What a Family Heirloom Taught Me About the Military Spouse Community

It’s been raining for about 18 days so far. The weather is grey. The rain is grey. Everything is grey.

It matches my mood.

I’ve been discouraged and frustrated lately. Usually I’m a cheerleader of the military community. I’m excited by the initiative, the creativity, the passion that so many military-affiliated people possess.

But recently, I’ve felt really worn down.

There's room at the table for all military spouses.

Social media has exploded once again (does it ever stop, really?) with all-too familiar hateful comments about military spouses– often much of it coming from other spouses or service members. Someone I know was personally attacked by this kind of hateful rhetoric and it was devastating. A friend just told me her story about being blatantly, painfully ignored by spouses she thought were her friends. I’ve gotten more than a few emails from readers telling me that they no longer volunteer or participate in military-affiliated organizations because they can’t stand the “drama” anymore. And so many spouses are so lonely. I hurt for them– for our community.

Usually, I can absorb it and say, “Well, that’s not the military community I know.”

Or, “Maybe that was just a mistake. Maybe you misinterpreted something.”

Or, “Maybe they were just having a rough time and took it out on you.”

Or, “It will get better. Don’t be afraid; put yourself out there.”

But in the past few weeks, those sentences sound awfully thin. And I’ve been thinking about tables. (Stick with me, I promise.) One table in particular.

In my parent’s dining room is an old, family heirloom table.

When I was a kid, I thought every family had a table like that: old, scuffed, nicked and dinged with wear, with a mechanism that expanded to fit more leaves and grow the table from a 4-foot-wide circle to a 12-foot-long oval.

While that table is treasured now, it used to be the table my great grandmother kneaded dough on, cut out Christmas cookies on. It was the table that my grandpa strung a small net across and played ping pong on. It was the table my mom ate breakfast at when she stayed with her grandparents.

While my mom usually keeps all of the leaves in the table, there were a few few times where I helped her take them out or fit them back in so that the table could shrink or grow to accommodate the people coming to dinner.

The table has hosted Christmas dinners, midnight snacks for sleepovers, a blizzard’s Monopoly tournament, teacher tea parties… and never once do I remember the table being too small for the people invited.

No one was ever turned away from that slightly warped, well worn table.

No one.

I’ve been thinking about that table a lot lately. It is perfectly how I want to envision the military spouse community— a place both smoothed and scarred by the experiences of history and those who have gone before us. A place that is ever expanding, where there are always enough chairs, always enough room.

We have the space. Now, let’s truly make room for each other.

An LGBT spouse?

There’s room at the table.

An enlisted or officer spouse?

There’s room at the table.

A really, really young spouse? The one who is an “older” newlywed?

There’s room at the table.

Another spouse who does the same thing that I do…and is a competitor in my career field?

There’s room at the table.

A male military spouse?

There’s room at the table.

A spouse who doesn’t look like we expect him/her to?

There’s room at the table.

A spouse dealing with postpartum depression?

There’s room at the table.

The senior spouse?

There’s room at  the table.

A spouse who has a “tag bag”?

There’s room at the table.

The quiet spouse?

There’s room at the table.

The spouse with green hair and tats?

There’s room at the table.

The veteran spouse who left a military career for a family?

There’s room at the table.

The Muslim spouse?

There’s room at the table.

The one who didn’t go to college? The one who has been working on a bachelor’s degree for 7 years? The one with a master’s degree? The one who didn’t finish high school?

There’s room for all of them.

Our lives are not made richer by exclusion.

There's room at the table for all military spouses.

They’re made richer by diversity. By stories. By learning about each other. By sharing a cup of coffee or a chocolate chip cookie or a martini and learning to love someone who is radically different. By congratulating each other when good things happen. By mourning with each other when the unthinkable does. By offering a hand up to someone who’s struggling. By empathy. By expanding your heart even when you don’t think you can.

Even when you hurt.

Even when someone doesn’t “deserve” it.

There is room for everyone. Let’s scootch to the side and pull more chairs in.

3 Responses

  1. Oh my gosh, Jo (or should I say Jo, my gosh!)
    Thank you for writing this absolutely beautiful post. I so admire your views and agree with you. I wish there was a way I knew how to make this inclusion happen in my military world. I’m a newlywed and I’m gradually finding my way around military life. I sooo wish one of the more seasons spouses would invite me to coffee. I don’t know what the MiliSpouse community is like since I live about an hour from base, but I know there are plenty of us way out here in the city. I would love if this kind of inclusion, empowerment and support were a rampant part of my military spouse experience. However, I have your blog to lean on and you have been such a support to me. I know we have never met, and you probably don’t know me aside from another little tic on your Insights, but you have been such a help and a comfort to me in my marriage, my pre-marriage relationship, and a deployment. I am so grateful for your blog and your gracious spirit. Thank you for being a source of strength and empowerment for me. I loved your analogy of the scarred and smoothed table as the military spouse community. I loved reading that I’m not the only one who believes in all kinds of military spouses belonging. And while I wish I was invited to someone’s table, thanks for having me at yours online. Sincere well wishes. <3

  2. Thank you for an interesting read! I’m a proud military airforce spouse all the way from Cape Town South Africa, and I’m hoping there’s room at the table too. Agreed, we as spouses should strengthen our fellowship in an attempt at building communities and not our own castles!

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