April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain…
– TS Eliot, The Wasteland (“Part 1- The Burial of the Dead”)
I’ve never really understood much of the TS Eliot poem “The Wasteland,” to the point where I’m usually not sure the author even had a logical meaning that anyone was supposed to comprehend. This is totally sour grapes on my part, of course. He just means something I have not yet grasped. So I get lost in every attempt, but I keep coming back to these words because some of the imagery and the opening line, “April is the cruelest month,” resonates so clearly with me.
I have had many good Aprils, particularly 1986, when I was born, and the month is not always bad to me. But rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, so I have seen some cruel Aprils. The worst of them were five and six years ago, when Aaron and I were dating. During the first April there was much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, since I was dreading his departure for a deployment to Iraq. (In addition to the cruel April business, Eliot’s poem also says “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” and confronting the dust-to-dust nature of this all was, indeed, terrifying.) When his pre-deployment training began I didn’t know we would have a brief summer reunion and thought we had kissed goodbye for the year. The day after he left I threw myself into a heap on my bed, surrounded by some girlfriends, and declared “I am being ripped in two!”
The second cruel April was a year later, and I was tiredly, anxiously, wearily, fearfully awaiting his imminent return home. It was an awful year in so many ways, and some days it seemed like every breath was a reminder of how fragile we all are. There were funerals, injuries, battles, sickness, nightmares, care packages, letters, emails, and lots of crying (on my part). The experience was more harrowing for Aaron than for me, of course, which appalls me a little to this day. It has been said that “the darkest hour is just before dawn,” and those words were remarkably true for me that year. Sometime in February, I broke down with a friend while we were leaving the music building. I had been counting down to a rough estimate of Aaron’s homecoming date, and I remember sobbing “There are 73 more days! I can’t do it! This is impossible!” Then it felt like everything was downhill from there, and the last few weeks of deployment were full of insomnia and grotesque nightmares whenever I could get some sleep. I knew after all the difficulty of that year we were not home free yet. Nearly every day I heard people saying “You must be getting so excited!” and I just wanted to scream that he was still in danger and something could still happen to him and there is nothing exciting about someone you love being in a war zone, ever, even if they are scheduled to come home soon.
Then (At last! Finally!), five years ago today, the cruelty of that April came to an end and he was returning home. At that point, I almost wished my insomnia would have stayed a little longer since I was studying, writing, and practicing like crazy at the end of the semester, trying to work ahead as much as possible. Several professors graciously adjusted my scheduled finals so I could celebrate this homecoming – one even handed me an exam, winked, and told me to bring it back before graduation. Grace upon grace.
Aside from the homecoming, which I have written about earlier, my favorite memory of this time came a few days later. Aaron was safely home, and the family sat on the couch praying for his upcoming TV interview. His mom asked that God would give him words to speak to the reporter, and his brother interjected, “English words!”
It’s interesting to unpack important lessons after trials like this. A few weeks into that summer, I sat with a family friend and watched Aaron perform important ushering duties at his sister’s wedding. (It was on a beach, and I remember him saying, “oh… sand…”) Someone remarked to me that Aaron’s presence here was proof of God’s faithfulness to us, and springing out of the growth and learning of the past year I had to correct them. Yes, God is faithful and gracious, and we received our loved one back from war… but a terrible outcome for that year would not have changed God’s character. I am so thankful that divine faithful character was expressed in this way, but I can’t pretend God “owed” us this safe homecoming. Things could have taken a tragic turn and that April would have been crueler than all the rest, and we could been weeping through a “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” sort of lesson in it all. But for whatever reason, that was not the case, and we now reflect on this with humility and gratefulness:
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” – Romans 11, niv.
“The LORD has dealt bountifully with you. ” – Psalm 116, esv.
Some of these Aprils have been cruel, but I am grateful for what has sprung out from that.
Welcome home, five years ago today.