Have you ever seen a photo or video online of a couple fiercely embracing? Maybe one of them is wearing camo and the other one is crying a little bit. Maybe it’s in an airplane hangar or at an airport or at a dock. Maybe there are little ones hanging onto clothing or a leg. Maybe it’s just the two of them.
You’ve probably seen that deployment homecoming photo or video quite a few times. You’ve probably teared up a little bit and maybe ached to hug your loved one. But what you probably haven’t realized is that what you’re seeing is the “after”. You’ve probably never thought about the moments that happened before someone hit record. You’ve probably never considered the “before”.
You probably haven’t thought much about the days, weeks, months of waiting that went into that reunion. You probably haven’t thought much about the tears shed, the care packages sent, the lonely nights or the days of worry. You probably haven’t thought much about missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, soccer games or school plays. You probably haven’t thought much about what happened before that reunion.
You probably haven’t thought much about it, but the people bringing tears to your eyes during a lunch break certainly have. They have scratched and clawed their way through it, fighting both for this country and their relationship. They’ve battled enemies overseas and Murphy’s Law at home. They’ve endured infrequent and unsatisfying communication. They’ve faced hardships on their own, while trying to support their loved one thousands of miles away. Those moments will stay with them long after that first hug and even longer after you’ve navigated away from the page.
Those before moments affect a relationship in significant (and often unseen) ways. Not every couple comes through a deployment stronger than they went it; many face a relationship very much in need of repair. The hardship isn’t over when they reunite: for many, it’s just starting. Reconnecting and rebuilding takes time; that first hug captured on film is a baby step towards being a family again.
The moments before that photo are so incredibly hard. They test the will of everyone involved. They bend you so far that you feel certain you’ll break. Sometimes they do break you.
But here’s something else you may not know about the moments before that video: they have made the people you’re watching so incredibly strong. Yes, they may be a bit bruised and battered, maybe a little cracked here and there. But they are so strong.
In that moment of reunion you catch on Facebook, you may see pure happiness, but there is so much more than just that. It’s relief. It’s being able to breathe again. It’s the weight of the moments before that day being lifted off their shoulders.
It’s the after.