Back in 2003, when Rob and I met in college, he was a few months away from officially signing the paperwork to join the Navy. He was planning to graduate school, then start the journey to become a Nuclear Submarine Officer. It was a big decision and one he didn’t take lightly.
I remember us feeling in a strange place with this decision. We had a strong and instant connection, but for us it was too early in our relationship to make any life-long choices based on the other person. I remember him asking me if I thought he should go through with it and join. The selfish part of me didn’t want him to go. I wanted to continue to get to know him and allow our relationship to grow. But I knew I couldn’t ask that. It wasn’t about me. It was one of those early lessons in trust. I had to trust that it would all work out, even though I didn’t know the answers yet.
I also remember us talking a lot about why he wanted to join the Navy. His choice to join was honestly a shock to most of his family and friends because he was not the “military type.” He is a hippie at heart. Loves to ponder life and take his time. For them it didn’t seem like a good fit. But for Rob, it was. His two main reasons for joining the Navy were:
- He felt a call to serve his country after 9/11.
- He felt like he had a pretty easy growing up experience. He needed to dig deep and be challenged. He felt disorganized and wanted to learn some structure.
For me, his reasons showed me a lot about his character from the very beginning of our relationship. He was selfless, wanted to help and serve others. He also wanted to find a way to grow into the best person he could be in order to best help others. How many people did I know that willingly did something they knew would be incredibly hard, just for the sake of becoming a better person so you can be the best benefit to others? I know I made choices to do things that were hard, but it usually wasn’t about other people. It was just me wanting to see what I was capable of. I added this to the list of things that made Rob so special, and why he became like a magnet for me. I didn’t know why, but I needed to follow him.
Rob did join the Navy and after a year of us dating, he graduated school and left for Officer Candidate School. His journey to become a submarine officer began. During the many more months of training following that initial training, I graduated, moved to Washington DC, and then moved to Charleston SC with him. We got engaged, got married, and moved to Hawaii for his first sea duty.
Long story short, being in the Navy and being a submariner was very hard for Rob. He changed in unexpected ways, learned unexpected things, and it basically shook his whole world. By the time his first tour on a submarine finished, we were both ready to be done. We were so glad we did it, but it wasn’t the place for us, and we wanted to move on to what was next.
But what was next?
By the end of his submarine tour, he was ready to be out, like now, but I felt very strongly that he needed some time before leaving. There have been very few times in our relationship together where I’ve pushed back strongly against something Rob wanted to do, but I really thought we needed a breather before jumping into civilian life. After a submarine officer does a sea tour (usually 3 years), they are assigned a shore tour (usually about 2 years), which is considered a little break for them. It’s more of a 9-5 job. I knew Rob needed this, and I needed this. Time and space.
Time to process what we had just experienced while having the comfort of a nice salary to cushion us. Space for new paths to emerge, so we wouldn’t just throw ourselves into another job because we were scared of not making money. The whole Navy experience changed us and we needed to figure out who we were now after all of it, as individuals and as a couple.
Even though it was right for Rob to leave the Navy, it was hard. The Navy throws money at submariners. It’s a very hard job and few people are qualified and capable of doing it, but the financial perks were a pretty painful thing to walk away from. So much money and stability, and a full retirement after a little over a decade more of service. About 12 more years would have done it.
12 years and then we’d be totally financially free for the rest of our lives and we would also be free to do whatever we wanted. It was more than just a little bit tempting. But for us, we saw it as 12 years of misery that would lead to a bitter end. For us, no amount of money was worth that.
The decision was made. He would leave the military, but he still had to figure out what to do afterwards. This shore tour landed us in Norfolk, VA and staying on for a shore tour was one of the best decisions we’ve made. We did have time and space. We reconnected as partners. We made friends and had a blast. We started taking care of ourselves – eating well and exercising. We also started to feed our souls. That’s when we started going to a UU Church and weekly meditation classes. It was challenging to process everything we had experienced, but it was a beautiful time of rediscovering who we were now, at this stage, individually and together.
Something to mention about Rob and me is that we very much “live in the grey.” We do not see things as “black or white.” We don’t see things as obvious or clear-cut. No way is “the right way” and we have gotten comfortable, although sometimes not without frustration, with being somewhat indecisive.
That’s why it was such an incredible moment when one random day about nine months away from Rob being released from the Navy, he came home, walked up to me, and with the strongest certainty I have ever seen in him, he stated, “I want to be a doctor. I’m going to apply to medical school.”
I smiled at him and said, “Okay.” It was relieving to see him so certain about his next move, despite the unknown craziness that would be in our future.
He had just spent the last several hours researching what he needed to do. It was a couple of months away from the last MCAT of the application season. Schools were already interviewing candidates. It was late, like very late, to be starting this process. We thought for a moment about waiting a year so he could apply the recommended way, but then we said, screw it, let’s just try and see what happens. If he didn’t pass the MCAT or get any interviews, we’d try again next year.
Rob studied after work and on the weekends. He took the MCAT and killed it. He sent out his application package and to our surprise, received several interviews. Things were coming together.
By the time Rob was officially released from the Navy, he was accepted into medical school.
Rob wanted to be a doctor growing up. He asked for anatomy coloring books and was always wanting to heal people. Everyone that grew up with him, felt that he would be a doctor. Rob did too until high school when he worked for an optometrist. He was so dismayed by all the insurance messes the doctor had to deal with. It all seemed to be about the insurance and not about helping people. Rob was so discouraged by this, that he decided there was no way he could be a doctor, if this was what being a doctor entailed.
But many years later, while Rob and I were sitting in at our weekly meditation class in Norfolk, VA, Rob had a realization. If he was able to survive all the obstacles and nonsensical things in the Navy, he could handle insurance issues. Insurance was no longer a valid excuse for him. He felt that being a doctor was something he was supposed to do and it was time to take up that responsibility and refocus on helping people, regardless of bureaucratic systems.
And here we are, four years later and Rob is now Dr. Rob. He made it through medical school and will start his three-year residency in July to become a family doctor. He is a few short years away from being a fully licensed, board certified, practicing physician. The future for him seems to be in Direct Primary Care, where he can focus on the patient and be as free of insurance companies as possible. He’s finding a way to make this work how he envisions.
I cannot express in words how insanely proud I am of him, not just for completing something challenging, but for accepting the challenges that have come in his life and rising to the occasions. For trusting when it doesn’t make sense and for always keeping others at the forefront of his mind. I married an incredible human being and feel blessed and honored to be walking our life paths together. It hasn’t always been easy, and there’s still a lot of hardship to come, but I have a beautiful life, with a beautiful person and together we can reach our bigger goals and work together to bring out our best selves.
Congratulations to my husband, my “rob.” May he change lives, heal and help, bring people hope, comfort in hard times, and fulfill his life-long calling even when obstacles arise. I believe in him 100% and am thrilled to be by his side as he makes his difference in this world.
Special shout out to all the 2016 graduates! Let your light shine and follow your hearts! You won’t regret it. <3