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Out of the Balcony

Out of the Balcony feature image


Written by Guest Writer

Jana Brya

I’m a good American. I support the troops. I’ve always bought my tickets, season tickets, actually. This is the show that all respectable citizens see; they check it off their to-do lists and make sure all their neighbors know. “Why yes, of course I’ve seen the performance. I support this show and the message 100%….we all do, right? Supporting all military families is a given!”

So I attend the show and watch from the balcony, like everyone else. It seems as though the front rows are always empty; it’s safer up here in the balcony where I can see the big picture but ignore the details that are literally on display right in front of me. It feels a little too raw, too messy, maybe even a little glamorous down there in the front. I’ll stay tucked up here, safe with the crowd.

Comfort Zone to War Zone Support

One year, though, my safe little spot was taken by another spectator because I got issued one of those front row seats. It was the year my sister’s husband was deployed for the first time, and I found myself holding a ticket that stated, “Row 1, Seat 10” –  smack dab in the middle. I didn’t feel super prepared to be sitting in that seat. I looked around and didn’t see anyone sitting close to me. But I turned my eyes to the stage when the lights went down, and I watched.

"I'll never know what it feels like to send my love to war, to see my kids fear for his return, but, because of that front row seat, I now have a deeper understanding of what that looks like, what that truly is." @iwillwaitvsp Share on X

You know what you can see from the front row? You can see the actual tear that drops down the spouse’s face. You feel the slight tremor in the smallest kid’s hand when she holds her teddy bear from dad. You can truly hear the gulp of the oldest son’s throat as he realizes that he’s suddenly the man of the house at the age of 12. You see four faces looking up at their mom, searching her expression to find reassurance that she doesn’t feel but has to find. You smell the fear, the unknown, the plans thrown out the window.

And then it’s real. I suddenly realize that all this is VERY real. I’m not watching a show, safely in my civilian balcony, giving the expected, standard standing ovation. I’m watching a real family deal with a situation that they just were handed. And, honestly? It made me feel uncomfortable – even useless. But in uncomfortable situations, you have two choices: grow or get out. So I grew.

Outgrowing the Balcony Forever

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know what to do. But I started with just showing up. I think that was enough some days. We, as civilian family members, can’t only pray and send thoughtful comments on Facebook. We need to dig in, to ask the hard questions, to open our hands and say, “What do YOU need?” And there may be days were they need nothing but the knowledge that we are there. Then there are days when we need to be a sounding board, a soft place to land, carpool driver, or baby whisperer. Sometimes just the presence of another adult makes things seem easier.

Being in the front row can look like many things, but getting yourself in that seat will be one of the most rewarding things you can do. I’ll never know what it feels like to send my love to war, to see my kids fear for his return, but, because of that front row seat, I now have a deeper understanding of what that looks like, what that truly is.

I think if we are all honest, we all love the idea of supporting the troops and their families but let our fear of it somehow “catching” us stop us from being all-in supportive. If we just stand on the outside, waving our little American flag, that should be enough. Friends, get out of the balcony. Sit in the front row. Witness the true saga of what these families go through. And then help – through the ugly moments, through the joy (because there are beautiful pockets of that!), and through the actual accumulative years these people are apart.

And that’s why the front row costs a little more. The experience you walk away with is rich in community, acceptance, patriotism, and love. Be the kind of person that gives up that crowded balcony for the deserted front row. I promise…it’s the best seat in the house.

Have you had your own “front row seat” experience?

Share it in the comments or on our social media pages here or here. Your story will help our military families know you see them!

Jana Brya has been a proud Army sister-in-law and aunt since 1997. She is a freelance writer and has worked in music production. She currently resides in Atlanta where she raises her three children with her husband of 20 years.

VSP will be forever grateful that Jana got out of the balcony. She continually chooses the front row seat.

Are you an active duty or veteran milspouse interested in being a guest writer for VSP? Get in touch with your details and topic interests on our contact page!

Tags :
Army,Civilian Support,Community,Military Family,Military Life,Military Spouse,Milspouse
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3 Responses

  1. Amy was so lucky to have you there, Jana. I would have loved to have had someone like you during my 21 years as an army wife.

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Veterans Spouse Project (VSP) is the only nonprofit arts organization in the nation working to give voice to the experiences of military spouses through theatre and expressive arts. Learn more about how to share, connect, listen and create with us in your community. 

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