My Glass Half Full Attitude – A Story

A few months ago, a fellow blogger suggested I write about my glass half-full attitude and how it impacts my outlook toward this crazy, unpredictable, and at times frustrating military life (thanks for the suggestion, Erica!). I’ve never been ashamed about my belief in the power of positive thinking and my desire to see the glass half full. And if I am being honest, there is not much that bums me out more than being subjected to someone else’s negative outlook. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m currently reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and there is one passage in particular that has really resonated with me…

When you hang out with whiners, pessimists, tweeters, bleachers, freaks-outers and life-is-so-unfaireres, it’s an uphill climb to keep yourself in a positive headspace. Stay away from people with tiny minds and tiny thoughts and start hanging out with people who see limitless possibility as the reality. Surround yourself with people who act on their big ideas, who take action on making positive change in the world and who see nothing as out of their reach (p. 99).

Yes. Insert the ‘person raising both hands in celebration/hallelujah emoji’ here. My glass half full attitude has served me well over the years and while I do give myself time to be upset or cranky, I work very hard to ensure that it doesn’t consume me nor define my existence. And I really try not to whine. And I avoid people who do. Because time is precious and in the words of Kimberly ‘Sweet Brown’ Wilkins – ain’t nobody got time for that.

While there are countless moments in my life where my glass half full attitude has served me well, there is one military life moment in particular that will likely be forever etched into my soul as a testament to my desire to look on the bright side of life.

One brutally cold day in 2007, I was typing away on my computer at my office in the Key Bank building in downtown Watertown when the Hawaii-5-O theme song blared from the Razr laying on top of some intake papers scattered across my desk. Was it Clay? It had been a few days since I had last heard from him via email. But it wasn’t an unknown number, therefore it wasn’t my husband. It was Fran. My stomach sank. She wouldn’t be calling during the work day unless it was bad news.

It had been 12 months since our husbands left for the remote mountains of Afghanistan. The morning Clay deployed, we sat in his Jeep trying to processes the unknown experience that spilled out in front of us like wet asphalt. Hot, sticky, and unpleasant. There were tears. I love yous. And the reminder that “This soon will only be a blade of grass.” But a year later – we were hardened. There had been deaths, injuries, blackouts, memorial services, and months without communication. During that time, I had found my tribe – my Fort Drum girls – a group of fellow spouses with husbands in the same unit. We were sisters. We relied on each other with each devastating phone call received informing us of another injury. Another death. As of that day in my office, our husbands had been okay. They were alive. And they were finally coming home in two weeks.

I remember staring at my ringing phone, trying to convince myself that Fran was just calling to firm up dinner plans for our group that evening. But I answered knowing that it wasn’t something so benign as a bunch of 20-somethings verifying a social outing. That wasn’t our life. We weren’t that carefree.

Fran quietly asked, “Have you heard?

My mind immediately went the member of our group whose husband arguably had the most dangerous job of all our husbands – Jackie. It seemed like he was always on a mission. He’s dead, I thought. He’s gone.

Tears fell as I began to run the first words I would say to Jackie through my mind. In that second or two, I couldn’t do any better than “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I answered, “Heard what?” – my voice cracking – bracing myself for the inevitable news of another unit casualty.

They’ve been extended four months,

I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Jackie’s husband wasn’t killed in action. Fran wasn’t calling to tell me that uniformed officers were currently at her house. She wasn’t on the phone trying to figure out what our next steps needed to be in order to get to Jackie’s side. She was simply calling to inform me that our husbands weren’t coming home in two weeks as originally planned. Our husbands were okay. They were alive. It was good news.

Once the news that the brigade had been extended for another four months sunk in, I cried at my desk. Hard. Ugly. Messy. My coworkers surrounded me and allowed me to work through my emotions of frustration, anger, sadness, and exhaustion. Later that afternoon, Clay had managed to secure a satellite phone on a mountaintop and we talked for the first time in weeks. Obviously morale was down among the guys. I told him that while I wanted nothing more than to finally have him home in two weeks as originally scheduled – receiving that phone call from Fran and thinking that Jackie’s husband had been killed, really put the news of the extension in perspective. The families of the soldiers who had been killed during that deployment would have given anything to be able to receive a phone call informing them of the extension if it meant their soldier were alive.

Yes, the extension wasn’t ideal. It fact, it pretty much sucked. But whenever I found myself wallowing in self-pity, I’d think back to that phone call and the wave of relief that ran like current through me as I was informed about the extension rather than given news of another casualty. It could have been worse. Much worse. And eventually, 16 months after we sat in his Jeep, unsure of what the next year would bring, we were together again.

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It may not seem like a big moment to anyone but me, but that phone call exemplifies my outlook on life. There will be times that life simply sucks. There is no avoiding those sucky moments. But they can be a lot less sucky when you focus on the positive, no matter how small the positive molecules may be at that moment in time. Whether it be that feeling of relief when the news isn’t the absolute worst you could hear or simply the smell of fresh cut grass or the sound of the waves crashing into shore, those little specks of positivity can be a life line. They certaintly are for me.

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That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

view from our back deck

Military families are no strangers to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.