Well, I’m back in the “real world” – back from Afghanistan. I’ve been back for about two weeks. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I’m still there and have to walk across the gravel to get to the bathroom, while other mornings I wake up and the whole thing just seems like one, big dream. I was just in Afghanistan for more a year – even saying that sounds strange. There’s such an influx of soldiers and civilians trying to leave the country right now that it took me nearly a week to get on a plane out of the country. Imagine being stuck in a US airport for a week – it’s almost unheard of. Now imagine that airport being in Afghanistan and looking more like a giant metal warehouse. It was NOT fun.
As I continue to process what I just went through, I would like to put together a sort of “lessons learned” write-up. As it is, I’m still adjusting back to this world. That seems to surprise people that it’s a challenge, but unless people have been there, they don’t understand the whole “adjusting” back into life here. As I was leaving Afghanistan, a friend gave me some advice that has turned out to be very wise. She said, “Don’t expect too much of yourself, and don’t make too many plans.” It’s pretty much the exact opposite of how we as Americans today try to live our lives…try harder and do more. But now I get it. As stressful as life was back in “A-Stan,” it was at its roots very simple. There was very little (ok NO) natural beauty, so gravel and metal connex boxes became my scenery. Daily decisions were nearly obsolete – I chose between eggs and fruit for breakfast, and chicken and beef for lunch. Now, I sit and look at green grass and nearly cry because it’s so beautiful. When I’m hungry, I go online and find a million possible recipes from which to choose, then I go to the grocery store to get dinner supplies and find I’m completely overwhelmed by the number of choices I have and decisions I have to make just to leave with one simple basket of food. All the “normal stuff” suddenly seems to take twice the effort and energy as it used to. So I repeat the advice given to me as my new mantra, “Don’t expect too much of myself, and don’t make too many plans.”
Maybe this is the approach we should always take with ourselves as we transition from one phase of life to another. Can you imagine how much more enjoyable life would be if we were this gentle and forgiving of ourselves all the time? Whatever that transition may be, we’re always going through them – a divorce, a new city, a new job, a death, a new child…life’s changes sometimes drag us along whether we want to go or not. Perhaps that change is easier to adjust to and more enjoyably processed if we ease up on our own expectations and take one day at a time until we’re comfortable on our new paths. I’m not saying run away from the change, I’m saying accept it gently and slowly. It’s a concept that is foreign to today’s world. Even as I looked for quotes, nearly all the quotes pertained to “be harder on yourself,” or “expect less of others and more of yourself.” I’m putting my fist down and calling for the exact opposite. If I expected more of myself right now, I’d crumble. Instead I’m going to treat myself like a little child and walk myself through this transition one day at a time, and one grocery store basket of food at a time. I will find my new comfort zone eventually, but I’m not going to demand that it be tomorrow. Consider it.