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Jeff's Afghan Diary: There's No Place Like Home
September 7, 2007

      “There’s no place like home.”  - Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz”

      I’ve been home for a week now on leave, and I’ve quoted Dorothy quite a few times since I’ve arrived.  It’s been a bit of a shock to me: so little has changed, it seems, so much like how I left it; so different from the world I left in Afghanistan.  Simple comforts which seemed like luxuries are back in place – flush toilets, a shower right next to my bedroom, hot and cold running water, food right downstairs, no worries about anything.

      The trip home wasn’t too bad, except for the Kuwaiti heat, which was like walking in an oven.  I would hate to be stationed there!  I asked some of the Soldiers going home from Iraq if it was as hot in Iraq as in Kuwait, and they informed me that Iraq is just a little cooler, but it’s still very hot, hotter than Afghanistan.  While the Afghan desert can be easily over 100 degrees, it’s still cooler than other parts of the Middle East, partly due to the elevation. 

      The chartered flight featured seats that seemed to be right on top of each other, so there wasn’t much room, but it got us to Atlanta, where my father met me.  Most of the time in the air I spent sleeping, trying to adjust to a different time zone (when it’s daytime in the US, it’s nighttime in Afghanistan).  I didn’t want to waste precious time at home sleeping from jet lag.

      I met my Dad at the Atlanta USO, and we left to spend some time together and have a cigar before my flight home to Chicago O’Hare, where my family would be meeting me.  He had driven up from Florida to see me, and was staying with my brother, who lives outside Atlanta.  It was good to see him, and we talked about Afghanistan and what I thought of it.  He talked about going sailing when I get back, and we made some tentative plans to sail from Florida to the islands.

      My family came and picked me up at O’Hare Airport when I arrived from Atlanta.  I was greeted with hugs from my daughters (who were the first ones out of the car) and my wife.  My son was driving – a big deal, since he had learned while I was gone.  He drove us home to show off his skills (I have to admit, he’s a good driver).

      I will have to say that our house was a mess when I got home.  I have been helping out with clean-up since I got back.  It keeps me busy, since the kids are back in school and my wife has to go to work.  It would have been nice to have been back home when the kids were still out of school, but we had Labor Day weekend together, and it’s still better than nothing.  (I had requested leave in August, but leave dates had been pushed back from our requested dates.)

      Speaking of Labor Day, we went to an amusement park as a family on Monday and rode roller coasters until our stomachs hurt.  It was great fun, and I’m sure we’ll all remember it for a long time.  We spent a lot of money, but it was still cheaper than taking a vacation, and my wife reminded me that I’m only home for a short time, so we should make the most of it.

      My wife has had a hard time keeping up with all the bills, so money has become a concern for us.  She is starting to get the house ready to sell as soon as I get home, since I will be unemployed (I had an independent agency representing a New Jersey firm, but was not an employee, so my position is not protected by law for re-employment).

      We agreed not to worry about the bills right now – we are trying to enjoy out time together, and right now there’s not much we can do about the debts.  My wife is trying to catch up on them as best she can, and I will leave that to her until I come back for good.  She has had school expenses, expenses for extracurricular activities, car repairs, and other expenses that have come up (raising teenaged children is expensive!).

      It still seems odd to me how disconnected my home life is from the life I have been living in Afghanistan.  It’s almost surreal, as if there cannot possibly be any connection whatsoever between the two.  Yet here I am, jumping from one life back into my old one as if there is nothing unusual about it, picking right back up where I left off.  It’s like I fell asleep and took a very long nap, and woke up months later, right back in my own bed, as if I hadn’t left it.  The furniture is the same, the kids look much the same (my youngest daughter is the only one who has changed noticeably – she has grown up quite a bit in the past few months!), my wife is the same, and my life feels the same.

      Only it’s not the same.  I have seen a place where everything seems abnormal, compared to the suburban Chicago lifestyle we have.  I have seen poverty and want, fear and intimidation, selfishness and selflessness, life and death.  I have experienced my own “survivor’s guilt” from knowing Soldiers who have been killed, while I have remained relatively unscathed.  Yet here I sit in my home, as if nothing has happened.  It’s an odd feeling, to say the least.

      Of course, I will not have the choice of remaining here – I have to leave in a week to return to Afghanistan, where the Taliban are still pressing their conflict while I sit here in ease.  I am uncomfortable knowing that my teammates are still fighting on without me – part of me wants to be there, to help.

      Yet one thing has made a huge impression on me: my family needs me here.  They are carrying on, but my wife in particular has struggled to manage everything without me.  She tells me our son misses me as well, and I believe it.

      I had planned on asking my wife about me extending my stay in Afghanistan for another three months.  I know now that this would be bad for my family, so I won’t bother to think about it.  Other Soldiers will come and take over where I will leave off, and I will come home to help my family.  It may be hard to replace a Soldier, but it’s even harder to replace a father and husband (particularly an older one!).

      Last Sunday I took my family and we all went to our church.  Of course, I was mobbed by our fellow church members, who all asked about me.  As I sat in the pew with my wife and kids, I realized how much I missed being home.  Not the house or the conveniences, but the relationships, the community, the love – this is what makes our homes worth fighting for.  It’s what we share that makes this life meaningful.

      Dorothy had to leave Kansas to discover how much her home meant to her.  I suppose Afghanistan has taught me the same lesson as well.

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
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, 2005).
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.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.