This was originally written during a period of time in which I was living alone in Hampton, Va., while my family was back in Alabama.
The kitchen in my apartment is not unlike most other apartment kitchens. It is 12 feet long and six feet wide, with appliances and cabinets taking up all but about three feet of floor space. The cabinets are a cheap veneer and many of the doors hang slightly crooked thanks to years of wear. The counter space is used up with a coffee pot, kitchen accessories and a few dirty glasses scattered about.
The room itself is dimly lit. A single fluorescent bulb shines from an unattractive fixture in the ceiling. Despite this, the room has a few bright spots for me. Photos of my son and pieces of his artwork decorate my refrigerator door. On most days, there is emptiness behind the door, but the door itself is fulfilling. A cute frame bearing the words “Live, Laugh and Love” sits on the counter and holds three photos showing my son in the womb, my wife’s belly during her pregnancy and a photo of the two of us taken some years ago.
Standing in this lonely place, 700 miles from my family, gives me a feeling of deep melancholy. Watching my son grow up on Skype and email and hearing the soft coo of my wife’s voice and then losing it to a bad cellular connection have become devastating realities of my chosen profession. Time in this kitchen reminds me of these things. It also gives me a chance to think about things I am truly thankful for.
My situation is not unique. Military men and women around the world have apartments and kitchens that look just like mine. Many of them, however, have only memories of the families to which they once belonged. The years of military life have taken the ultimate toll for a lot of them, and in an odd bit of irony, they envy my pain.
I look at the signs of wear on my fingers as they grasp a glass of warm bourbon and I regret that I cannot slow time enough to ensure that I have the youth to enjoy backyard football with my son when he is older. I regret that opportunities for intimacy and passion with my wife pass each day and are lost forever.
Standing here in my kitchen, surrounded by a leaky faucet and a noisy refrigerator, I still cling to hope and optimism. Even with all of the problems facing our great nation, I still see a faint glimmer of Ronald Reagan’s “Shining city on a hill”. I see boundless opportunity for my son through his hard work and dedication to success. I see America, offering liberty to all who seek it, refuge to those who need it, and opportunity to those who will seize it. I see two rocking chairs, laughter and tears for my wife and myself many years from now when we remember these days apart. I see these things. I see them all from my dimly-lit kitchen.