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My beloved left for a three and half week trip to India with his students yesterday. On Memorial Day. The coincidence was powerful.
Let me begin by making some things clear.
Now back to Memorial Day and Anxiety.
Over the weekend, I was very aware of the above, but it didn’t matter. The three day weekend seemed longer than any other holiday. It dragged out as my anxiety increased. The pit in my stomach climbed into my throat until finally my pulse quickened. I understand clinically what was happening. I was experiencing anxiety sprinkled with a few minor panic attacks (I know they were minor, because I have had a full blown anxiety attack before).
Anxiety, according to the DSM4 and Miriam Webster is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event of uncertain outcome. More seriously, it can be a chronic state in which many find themselves trapped. Anxiety can spill into someone’s life in a way that excessive uneasiness and apprehension are a way of life, coupled with disabling panic attacks.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, my non-clinical description is this: it sucks! It invades every moment. It is utterly exhausting.
Thankfully with the help of therapy, life style changes, and medication, I have learned to successfully cope with my anxiety. I am fortunate. (Let me be clear again—I am fortunate. The mostly successful treatment of my anxiety is not because I am some mental health warrior. I am simply lucky.) But still I can’t keep a lid on my anxiety during certain moments—like the weekend before my husband leaves for India.
I am the sort of person who rarely sits down. Yesterday, I could barely muster the energy to fold laundry. Midday, I laid down on my bed, eyes open, unable to figure out what to do next even though I had a long to-do list. My anxiety was debilitating and all because my husband was leaving for India with his students. I knew my anxiety was unwarranted, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t control it.
Sadly, throughout American history, mostly women, but all sorts of loved ones, have spent weekends and months and years living with the anxiety I dappled in this past weekend. Their anxiety, however, was rational. They were sending off their beloved husbands, sons, brothers, life-long friends to war. They knew many did not return.
It’s hard for me to imagine there was a woman in history whose pride was greater than her fear. Too often in the movies we watch proud mother’s give teary-eyed kisses to their sons at train stations or stricken wives give one last passionate kiss to their husbands before they board the bus. These goodbyes have almost become sanitized in their painful beauty. The movies never show a mother whose sobs are so overwhelming she can’t even walk with her son to the tracks. They never portray a wife clutching her husband, begging him not to go as he boards the bus (that’s what I would have done). And they never tell the true story of the wife who clutched a baseball bat in her hands as she waited for her husband to fall asleep; she planned to break his knees before he left for Vietnam. In the end he stopped her.
And how about the many patriotic images of the women left behind, proudly displaying stars in their front windows, knitting socks to be sent to keep her son’s feet warm, or organizing sales to support the troops? I wonder if these women’s daily anxiety was so overwhelming that it took the joy out of everything. I wonder how much effort it took them to tape the star to their window, to cast the yarn on the needles, to bake for the sale. I wonder what it would have been like to spend day after day waiting for news, one small piece of news that one’s beloved was still alive.
I spent three days trying to contain my anxiety. It took all of my energy. My husband was leaving for a three week trip to India as a college professor. He was not going to war. So two days after Memorial Day, now as I write, I not only give thanks to the veterans and those who lost their lives, but I am remember the many left behind who were brave enough to keep living.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.