Tomorrow I will get to go home. I will leave Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, arrive in Kuwait, then go on to Atlanta and Chicago. I will be home for two weeks, then I will have to come back and reverse my trip, returning to Do China.
I feel like a kid just before Christmas – I’m going home. Home. Just the word brings so many thoughts and feelings: wife, kids, normalcy, everything that my life in Afghanistan is not. Will it be the same as before I left? Probably not – life goes on, and things change; some things get better, some get worse, and some stay the same. It would be unreasonable to expect things to be as they were before I left. For that matter, our home wasn’t perfect before I left, either! We had the same problems everyone else has, juggling money, schedules, raising children, and those challenges will be there still.
In some ways, I have changed. I have lived in a war zone, and I have experienced the frustrations and trials that come from that. I have learned hard lessons: we cannot change the world quickly, change comes slowly, and progress is slow. I have seen acts of courage and sacrifice, and have seen how much human cost is involved in our slow march forward: sometimes, progress is measured in people’s lives, and one man’s future is made possible by another man’s death. While no Soldier wants to die, it is often the price we pay for maintaining what we hold dear and precious.
I suppose when I get home I may be less tolerant of trifles, but more tolerant of chaos. Life is messy, and even though the military tries its utmost to maintain exact standards and progress at a certain and steady pace, I have seen that even the military is messy, especially in combat. We don’t control everything, nor can we hope to. So I don’t expect to be able to control much more than my own little thoughts while I am home, and I will do my best to keep those thoughts positive.
I am coming to realize that my stay here is short, and my influence is pretty limited in the overall scheme of things. I see how much we have to depend on God to work out the bigger details, because so much of life is outside of our control, particularly in international politics. We like to think we are able to charter our course and control the destiny of the world, but our ability to change the world is fairly narrowly limited; often, we must remain content to do our own small part and let God take it from there.
I have tried to make change here in Afghanistan. I have fought battles, I have mentored Afghans, and I have felt frustration at what I have seen as a lack of real progress. But I also see that I am impatient, and that progress takes time – lots of time, years, not months. And I am only here for a few months.
I will go home, enjoy my family, and then return here to pick up where I have left off, doing what I can to help Afghanistan move forward. I may not be very successful, but I will have done my part, as a small piece of a much bigger effort, an effort that hopefully years from now will bear the fruit of improving another part of the world we all share.
But for now, I look forward to enjoying some pizza and beer, spending some time with my family, and taking some time to forget what I have been doing and just relax a bit. I’m looking forward to it.
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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.