Posted: 26 June 2008 in observations, work

The Foreign Service is a series of goodbyes.  You arrive someplace and stay there awhile – one year, two – and from the moment you arrive you start saying goodbye.  Often you’re welcomed with a party celebrating all the other new arrivals (summer is the busiest moving season) and at the same celebration, those departing for new places are being thanked for their time.  This “Hail and Farewell” is an odd sort of thing; the new folks feel alternately disoriented, jet-lagged, welcomed and overwhelmed while those leaving may feel bittersweet, grateful, anxious or sad.  I’ve been at those parties where I’ve hit every emotion on the spectrum and then some in the space of an hour. 

That said, I think the hellos are easier.  Someplace new offers endless opportunity to occupy your mind with the details of getting settled.  What to do daily, where to put the furniture, how to unpack, how to negotiate strange telephone and internet providers, getting to know your colleagues.  You’re neck deep before you realize it, in fact, by the time you look up, six months have passed.  But the goodbyes always follow.  Even if it isn’t you, others are saying farewell, to mixed degrees of happiness and relief. 

This week marked the first of the significant goodbyes for me.  I always take it too hard, dwell too much on endings, feel too certain its always the last time.  I expect this farewell will be worse than the others since it’s two kinds of permanence.  A traditional and a final Foreign Service goodbye.  I don’t expect to see my friends again.  After all, they’ll be vacationing in Turin, not Charlottesville.  Will it be emails and cards for the next 50 years?  Unlikely.  It’s much more realistic that this is goodbye and it’s a painful, ripping sensation.

This morning, I said goodbye to the last class I’ll teach.  I was surprised at how quickly tears came to my eyes and how much I meant it when I told them I loved the Foreign Service.  I think I didn’t realize how much until that second.  It’s permanant, yes, and painful.  But, it’s time.

  1. Digger says:

    I can imagine some of what you are going through. Even as I consider it, quite seriously, myself, it scares me. There is always the notion when you leave post that the goodbye needn’t be final for those you enjoyed serving with. I had a core of close friends in Jerusalem, and we all ended up back in DC. I sometimes think our regular dinners there and now here are what have kept me in the Service this long. And in the moments when we consider bidding, we talk of trying to serve together again.

    But one of us has already left the Service. And of the six of us left, not one seriously plans to stay in. Which seems pretty telling.

  2. backlist says:

    I tend to make one close friend at each assignment. Sometimes two, but that’s lucky. I think it’s telling that all but two of those in that group have left the service already. Maybe I just make friends with people who aren’t cut out for FS life. But I think it’s more of a trend toward the type of person who will stay in under current family and danger policies and who won’t.

  3. Digger says:

    I wondered the same thing about the friends I made, whether I was just picking friends who weren’t cut out for this. But in the end, I think I chose friends who value their relationships, be it with family or friends, more than they value career. And maybe that kind of person isn’t cut out for the service. But it is certainly the kind of person I want in my life.

  4. WKC says:

    On the other hand, you never know what people are going to come back into your life, so there’s still hope. Maybe one should think of past acquaintances as potential reunions…

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