“We return to each other in waves. This is how water loves.” – Nayyirah Waheed
When I chose to write this blog post on the ebb and flow of relationships, I did not stop to consider the raw emotion I would experience while writing my way through to completion. The idea came to me as I was reading emails my dad and I had exchanged immediately following the events of September 11, 2001, more commonly referred to as 9-11.
Our email exchange began on 09/11/01:
My day started at 0400 this morning with a phone call from the base Executive Officer calling to tell me that our nation was under attack. Linda had also called from Pearl Harbor while I was on the phone with the XO, and left a message for me, “Donna, Get up and turn on your TV.” But I had already turned on the TV. Words cannot begin to describe the grief that overcame me as I watched the replay of the planes flying into the World Trade Center. And then it hit me. It was not 0400 in New York City, the District of Columbia, or Pennsylvania as it was in Hawaii, and with this realization, I knew the loss of life was horrifically excessive. I could not grieve then, nor can I grieve now at the end of this apocalyptic day from hell for our nation.
While we have trained and trained and trained, to respond to weapons of mass destruction attacks, to protect our airways and waterways, to quickly move our troops in and out of various theaters, without geographic limit, to respond and engage defensively or offensively, to respond to humanitarian crises we have never concentrated our training efforts on defending our homeland. This paralyzed me, if but for a moment as I thought about those of us serving a peaceful tour of duty. I will never forget my moment of paralysis. It was just moments after the Executive Officer called me, I stood in front of the TV, holding the phone to my ear, neither of us speaking, for several moments. I interrupted my own moment of silence with the realization that my peaceful tour of duty had just abruptly ended, and my responsibilities as an Antiterrorism/Force Protection Officer had just become what I had trained to do, but never to protect our homeland.
It was now my responsibility to advise the Commanding Officer, lock down the installation, position the troops and defend our homeland. I don’t know how long we will remain in this heightened force protection condition, but I know that I cannot stop and allow myself to consider the devastating events of this day. My heart is heavy, and my soul is weeping for our nation, and for those in Manhattan, DC, Pennsylvania, as well as those in other areas that have been forever changed by this atrophic act. I have the watch and will continue to stand the watch defending our homeland, for our country, as well as for those who are grieving the loss of their innocent loved ones.
I love you, Dad.
Nine-one-one, a very tragic day. I had planned to play some golf after checking my email. As I was reading your email, I could hear the TV in the background. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I turned off the computer and went into the living room to watch the devastation on TV. I stayed glued to the TV horrified by the tragic event unfolding before my bleary eyes. No golf today.
After watching the gruesome scenes, I decided to work on the lawn. I needed something from Home Depot, and as I drove down I-65, there were cars sitting on the side of the road. I suppose the drivers were in shock as their radios announced the terrifying events of the morning. I know this cowardly strike against the USA was a strike in the gut of every American. It pissed me off, and I know the people I talked to feel the same. I hope they get the bastard, probably too good a name for him, or them.
I know you have a job to do and will do it honorably. I’m very proud of you. I guess here all we can do is pray and give blood to the survivors. The bloodmobile is coming to Home Depot. The American people are flooding into the Red Cross stations to donate blood and volunteer their services; it’s too bad it takes a tragedy like this to bring Americans together. I am very happy to hear that you are feeling better.
I love you,
I’m sitting alone listening to the prayer service at the National Cathedral. I don’t know how many times I have heard the National Anthem or God Bless America, each time brings tears to my eyes. I feel so helpless at times like this. With 20 years of training, you would think the Navy could use me for something. I had these same feelings during the Gulf War era. I know the men and women in our Armed Forces are very capable, but I still have a desire and need to contribute in the way I know best. I guess I’m feeling a little insignificant.
I wore my red, white and blue hat to work yesterday, the only one to do so. I’m sure today, much more are showing their colors. So many of my associates at work have asked me, knowing I am retired Navy, my thoughts on our American tragedy. I have so many thoughts ranging from the victims, the brave men and women searching the debris, the loved ones wondering. I think my primary thought is to put an end to terrorism by eliminating the elements and the host harboring them.
My thoughts are with you as you go about your duties during this critical time. I am proud of you and proud to be an American, and in times like these, I miss my Seabee comrades. You are the only one that I have expressed these feelings to as I don’t think civilians would understand. Ok, I feel better now.
God Bless you,
I have been thinking about what a typical workday was like for me before the hand of evil gripped our Nation, and as the attached photos depict, the pendulum has swung, as has the mission and responsibilities of all of us who are wearing the uniform. You probably remember when my battle group was in the gulf, at the end of our six-month deployment, waiting for the relieving battle group to arrive on station, during Desert Storm. The pendulum swung then too. I remember thinking then, after dealing with my fear, and adjusting to living with an MK5 protective gas mask strapped to my thigh during the day, and attached to the head of my rack each night while I slept that this is why I joined the U.S. Navy.
I am ashamed to admit that when we sense everything is right with the world, we become complacent and we forget the emotions, the deep pride, and the patriotism that brought us here, and the myriad of reasons that we chose to wear a uniform. When I joined the Navy, which will be 20 years ago in February, tears used to stream down my cheeks as I stood at attention, rendering my salute to our nation’s flag during colors. I don’t know when I stopped being affected in this manner, or if I even realized that I was no longer affected, but I realized it last Tuesday morning as I left the Command Center. I walked outside, and into colors, I snapped to attention, stood tall, stood proudly, saluted the flag that represents America and our freedom as tears ran silently down my cheeks once again, and I remembered once again why I had joined the U.S. Navy.
Dad, in case you have never noticed, it is your footsteps that I chose to walk in. I remember being a little girl and seeing you in your uniform, and at that very young age, there was a patriotic stirring within my heart, and love and pride for what you were doing that were bigger than anything I could understand. I wanted to be like you, I still do. I am here because of what you instilled in me, then and now. I cannot tell you how many times, since I have been in the Navy, that I have very proudly stated, “I have Seabee blood running through my veins.” I do, and it’s yours.
There is no doubt in my mind that I would have been a Seabee, like you, when I first joined the Navy, had they accepted women into the battalions as they do today, but they didn’t, and so I looked for something that could be likened to being a Seabee, and that is why I chose Law Enforcement. And, while it has taken on a much broader range over the years and now encompasses Antiterrorism and Force Protection, it is because of you that I do what I do. I have never told you this – I guess I thought you would know, and as I said in the voice message I left for you earlier, I am serving for both of us now.
I love you Dad, more than you will ever know, and I am as proud of you today as I was when I was that little girl staring in awe at her uniformed daddy and knowing then that I would grow up to be just like you.
I love you!
I really enjoyed reading and seeing your emailed pictures. I guess everybody is taking time to reflect on the past and to wonder what the future will bring. Anyway, as Neena was reflecting she composed the attached poem. As an aspiring poet and writer yourself, I think you will appreciate it. More later. Love, Dad
“Nine, eleven, zero, one- the time ’round nine ‘clock …
Hijacked planes hit the twin towers our nation was in shock.
The place? New York City … thousands of Americans died.
What a sad day in History … The Day the Eagle cried!
The 3rd plane hit the Pentagon … again with loss of life.
The fires raged, the walls came down,
We’re filled with sorrow and strife.
The 4th hijacked plane– would not reach its destination …
The passengers were filled with outrage- and determination,
To save yet more countrymen, they chose themselves to die!
A horrific day in History …
The Day the Eagle cried!
Our souls are scared … our hearts will heal;
The strength–AMERICAN PRIDE-
And once again our flag will fly … and the Eagles tears are dried!
So on your feet Americans, united we will stand.
With the help of God … Peace will return to our free and promised land.
Red, white and blue wear proudly!
A sign of AMERICAN PRIDE, yet never forget that fateful day …
The Day the Eagle cried!” – Anastasia Baptiste
I am sure you are keeping busy with the high level of alertness we are in. We can see the effects of this mess here with the reserves being recalled. I’m sorry I keep missing your phone calls. I do enjoy chatting with you. My words don’t seem to flow out from my keyboard as yours do. Anyway, I am thinking of you often, and I love and miss you. I hope things get back to normal soon, although it’s good to see Americans pulling together during this critical time. I am attaching some pictures of peaceful scenes for you.
You have been on my mind all day, and I realized it was because, for the second time in my life, I wanted to be your little girl again, if only for a few hours. The last time I felt this way I was in the Gulf, during Desert Storm, and e-mail technology had not yet made it to sea, I could not turn to you for comfort, advice or leadership. I have not yet resolved my feelings about what happened to our country on 9-11. That day has changed my life forever. I am still working seven days a week, 14-18 hour days, and sometimes I think this is the only thing that is keeping me strong, keeping me going. I still don’t feel like I am doing enough. Sometimes I feel impotent, in the sense that I cannot fix the things that are broken, or prevent new breakage. I think you, more than anyone else, understands this. Sometimes I also feel that I am suppressing too much of me to do my job. There’s a middle ground in there somewhere, isn’t there? That’s where I am trying to get to.
I do not want the part of me that does not wear a uniform to become numb, or robotic. I still think about the horror of what happened to our country. I close my eyes and see the planes flying into the Twin Towers and the horrified victims leaping to their deaths, and as the emotions begin to rise within me, I shake my head, or if I am lying in bed, I shake my foot, to shake the images, the thoughts and my feelings off. Sometimes I get up, turn on the lights and do something to be okay. I suppose if there was ever a time that I wished I had someone to go home to, it is now.
I love you Dad.
Whether she realized it, or not, Nayyirah Waheed was describing the ebb and flow of love when she wrote “We return to each other in waves. This is how water loves.” How beautiful, and yet, unfortunately, we do not always “return to each other in waves.” Sadly, sometimes we continue to ebb and never return to one another.
In my 50 years, I have yet to encounter a perfect relationship. There’s no such thing, whether spousal, parental, sibling, friend, lover, etc.. There are ups and downs in all relationships. Thus the ebb and flow we experience. We are human, and I know of no human that is without fault. We have all hurt and been hurt, either deliberately or through negligence. However, when there is love, there is forgiveness.
I doubt Jesus would choose me to be one of his disciples if He walked the earth today; although looking back at his chosen disciples, perhaps he would pick me. I’m not perfect, as His disciples weren’t, and I don’t pretend to be. I also don’t pretend to be someone that I’m not because I like the person that I am. No, I don’t get up every Sunday and make it to a place of worship, but then I am probably more spiritual than I am religious. I believe in love and compassion. I think in helping others in need, being truthful, owning my shortcomings, admitting when I am wrong, forgiving and trying to forget, and I believe that there are ebbs and flows in all relationships.
When I read the above emails that my dad and I had exchanged in 2001, I weep because I know that we loved and admired one another at this devastating moment in our lives. However, it’s coming up on nine years since I’ve seen my dad. Our relationship stopped ebbing and flowing, and has become nonexistent – it has declined. The ebb of water is to recede, subside and wane. The ebb of love, or any emotion, is to diminish, wane, disappear, fade away, etc.. There can be no life in a relationship when we no longer return to each other in waves.
It could be worse, I didn’t really know my father until I was older, and he was on his third marriage. I imagine it was just as hard for him to find himself with a sensitive, headstrong teenager as it was for me to trust a parent’s love. I suppose my decision to join the U.S. Navy was more to please my dad and earn his love because I knew how much he loved serving his country. It’s hard not to believe that his love for me, as his daughter, was ephemeral. While I was wearing the uniform, he adored me, or so it seemed. When I retired and hung up my military uniform, our relationship began to ebb, and as grievous as it is to admit this, I know within my wanting heart that we will never return to each other in waves. We have ebbed.
He is my dad. I love him, and I have forgiven him, but it is time to let go of the things that have kept me cemented in place for so many years. I love you, Dad. Godspeed.
Backward, turn backward, then time in your flight; make me a child again just for tonight. Father, come back from the echoeless shore. Take me again to your heart as of yore. – A.M.W. Ball
Note: I have replaced Mother with Father in the above quote, as it is more appropriate for this blog post.