As milspouses on the move, we don’t often have a specific physical place where we build up years of memories. It isn’t like we have a favorite path we can walk daily and then reflect on how it (and we) can change and grow over the seasons and decades. Since we are by nature nomadic, we have to come up with other benchmarks to use when we reflect on our lives. For me, the book Blue Highways has served as my tool for reflection.
I am about to re-read the book for probably the 20th time. Blue Highways is a book I bought at the college bookstore before . . . everything–before becoming an Army wife, before finishing growing up, everything. The author was a professor at my university, and I remember wondering at the time if I should take one of his classes, as I had not met an author before. Instead, I knew them through their writing.
Everyone should read their favorite books at various life stages. Re-reading books allows the books to say different things to the reader, based on what the reader brings. This most recent time of re-reading Blue Highways probably won’t be my last—then again, maybe it will be.
The first time I read Blue Highways, I was beginning to find out what I didn’t know about this world and how my life might fit inside it. I figure that is the main point of an undergraduate education—to show how much one doesn’t know about the world. The book shared snippets of my nation and its people, plus a great tale of one person’s adventure in finding himself.
My 20-something mind ate it up like candy.
The next time I read the book was at the height of homesickness while stationed at Grafenwoehr and Vilseck in Germany. Re-reading the characters’ stories and descriptions about my country (even though I had not experienced the events in person) soothed me. It helped me remain open to adventure in my adopted land despite my having to deal with the restrictive travel protocols. Whenever my small circle of Army wives would complain about how the place we lived in wasn’t like “home,” I could reach past the strangeness and explore my adopted home to the best of my abilities. I am sure I re-read Blue Highways twice more during that PCS!
The next time I read the book was during my second time at Fort Sill. I had two small children, and my husband was far away, accessible only through the US Postal Service. During those dark months, I filled my evening hours with reading, writing my next letter, and housework. Reading Blue Highways reminded me of normalcy at a time when nothing in my life was normal. The stories kept me focused when everything else in my life seemed bent on getting me to play the victim. I enjoyed re-reading the familiar tales and insights and found new motivational quotes to post on my fridge that helped keep me going when the going got tough.
Blue Highways followed me when we re-entered civilian life, and I struck out on my own to find work and relocate us. While my husband and kids stayed with family, I started a new job alone, taking the book with me. My new job involved a lot of driving and meeting people, parallels to the storyline in the book. I found myself following the author’s observational skills to gather information and sense-making in my new world.
The book joined me in my second time at university, again solo, finishing my Masters and living in a friend’s basement while the husband and kids stayed back home (this was before online degrees). I was going through so many changes, and the book’s familiarity helped ground me.
I read Blue Highways later when I was the same age as the author when he wrote it, and I better understood some of the storylines that had not been apparent to me before. Even happily married people go through a mid-life crisis, and the book helped a bit with mine.
I hope you have benchmarks you use to reflect on your life.
It could be a book that you have read multiple times over the years.
It could be daily reading and meditation with a holy book.
It could be each time you cook with the favorite family recipes, remembering your elders as you create new memories for your own family.
It could be the family photo album that you regularly visit, sharing the stories with your children and friends while reflecting on how you successfully met each new adventure.
No matter what method you use, recognize how far you have come and how much you have grown.