Monday, April 27, 2015

A Long, Sad Day

Friday was a long, sad day.

In my line of work, no one is ever in the same place for more than two to three years at a time. Often, less. We work in one country for a couple of years, before saying goodbye and moving on to the next. One may think it would be difficult to forge friendships in this milieu, people coming, people going, an endless revolving door, but it's often quite the opposite, because in a lot of places, though we may be very different people, in these--sometimes adverse--settings, we have more in common than not, and when forced to work side-by-side in a foreign place, it is possible to forge strong bonds even if you only work with them for a year.

These are exciting times, too, because, of course, departing colleagues will be replaced by new ones. We were especially fortunate our last few months in Brazil, where we made some very cool, new friends just as we left. I still remember the meatballs and manhattens with friends in Brasilia. Knowing that we may make new friends before we leave, makes it hard to believe we, too, will have to leave at some point, and it will make our own departure bittersweet.

Two work colleagues left on Friday. Two more will leave next week. One the week after that.

Last summer, Elise and the kids went back to the States for six weeks to escape the brutal summer heat. I was putting together the July 4th reception for our office and couldn't get away. Those days, too, weere long and sad. There's nothing quite as lonely as coming home to a completely empty, completely silent house...especially when you are used to being greeted by a cacophony of tiny voices. When I was missing my wife and kids desperately, one person stood out as especially supportive. When Elise and the kids were out of town, I volunteered to work every Saturday; what else was I going to do? Sitting in the office on a Saturday, working on the details of the party, he was there, too. I'm not exactly sure why. He didn't have to be, but he worked hard, sometimes too hard, and I appreciated the company.

That summer, he was especially supportive. He would say things like, "You're doing a good job, Paul." It could have been condescending or trite, but I never took it that way. It's not an easy thing to tell others they are doing a good job. You encourage children endlessly, praise them for silly things like taking a good poo, but I don't think as adults we encourage each other enough, especially when the going gets rough.

Oddly, and perhaps surprisingly, diplomats are a bunch of misfits. On the whole, they are a brilliant, but a mostly socially-inept breed. In many ways, it's as though the United States took its smartest and shot them out across the globe, faults intact, and every single one of them that I have met is eccentric, quirky, if not completely professional, compassionate, and capable.

One of my co-workers is an African-American who lived in Japan for seven years and speaks perfect Japanese and Chinese and has a love for Star Wars. Another is a Bangladeshi-American whose parents were Bangladeshi diplomats; he worked for the World Bank. Tom was born to Dutch descendants, spent twenty years in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper, and now runs through the streets of South India barefoot and buys antique cameras off eBay, hoping there is film in it that he can develop. Eric is a vegan and a swimmer. He was born at home in the Pacific Northwest and is a lover of all things Russian.

Earlier on Friday, I had to call an 87 year-old man in Oklahoma to tell him his younger brother had passed away in India. Though the death was not unsuspected, it didn't make the call any easier. And though, it was 2:00 in the morning, the man wanted to talk. I wasn't expecting that. I didn't know what to expect, but the fact that this man needed someone to talk to was clear. I was on the phone for forty minutes, much longer than I thought I would be. He thanked me no less than four times for bearing the heavy responsibility. He asked me where I was from, what I did before I moved to India, where I went to college, if I had any kids. He told me that his son had died earlier in the year from pancreatic cancer. He told me he was in a wheelchair, and though he wasn't as mobile as he would like, he still considered himself fortunate to be alive.

Later that afternoon, I said goodbye to my friend. We shook hands. All that day, without intending to do so, I was capturing our conversations and interactions on a reel in my head, saving them for posterity.

Later that night, I would have to run to the airport. Right before I was to go, the sky opened up, and it rained, an unusual occurence this time of year. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. Clementine was scared. I don't even know if she had ever heard thunder before. If she had, I am certain she does not remember.

I drove out to the airport to pick up my mom. Lightning flashed around the car. It was as though the gods had suspected and concurred that, indeed, it had been a long, sad day. But even so, it had a happy ending.

Nanny is here, and the next morning--much to the kids' delight--she surprised them by coming down the stairs and knocking on the door; they didn't even know she was coming.

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