Ex-pat postings are a bit like a revolving door; there’s always someone coming, someone going, entering, exiting, getting stuck with their nose pressed against the glass with a look of horrified Oh-My-God-I’ve-Just-Made-The-Worst-Mistake-of-My-Life on their face. Spinning around, sometimes missing the chance to jump out, sometimes escaping to the lobby for a few years of respite, it’s all part of the game. Once you get over the initial dizziness, you quickly learn that there are certain rules to follow, certain things you should and shouldn’t do.
The first rule of ex-pat club is don’t cry when it’s time to say goodbye.
Most of us have, deep within us somewhere, a desire to go home; to be comfortable, to be awash in the familiar, to let go of that last big breath we’ve been holding on to. Sometimes it may be a small desire, sometimes an overwhelming one. Sometimes it is confusing, sometimes it’s as clear as day. When your number is finally called and you pack your house once again, sorting out which electronics will work and which you can ditch, making sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, it means the finality of saying goodbye has become real. Saying good-bye is a very real part of this life and it happens a lot. There are unspoken rules to follow. Don’t hug too tightly, don’t ask too many questions. Assume that the person leaving is stressed out and that being overly sentimental is just going to stress them out more. It’s all part of the game. If you are the one leaving you adopt a pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile attitude while realizing that even though you are going home, it’s yet another move, yet another settling in, yet another adjustment. If you are the one staying behind, you have to follow the first rule of ex pat club: Don’t cry too much because you’ll set everyone else off. Most of us used the band-aid approach. It’s best to get it over and done with quickly.
When we left Cyprus, sitting on a plane getting ready for take-off, I was surprised to find myself thinking it was quite possible I would never be back. It was somewhat disorienting to realize I would likely never again step foot on that little rock in the Mediterranean that I called home for almost three and a half years. However, I also knew, deep in my heart, that there were friends we made in our time there that we would see again.
The longer I’m a part of this traveling circus, the more firmly I believe that you somehow meet the people you’re meant to meet, and that the ones who are meant to stay in your life, will. You never know when paths will intersect, when chance meetings will happen, where the job will take you next. For those close friends we made in Cyprus, some we have seen again, some we have not…yet…but I do not doubt that our lives will intersect on the big ex-pat graph of life. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.
You meet some great folks on this roller coaster. Granted, you meet some strange nuts as well, but hey, that’s life. The people who you meet on the way up may not be the same people you end up sitting with on the ride down. In fact, they probably won’t be. But occasionally you meet someone who you don’t mind sharing your little car with, someone who sits with you on the way up and gives you advice, who screams with you on the way down, and who you would be happy to pass some time with waiting in line for the Tilt-a-whirl.
My collective Copenhagen Connection had to say goodbye to someone like that today. I didn’t want to break the first rule of ex-pat club, so I will try to do her stint here justice, in the way I know best; with words, with sentiment, and a few song lyrics tossed in for good measure.
A blonde, Midwestern knitter who does a mean Fargo accent is not the type of person I would have expected to end up friends with. Sweet as apple pie, not a mean bone in her body, never a bad word to say about anyone. Full of positive energy, full of ideas and advice and willing to give it, a smile for everyone, an ear for listening. So imagine my surprise when I heard her use the word cock-sucker once to describe someone who tried to steal her iPhone (while she was knitting, of course). That clinched it for me.
It’s a special kind of person who can make others feel at home no matter how far away from home they are, who can commiserate without oozing negativity. It’s not everyone who can recognize the ups and downs of living abroad with a smile, a constructive thought. It’s hard to stay positive when the sun hasn’t shone for half a year, but that’s the kind of person she is. She is the kind of person who lights up any room she enters, who makes you feel safe, who makes you feel comfortable, but who can also drink you under the table and swear like a truck driver.
So friend, you will be missed, dearly, by all those you leave behind.
For those of us staying, it’s going to be a tough year. It’s a big turnover year, and there are many families who will be leaving in the next few months. Some of them I’ve gotten to know well, some not at all, a few just enough to have an inkling of how they feel about going. Every time you say goodbye, you get a brief glimpse into your own future. When someone leaves, you are forced to confront the reality of your own exit. The longer you remain somewhere, the sturdier your roots get, the firmer your feet are placed on the ground, the harder it is to uproot.
In Cyprus, when someone was leaving, the school would collectively sing Happy Trails. That old cow poke song is kind of cheesy, kind of dated and goofy, but the sentiment is the right one.
Happy Trails to you, until we meet again. Happy Trails to you, keep smiling until then.
Happy Trails to you, friend. You will be missed.