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The Love Plummet

Rebekah Sanderlin
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tagged: military life
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My eyes were wide open as I was lying in bed. I glanced at my alarm clock. It was 1:37 a.m. on May 31st, 2010. I hoped to sleep but knew that the tremendous energy rushing through my veins, as vibrant and liquid as neon, would make sleep impossible. Earlier that day I had gone skydiving for the first time, something I’d always wanted to do. Several hours later I couldn’t stop reliving every heart-exploding second, it was a like a movie left spinning in my DVD player. I’d stood frozen in the open doorway of the tiny airplane as Ron, the pudgy, middle-aged skydiving instructor I’d met only hours earlier, strapped himself to my back and yelled into my ear, “Go ahead! Jump!”

It seemed like minutes but was probably just a second or two before I took that step, out of security and into nothing, with the world rushing towards me like a tsunami of air. I felt only fear. There was no pleasure in that moment. I was 11,000 feet above the Earth and falling fast — 125 miles per hour, to be precise. Finally, an excruciating 45 seconds later, Ron told me to pull the cord for the parachute and my terrifying plummet became a leisurely loping, beautiful, slow sail. I felt like a kite.

That night, while replaying the events in my head, I realized that I had been that scared before, a few times, in fact. Each time had been when I’d had to let go of something that I loved as much as life itself. I realized then that, for me anyway, this must be what love is: Cutting the strings and letting life happen, whatever it may bring.

Let me explain: In 2004 I was a 28-year-old Army wife, a title I’d held for just over a year. My family lived far away from me and I had just given birth to my first child, a beautiful little boy who seemed to be made of toothpicks and tissue, so fragile did he look. I knew nothing about babies. I’d never been a baby sitter and I hadn’t bothered to linger around my sisters’ or my friends’ children. My own maternal instincts were as strong as my math skills, which is to say, nonexistent. And then, when that tiny, needy, baby was just three weeks old, my husband deployed to Afghanistan.

I was certain his deployment was his death sentence. I was sure that I would never see him again. So I bought a video camera and I tried to document every moment of those three weeks before he left so that our son would know something of his father. I wanted our baby to know that his father had loved him deeply, even if only for three weeks. Then I took my husband to meet the plane that flew him away from our shiny new family, and set him down in hell.

As news of casualties from his unit began to arrive, I became more convinced that my husband would be the next to die but, as it turned out, we were the lucky ones. He came home — only to deploy two more times to Afghanistan in the coming years. Those next deployments were, in many ways, even harder because, armed with the wisdom we gained in the first deployment, we knew exactly how bad life would be for us all.

At the same time, I knew that these deployments were the very moments my husband had trained for, in a career he had dreamed of having since he was a little boy. This was his chance, and I knew I had to let him take it. To try to keep him from going would be selfishness of the highest order on my part. And, though I’d never before considered myself a patriot, I knew that I had a deep need to love something bigger than me, something bigger than my family and my circle of friends. Love for my husband meant letting him go into harm’s way to pursue his calling; love for my nation meant being willing to sacrifice my own comfort and dreams for the greater good.

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