In Afghanistan, there were little things I missed every day. Flannel pajamas. Starbucks white chocolate mochas. Paved roads. The sound of the ocean. Guacamole. Thinking of these things reminded me that I wasn’t home.
Then there were bigger things that I missed terribly, desperately, things that didn’t gnaw at me on a daily basis but that, when a thought or memory struck, could cripple me with sadness. Thinking of these things reminded me that I was missing life.
I missed my family, of course. A sticky note on a Christmas tin full of homemade cookies brought me to tears. I wasn’t there for the birth of my twin nieces; “Auntie Wowen” was introduced much later to giggling six month olds. I wasn’t there for the wedding of a longtime friend. I missed every major holiday.
And I missed the Olympics.
I’ve always loved the Olympics. My childhood could be measured in four-year increments . . . then later, after 1994, by twos. Primetime Olympic coverage was family time in the Johnson household. I remember cheering when Dan Jansen finally stayed on his feet to win speed skating gold, when Kerri Strug stuck a one-footed vault landing to ensure the women’s gymnastics team the top spot on the podium, when local 16-year-old swimmer Megan Quann made brash predictions of beating the world’s best 100M breaststroker on the world’s biggest stage – and then did.
With two parent athletes, two athlete siblings and my own delusions of swimming grandeur, Olympic fandom is in my blood. I love the grace and athleticism. I love the stories of struggle and perseverance, of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. I love the unity among teams and among nations. I love the badass, muscle-bound, tougher-than-nails athletes who can’t help but cry when their national anthem plays. I love the theme music. I love Bob Costas.
I never saw Bob in winter 2010. From a grainy Armed Forces Network satellite feed on a TV in the corner of the Forward Operating Base Gardez chow hall, I caught snippets of curling and women’s hockey – the only two events that seemed to play during meal time (and, unfortunately, not my favorites). I didn’t watch Evan Lysacek become the first U.S. male figure skating champion since 1988, or Lindsey Vonn win the first ever U.S. gold in women’s downhill skiing. I didn’t hear any inspiring rags to riches stories, or see a single medal presentation. Perhaps worst of all, I couldn’t share favorite moments with my parents and siblings.
More than a sharp break in a lifelong tradition, missing the Olympics was a reminder of everything else I was missing. It was a realization that life moves fast, and in America, in Vancouver, around the world, it was moving without me. I missed a year of holidays, a year of news (Swine Flu! Haiti Earthquake!), a year of pop culture (who is this Gaga person and what is she wearing?), a year of technological advancements (what happened to two dimensional entertainment? Do they still make cell phones with buttons?), a year of people and places I love growing and changing. Without me.
I by no means regret volunteering for my deployment, so you could say I don’t regret, as a result, missing 349 days of life. And I guess I don’t. In some ways, though, I’m still working to make peace with it. Not only did the world change, but so did I – we spent a year growing up separately; we’re still getting reacquainted.
But I suppose in the same way time pulls you apart from people, places and experiences, it also stitches you back together.
In two years, I’ve seen several 3D movies and upgraded (and become hopelessly addicted) to a smartphone. I’m caught up on current events. Lady Gaga’s crazy outfits on magazine covers no longer freak me out. I no longer freak my nieces out. I’ve had the kind of quality visits with family and friends you can only have when making up for lost time.
And for the next two weeks I’m going to get reacquainted with my childhood Olympic tradition – only this time my viewing will be technologically-enhanced with a flatscreen TV and the power of DVR!
Living proof that change isn’t always bad . . .
GO TEAM USA!
Okay seriously...what is she wearing???
|Lady Gaga (AP)|