier. Those thank yous are so loaded with unspoken sentiments that I can't tell what folks really mean. Maybe they are really saying "Thank you for supporting the war on terror?" Maybe not. But I can't tell the difference because they haven't invited me into a conversation. They've just spoken a couple of words that are meant to be enough as is.
Obviously, I don't speak for all military wives or husbands. But I know that I do speak for more than one. Others feel like I do. We just don't talk about it. It's hard. It's painful. And it's damn well unpatriotic.
When it comes down to it, I guess making people think about these thank yous is a good thing... What are you truly thanking the service member and their family for? As you search out the military wives and husband that you know and say thank you on this day, think of what else you could do that would symbolize that thanks in a more meaningful way than words.
You want to know the best thank you could give me?
Tell me you called your Representative and your two Senators and asked them to pull us out of Afghanistan.