Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It

While serving an overseas tour, you will have unusual experiences and adventures unique to your country or region of assignment. In the meantime, life continues for your family and friends half a world away in the United States. And once you come home to serve a domestic tour, you too get to enjoy all those people, places, and conveniences you missed. You soon settle into the familiar and relish in all that’s just easier. But every once in a while, you might get a bittersweet pang of FOMO thinking about the novelties you’d be enjoying if you were elsewhere. Or, homesickness may creep in for a faraway land that’s no longer your home.

My unsolicited advice, wherever you are, is to avoid looking across the fence to see if the grass is greener on the other side. There may not even be grass, so incomparable are the chapters of our lives one to another, and so starkly delineated by overseas moves. I think the trick is to enjoy each experience maximally for whatever it is before it’s time to change everything – house, job, cars, life – once again.

In Uzbekistan, our front yard was mostly tile and sand. In Australia we had grass, bushes, flowers, and gravel. In Ciudad Juárez… well, until my husband totally re-landscaped the front and back at his own expense with stones, climbing plants, and patio furniture, we had something that looked like a bombed-out dirt plain. And here in Virginia we have a corner lot with five large trees that tower over a green lawn where daffodils and tulips bloom in springtime.

Everywhere we have been has been unique and not possible to duplicate. It can be strange and a little unexpected what I’ve missed about places and things I didn’t fully appreciate or even let sink in at the time. Do we have our favorite tour? Home? Experience? Sure. But if you’re always thinking of somewhere else, you’re residing either in the future or the past. In this way you can you miss what’s right in front of you, in the present.

By default, our physical presence in one place restricts us from being present elsewhere. You gain one thing, and lose something else. At the risk of sounding too cliché: you close one door so another can open. But it is possible to try and be mentally present in too many places.

I resisted the urge to miss a typical winter Christmas while in Australia in 2017 and 2018, lest I miss instead its southern hemisphere surfing Santas, koala and kangaroo Christmas cards, seafood barbecues, and sand between my toes at New Year’s. Then last Christmas in California I thought about that, and lamented for a moment out loud how wonderful it would be to be back in Australia on a summer Christmas day. And then I immediately laughed, thinking, Don’t do the same thing in reverse. I was in Australia for Christmas three times, and this is my first Christmas in California in eight years. So, I stayed present to enjoy the foothills, and the snow, and the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale!

For me, it’s less about balance, and more about focus. I try to focus on and appreciate what’s in front of me, like a TV show I can’t record and can only watch once. The next show will be on another topic entirely, so enjoy this one while it lasts before you miss it. You’re always going to miss out on something. Don’t compound it by missing everything.

We knew when we came back to the United States from Mexico in early 2022 we’d be here two, possibly even three years. And since we’ve been here, we have been thinking about all the things we’ve been gifted because we are here. In no particular order, here are just a few of those things I have embraced during the past few months of my domestic tour, knowing soon enough they’ll be just a memory.

Visiting my mom’s house in California for no particular reason, and laughing at my brother smashing down the snow out front so I could park without infringing on the street

Going to Mt. Vernon Estate with my husband and stepdaughter on a random weekday

Going to a sports bar with one of my sorority sisters in-person to see our alma mater, San Diego State, play the NCAA Championship!

Being in DC long enough to really see how it’s changing (pictured, behind the U.S. Department of State)

Going out to a meal with my husband at one of our favorite DC Balkan restaurants

Checking out places in the United States I’d never seen before, like Mt. Rushmore!

Letting my mom drive me around

Having people over to our house for dinner, and never having trouble finding all the ingredients we need

Going to see my American friends’ kids’ sporting events

Never being confused about hair and nail appointments, or having to speak in my third language to negotiate how I want it to turn out

Voting in-person vs. absentee for the first time in many years

Meeting up with American friends I haven’t seen in a while

Spending more time with my dad and stepmom since my stepmom’s cancer diagnosis

And of course… enjoying food and shopping I can’t find anywhere else, appreciating the U.S. interstate system, and relishing in the clarity of a culture I truly understand and feel myself a part of (even when it drives me nuts)! It’s wonderful to not feel the constant drain of adjusting to a foreign culture and just hit the easy button for a while.

If I were serving somewhere else, I wouldn’t have all of these things, and that’s what makes them so extra-precious right here, right now.

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Sarah W Gaer

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