A week and a half ago, I was notified by the Illinois National Guard that I was being assigned to a team of soldiers being mobilized to go to Afghanistan. To be honest, I was surprised, and caught off guard - I didn’t expect it. But then, anyone in the National Guard these days can’t really be expected to be totally surprised at the prospect of being sent overseas; it seems like almost everyone will be sent sooner or later. Apparently it’s my turn now.
Let me begin with a brief introduction. My name is Jeff Courter. I’m a 49-year-old father of three, living in the south suburbs of Chicago. I live in a wonderful neighborhood, with the best school district in the area. I have been in sales for many years, and for the most part have been very active in my community: church elder and Sunday School teacher, Boy Scout adult leader, volunteer at a local homeless program, and somewhat active with the school PTO. A pretty average “good guy.” And a member of the National Guard. More on that later.
My wife is unhappy about my having to go, understandably. Her job will be harder than mine - she will suddenly become a de facto single parent, (despite being able to communicate with me on a regular basis on the other side of the globe) and will have to be sole manager and decision-maker of the house. I have been away for 2-3 weeks at a time in years past, but never for this long. It will be difficult for her. I’ve got the easy part - I just show up, and do what I’m told. Her part will be more complicated.
In a very real sense, we are both in this together. When the National Guard called me up, she became part of the support team. The military has long valued the military family, and military families share much more with each other than most communities. They help each other and rely on each other, because they need each other. However, most Reservists don’t share this experience, because their military affiliation is part-time. While the Reservists themselves may share the camaraderie and sense of community, their families usually remain entrenched in the normal civilian world. Only disruptions such as a parent being mobilized thrust Reservist families into the world usually shared by other military families.
So my first thoughts on hearing I was being activated were feelings of concern for my family: who will help them? Who will be there for them? Who will help my wife? Then came feelings of regret: all the family times I will miss, the birthdays, holidays, vacation time, the laughter, the hugs, the family jokes, the “I love you’s.” I will miss all this a lot, and I already regret it.
But I am not afraid. My life has been full, and I am not afraid to leave this world. I know my family would be devastated if I am killed, so I will keep my head down and not make myself a target, but if the worst comes, I am ready. My faith tells me that wherever Jesus is, I will be when I die.
I will have plenty of time to think about all these things in the few weeks ahead before I go. But now, I must plan. Is my will up to date? What about the bills? I plan to have my military pay directly deposited into my checking account, which is a joint account for me and my wife. I need to set up electronic payments for our mortgage and utilities. I need to order more new checks. I need...I need... the list goes on. Insurance, powers of attorney, organizing important papers, next year’s taxes...besides the looming prospect of what lies ahead of me, I wrestle with what day-to-day concerns will lie behind me. It’s a bit overwhelming. When I allow myself to think about it, the emotions swell inside. I stuff the thoughts back down inside my head, and focus on the details of the growing to-do list. If I get most of it done, the rest will hopefully take care of itself. There’s a lot to do, and time’s not waiting.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.