Updated: Feb 24
You know the monsoons are going to change. You know the rains are going to come. As such, foreign service life is cyclical; we do not stay in one place long. Inherent in the job is the moving. New job, new friends, new house, new fruit and veg situation. Mostly, though, new friends. Because just as our life is cyclical, all of theirs are as well.
Sure sure, we have friends who are not foreign service. We have friends whose addresses I have put into my address book in ink because I know full well they will not be moving. But FS folks, we are nomads, right? Come and go, come and go, every two to four years.
Though I am fully aware that our kids go through this same cycle: hello-I-am-the-new-kid, yay-friends, oh-wait-you’re-leaving, now-it-is-my-turn, … right now, this is about me (because sometimes, my friends, it is okay for it to be about us big people). Right now, what I know for sure is that departures are starting early, and again, I have a friend-sized hole in my life.
Everyone has a different need for connections, both near and far. For me, one of the things I really focus on as soon as we arrive to a new country, is meeting and connecting with people, recreating my community. It gives me peace of mind to know that I am surrounded by like-minded and supportive friends, and that I have key people I can rely on for things like kid-schlepping or ear-bending. These are people I respect and admire; they feel the same about me. Having (for me, multiple) friends I share with brings me happiness and joy; that feeling of connectedness is important for me, and part of my balance.
In general, beyond introverts and extroverts, and friends, work colleagues, and acquaintances, there are two general kinds of people in your life. The group we are talking about today consists of those who add to your life. (We’ll save talking about the other group for another day.) These positive influences and loving people, they are the ones you love to see, and think about with warm thoughts when you are not together. Especially overseas, where we often live across oceans from our biological families, it is vital to create a support system for ourselves. So we find these positive additions, who become the people you want more of in your life, and probably, you include in your second family (the family you get to build, carefully and deliberately choosing each member, versus the family with which you are born). These people are often the ones we turn to when in pain or sorrow or laugh with when we find joy, when we need social support and when we need companionship. When our day doesn’t go quite right, or when we have an emotional issue, we turn to our family. They will tell you when you are being pig-headed or especially harsh (especially towards yourself). They will be that voice of reason when you start to second guess. They will be your sounding board when you don’t know what direction is best. They will meet for a drink, a lunch, or a coffee just because. They bring joy, calm, peace and effervescence to your day through a myriad of interactions. They offer support and console. They stick by you through the good times and the bad. They lend you a hairband when yours is hanging in your face. They tell you there is spinach between your teeth – but nicely and without it being a big deal. They are your community, and support system through whatever may come your way. Being with these people elevates your mood and your sense of being. You can count these people as blessings in your life.
And then, because we can no more align all move cycles to mesh with our own than we can align the stars as we’d like, as inevitable as those rains and seasons, you are going to be saying goodbye to friends every year. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Moving time will come. No matter how much we hate moving, or hate leaving our friends, it is inevitable that it is going to happen, as long as we stay in this lifestyle. Every year, we can count on the rains coming and having to say goodbye to our friends (probably not in that order). One of the best parts of the Foreign Service -- meeting new and amazing people -- becomes one of the worst as those amazing people, who have become your good friends, departing post to move on to their next, leaving you behind. Except they aren’t really. They move, just like you will soon enough.
Inevitable, sure, but still, it bites. People who have touched our lives, and touched our hearts, are not going to be there every day like we’ve become accustomed. Sure, now I have another place in the world I get to add to my must-visit list. And sure, it’s a small world after all, and all that. But it's still larger than we'd like, and Arlington, Amman, Hawaii, Brussels or Budapest are indeed a long way from where I am right now. Nairobi and New York are not exactly a one-flight weekend trip option.
You know what? I’m still going to do it. I am still going to invest in my second family. I am still going to keep on putting my all into my friendships because that is what makes my heart happy. That is what I know I need, connections on a deeper level, the ability to pick right back up where we left off, even if there is a several-month gap in the in-person conversations.
Thankfully, these dear people know I love them, and think of them often. I have a very full plate – some might argue my plate runneth over – and probably won’t write as often as I want to. But I will think of them, send a quick note, share pics and trade stories. I won’t accept an apology if weeks pass without a peep, and as soon as we are in the same time zone, and within a state border, I will definitely see them again.
I love you all, dear friends. I miss you every day.