Last week our military orders came. They came at the exact moment I was certain they would never come. I thought maybe I would grow to be ninety years old and still be waiting, still extending my lease two months at a time while battling bouts of anxiety acne.
But the orders finally came. THEY CAME!
The Marine Corps says we are staying San Diego.
I saluted Mike on the news and he immediately told me I was doing it wrong.
Then we had a slow, boring conversation that cycled through these words over and over:
The great big, highly anticipated news is that we are moving nowhere. The last eight months have been a long windup for no change at all. And it came as a shock. Last November the monitor told Mike that he would have orders by December. He also said that there was almost no way we would stay in San Diego.
Now I’m not great at math, but by my calculations exactly none of these predictions materialized. We received orders in March. We are staying in an impossible place. I would very much like to be in this guy’s March Madness pool.
San Diego is great. We love it here. What a privilege it is to live in a place that has eradicated both cold weather and considerate drivers. The sun always shines, the beach always waits, and gas is like $9/gallon. But the tricky part about the orders is that we were fully prepared to leave. I had initiated an internal goodbye long before we were given permission to leave. Then the permission never came.
The emotional experience was like being a sprinter on race day. I was set on the starting blocks, fingertips to pavement, staring down the lane ahead. I was ready to move, ready to exert myself on a historical moment. I closed my eyes and waited for the release of the gunshot. I waited and waited but there was no gunshot. Without warning and at the very last second, the race was inexplicably and quietly cancelled. All the anticipation and preparation, the visualization of this moment, it didn’t transfer to the momentum of departure. The build up was halted, wasted. There would be no race.
Mike and I expected to hear the word “go” and instead heard the word “stay.” Now we don’t get to run away from anything at all.
Perhaps leaving is one of the invisible perks of the military life. Transience can be a convenient excuse for shallow investment. You can moderate relationships with the knowledge that they will expire soon. The cyclical nature of military life creates a reliable conveyer belt of fresh adventure. It is exciting. It is new. And ‘new’ is my imagination’s favorite word.
The military builds a certain durability into its community, one that copes well with change but doesn’t always foster a sense of longevity. It has made me fearless in the face of new adventure but easily bored with the one in progress. I’m very good at exploring new cities but not so good at enduring them once the novelty has worn off. It’s a different sort of materialism, I suppose. Instead of lusting for new possessions I long for new places.
Maybe this restless heart has been trained into me or maybe it’s been there all along, but I’m realizing now that I’m just as distressed by the absence of change as the onset of it. An unbearable existence, in my mind, is one shackled to the ordinary. And if I stay in one place for too long, will I become ordinary?
In the last ten years, I haven’t lived in the same state for more than two or three years. I have a lot of pride in my transience. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Maybe this tension creeps into the lives of all adventurers in the final bend of their twenties. Maybe it’s normal to wrestle with responsibility, to dance with stability, and still long to be free and unfettered. I want to stay. I want to go. But most of all, I want the option to do either at anytime.
Freedom is this illustrious idea I think about while folding laundry or loading the dishwasher for the 700th time. It involves a vague daydream about driving a convertible up the California coast while my hair flows glossy and untangled in the wind. Other versions include: afternoon naps at the beach, small venue concerts, and legs that never regrow hair. I’m constantly revising my life into illogical versions, imagining ways to escape the mundane for scenarios depicted in professional Instagram accounts.
But the reality is that the best parts of my life aren’t on the outskirts of the mundane. They’re at the center of it. They exist in the places I choose to stay.
San Diego is a magnificent city fading from my enthusiasm only because I have a short attention span. God is working on me, growing the territory of my contentment at exactly the moment I’ve lost interest in the good things he has put in front of me.
If God poured out all of his wrath on the cross then surely there are no spoiled gifts leftover for me. God only gives good gifts. These orders, this place, it is good. Psalm 16:6 says “The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!”
We will happily stay in this magnificent city. We will accept this good gift. The DiFelices will continue to be tan and hypersensitive to cold for the next couple years. Molly will spend her toddler years at the beach, at In-n-Out, and stuck in inexplicable waves of Southern California traffic.
Mike will return to a Marine Corps base where haircuts are as tight as the rolled sleeves of the uniform. He might deploy. He might not. We will continue to embrace Southern California living by riding our bikes in flip-flops and firmly believing there is no such thing as “too blonde.”
We will stay and learn what that word means. We will invest deeper still because even though we forecasted an adventure in a far away land, there is one buried in the ground beneath our feet. I’m sure of it.
It’s right here in the very last place we thought to look.