Lost in Translation

He tells the most wonderful stories. Some are funny, laced with mishaps and wayward adventures and some are heartbreaking, filled with tales of loss and bottomless voids of nothingness.

He is my knight in shining armour although, when I told him this he laughed it off muttering “his armour had a few ‘chinks’ in it”. For a split second I thought his was referring to his wild, pre army single days where he was a man about town and a night out on the town was an invitation to the ‘Boys Behaving Badly’ club. I realised that whilst that may have been a fleeting thought for both of us, he was really talking about a more recent time, a time when he was away from home for ten months of the year and cams and boots met every function’s dress code.

My weekends are like chapters in a book. You see, our current status in military terms is ‘Member With Dependants – Unaccompanied’ (MWD-U). We are very happily married but we live apart due to his posting location. MWD-U is an option Defence families have if for some reason you decide not to relocate or are unable to join your spouse at their new posting. There are endless reasons why you might not wish to move. Sometimes it’s a short term posting or your children may be in the final stages of school and don’t wish to disrupt them. There are also the times you just don’t wish to dive into the deep end of the stress pool by enduring another experience with the relocation team, but that’s a story for another time. My nerves are still recovering from the last three moves!

‘The key is to find your spoon full of sugar’

We have been MWD-U for twelve months now and have another year to go before we find out where his next posting location is and if I will be able to join him. Sometimes it feels like our mantra is ‘Carpe Diem’ only for us it’s not about seizing the day, its about seizing every second we can possibly find to have together.

I am based in Canberra and he lives in Sydney, hence the reason why we only see each other on weekends. It’s not ideal but that is just how it is right now and even though there is only 300kms between us, it doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye on a Sunday afternoon. The key is to find your spoon full of sugar (to make the medicine go down). I’ve found it easier to swallow the goodbyes by drowning my thoughts in songs that rip my heart out and for this reason my go to artist is Garth Brooks and given I know every word to every song he’s ever sung so I feel right at home belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs for the three hour trip home.

Spoon full of Sugar
Image by Rosmarie Voegtli

Anyhow, I digress. Last weekend my darling was telling me one of his war stories and I caught my thoughts wandering off down a different track…sorry honey, I really was listening! I found myself in the role of my own translator, which was kind of weird. It was if I was simulating an out of body experience and watching myself. I was taking in his entire story, trying to paint my own visual representation based on his descriptions, trying to hear the sounds and immerse myself in the feelings of his experience. Can I just add a side note here and say now I have a greater appreciation for interpreter services, it was exhausting!

The experience was like listening to a story in a language that was not my native tongue and I had to translate it to draw parallels to my civilian life in an effort to truly grasp the concept. This all happened in a split second whilst all the while remaining in the moment and actively listening to what is happening for my love. Now, I realise that I’m not breaking ground here, we all sub-conscientiously work through this process to bring an experience to life however, this was truly the first time in my young forty something years that I have been cognisant of what was happening, while it was happening.

‘We face the same challenges held apart by the gap between military and civilian cultures’

My research into veteran reintegration tells me that one of the key themes impacting on veterans experiences returning to civilian life, is the lack of shared experience with civilians.

Unlike their forefathers from the Great Wars where a larger percentage of the civilian population experienced direct involvement in war, modern veterans are more likely to be joining a community that has not served or had a direct relationship with the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. One of the research papers I reviewed for my thesis revealed that one of the struggles veterans face with reintegration is reconciling the changes that had occurred in their family and home lives while they were on deployment and found a disconnection with family and friends who could not truly comprehend the extent of their military experiences.

This gets me to thinking that civilians, in particular family, face the same challenges, held apart from our loved ones by the gap between military and civilian cultures and the inability or reluctance to fully understand each others experiences regardless of whether you are a veteran or a civilian.

I know early on in our relationship I found it difficult to relate to his experiences in the military and at times our conversations felt a little disjointed. But over time, as I have learnt about his world and he has learnt about mine the language of our relationship has become easier to translate.

Many of our friends are military couples and until now I have never wondered how they manage their relationship language barrier. Do they tailor their stories for their audience, or has their audience learnt to search their mental databank and find like for like?

‘The power of storytelling is to free us from isolation, shame and …’

Patrick McCormick

fists in
‘unknown’

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