A notebook with questions written in it.
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What If?

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To paraphrase Robert Frosts poem, The Road Not Taken, two roads diverged in front of us in 1965. We could not travel both. We looked down one road which offered financial and job security as far as we could see. Yet knowing where this road would lead us, I knew we could never come back. We took the road of insecurity, risks, pitfalls and wondered sometimes what if we had taken the other one.

What if Howard had not resigned his Army commission in 1965? What would our lives have been like? First, he would have been assigned to Saigon, Vietnam for at least one year. I would have agonized just as I did when he went to the Dominican Republic in 1963. Our children and I would have been living off an Army base probably in the New York area. I would have agonized, fearing for his well-being, his life and wondered if or how this experience would affect our family life. 

After that year, we probably would have been reassigned to the States for a few years, being relocated every two or three years. Then it would have been a compulsory year in Korea. I just could not imagine dealing with these long separations. The emotional toll on our family would be unbearable. The fear for his safety would be overwhelming.

Clergy in the Army are not allowed to carry arms. They rely on their assistant for protection. When he was in the Dominican Republic his driver made a wrong turn and they got caught in a crossfire. Michael, his protector, was a very big fellow but even he could only cover Howard on one side. Luckily, no one was hurt, but this event had some consequences in his fear of loud noises for a long time. I remember how he reacted to 4th of July fireworks that year, jumping with fear each time they went off. In addition, chaplains were transported by helicopter to administer to soldiers wherever they were located. This was a dangerous situation as some helicopters were shot down.

Taking for granted that he would have come home safely from both assignments, he would have retired in 1978. After 20 years of service, what would we have done? True, we would have a nice pension for life, but what would he be doing for the rest of his life? Would he have gone into the civilian rabbinate? Would he been able to start a new career in Jewish education at the age of 48? How about his dream of getting a PhD? Furthermore, how would these tours of duty away from home have affected his personality?

How would our children be affected by army life? Would they have turned out as well as they have? Would we have been able to maintain our Orthodox Jewish lifestyle being in those totally secular environments?  How would I have been able to carry on during these year-long separations?         

Of course, there will never be an answer to all these questions. I did not think of all the possible consequences at the time. Howard handed in his resignation against the advice of family, friends, colleague and superiors. 

I just went with my gut feelings as to which road we needed to take and that made all the difference in the quality of our lives.

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Felicia Graber.

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  1. Sorry, I missed this too. I’m sure many could/can relate. You have captured this “2 Roads” choice very well – so emotional, so reflective. Luckily I was not forced into that decision but each of us have faced life altering events. For those not in our group, I’m sure you’ve made readers think “so what happened next” & hope you will let them know.