I’m not the type of person that puts value in obscure objects just because “I’ve had them since I was X years old.” I am constantly rifling through my drawers, under my bed and through my storage unit, throwing things away that have no utilitarian or decorative value. Sentiment hasn’t gotten me much over the years, with a few exceptions of course — those being pictures, a couple of things from my fallen brothers in arms, and … well, that’s about it.
The same has gone with sentimental days, or holidays. Part of it was because I didn’t grow up in America, so we generally weren’t around the holiday fervor I see so often now. As an American overseas, I also didn’t really participate in the holidays there, except for maybe the festivities. I certainly didn’t acknowledge and embrace the principles that holidays seemed so saturated in. We did celebrate Christmas together every year as a family, wherever in the world we were, and I always liked it — as much as anyone likes getting presents, taking off school or work, and all getting together to socialize, as well as the religious component.
We did birthdays like everyone else — big deal when you’re a kid; not a big deal as you get older — but I never understood how people put so much value into a day, be it Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter or New Year’s. My mother, ever the traditionalist, always considered these times more precious than others, and I never understood why. Nothing changes on those days, and with the exception of New Year’s, nothing actually happens on those days. Jesus wasn’t even born on December 25th, and, if you were to yank the concept of the holiday out from the psyche of human beings, life would remain relatively the same. Those days would come and go and no one would know, or even care. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays — I just couldn’t really quite justify them in my head.
I spent two consecutive Christmases in Afghanistan. This is pretty much how I felt leading up to those deployments, and I could have cared less about missing Christmas except that it upset my mother. I thought this way all the way up to Christmas Eve.
On my first Christmas in Afghanistan, I went on a mission. It was cold, but other than that it was nothing memorable. I came back, refit and debriefed, then went back to my living area. For some reason, the fact that it was Christmas and the fact that I was away from my family and in a dangerous place weighed heavy on my heart. I had never felt like that before, and I wouldn’t feel it again until the following Christmas. My philosophies about how days don’t have value still stood, I suppose, but they didn’t mean a whole lot to me as I was shivering in negative degree weather on a mission when my family was back home in a place of love and safety.
I discovered what I always knew — I was right, those days have no more value than what we ascribe to them. But de-legitimizing that value was where I went wrong, since, no matter what logical deductions went on up in my head, it still meant something to me. To deny that I felt that way would simply be untrue.
I’m not sure where I land on the value of holidays or objects anymore, though I do appreciate days that are reminders of values or significant events, like Thanksgiving or the birth of Jesus. Either way, I do cherish the moments I can get with family, be they the family I was born with or the family I chose.
Images provided by the author.