Monday, July 9, 2012

A Season of Goodbyes

Goodbyes are hard but unfortunately, they are a regular part of this transient lifestyle we lead. In military terminology, this is referred to as PCSing- or a permanent change of station.  At any given time it seems as though someone is either transferring in or out of the command, or in our current situation, the Embassy. This is especially true during the busy summer months when families pack up and move on to their next posting before schools restart in the fall.  Sometimes the transfer is welcome- both by the person departing and those being left behind.  Other times, it is bittersweet for all parties involved.  Over time you learn to take the good with the bad since that is the only thing you can do.

This time of year creates a bit of anxiety for me, regardless of whether we are on the transferring end or are the ones that are staying put. If we are the ones moving I'm caught up in the sorting, organizing, and packing process.  What do we need to physically carry with us, what will go into long term storage, and what will be shipped on ahead? Do I really need to hold onto those boxes that haven't been opened since our last move?  Do I have enough time to organize a garage sale so I can purge myself of these unwanted items?  Yes, we may have movers who come in and pack our belongings for us but the prior planning that must take place before the moving van arrives keeps me awake for weeks.  Continually moving never gets easier and with each  move I seem to lose things in the process.  (I blame the massive wads of packing paper and each individually wrapped piece of silverware, knick-knack, and crayon).  When we are moving, I'm never sure what the future holds for us. Will we like the next assignment more than our current one or will we miss what we have left behind?  Will all of our belongings arrive at our new duty station unscathed or will we have to file a claims form for what was broken or lost?  Of course, there is that perpetual worry of what condition our items that we placed in long term storage will be in when we unearth them in two to three years.

If we are staying put- as is our situation this year- I wonder whether will we be as compatible with incoming families as we were with those who have left?  Will Sidney make new friends to replace those who have departed? (Much to my relief, all indications are that the answer to this worry is yes). Will office, neighborhood, and Embassy dynamics change for the better or for the worse?  In the civilian world where people may live in the same town or neighborhood for decades if not their entire lives, the notion of being the old timers after being in one location for just a year is laughable.  After one year in Tirana, we are the old timers.  Such is our life............

The other part of moving is saying goodbye.  Farewells are a big deal at our Embassy.  While a few people slip away as quietly as they spent their time here, others celebrate their departure with numerous parties, farewells, and lunches.  Sometimes they are combined with a welcome for the person replacing you (hence the term "hale and farewell") but other times they are stand alone events.  Perhaps these numerous events speak to the complexity of relationships here- there are office parties, representational events, neighborhood and personal parties, and Embassy-wide events.  If you happen to be invited to all of these events this can make for a very busy social calendar.  (More often than not, however, this socializing is more work than play.  This too is our life).

Thus is the case for us in recent weeks.  This past week we have been saying goodbye to a wonderful Air Force Master Sergeant who is essentially the glue that has kept Glenn's office together.  Upon our arrival Mary, and her trailing-spouse husband Mark, welcomed us with open arms. (Yes, Mary actually met us at the airport, whisked us through Customs and out into our new Albanian reality).  She has kept all aspects of our Albanian lives running as smoothly as they can given our circumstances.  She has simultaneously been no nonsense and efficient; compassionate and selfless; humorous and wise.  Mark has become my daily confidant on all things Tirana.  Mary is an expert at being military in an Embassy environment and she quickly brought both of us up to speed on what we needed to know.  Whether it be making sure all of our calendars were synced, helping me navigate the craziness of overseas medicine, or serving as a (fortunately not needed) power of attorney for Sidney's care, she has given us 110%.   (She is also the only person I will happily bake 250 mini cupcakes for when it is 100 degrees outside). 

There really aren't words that can adequately describe what Mary and Mark have done for us over the past year and how much they will be missed.  As the smallest token of our appreciation we hosted a farewell reception and awards ceremony in their honor and yes, I baked the a fore mentioned cupcakes.  Both of these wonderful people have become true friends. Getting to know Mary and Mark highlights the best and worst of this mobile lifestyle of ours.  Like so many of our other friends, our paths crossed only because of a random set of military orders and at the same time, we all eventually move on because of those very same orders. 

So Mary and Mark, thank you, good luck, and best wishes from all three Albanian Browns.  You will be truly missed.

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