My husband and I arrived on the island of Terceira on the evening of March 31, 2011. Outside, it was already dark and the wind was fierce (we later heard it had blown over a shipment delivery truck in the Base Exchange parking lot). We had been delayed leaving London, and thus, barely caught our Lisbon flight with our pets and ourselves. Of course—our checked luggage didn’t make it. Therefore, it took us a little longer than usual to leave baggage claim. Walking out into the small terminal, we were greeted by my husband’s entire flight. (For those of you not in the military, allow me to clarify that this is fairly unusual.) While we were tired from the stress of travel, flight delays, missed luggage, and we were not at our best appearance-wise, it was so sweet of all these strangers to take time out of their evenings to wait at an airport for two random humans to fly in, simply to welcome their new co-worker and his spouse to the island. Lajes Goodness.
Greeting incoming airmen of all ranks is common practice for any squadron flight at Lajes Field. While almost everyone who gets off the plane often feels tired, icky, and just wants to get settled and sleep, they are still pleasantly surprised by the people took the time to welcome them to the island and show they care.
Lajes Goodness is a thing at Lajes Field. Sadly, however, over the past year or so I was living on Terceira, I saw the definition devolve into a derogatory term. Too often I heard people dismiss Lajes Goodness, as synonymous with mandatory fun (additional activities and commitments airmen often feel obligated to participate in, for evaluation bullets, to appease higher ranks, or to simply be seen doing something good). That is not (and never was) Lajes Goodness.
This is Lajes Goodness–these are examples of the ordinary kindness commonly experienced and generally considered unique to Lajes Field–
~Spouse facebook page: This is a very active closed group on facebook primarily for Lajes Field spouses, and very quintessentially Lajes. We used this venue to share relevant information (school closures, weather warnings, upcoming local events, etc.) or ask questions (Where is DeBorla’s? Is LaBarca open on Mondays? What is the phone number for the Angra vet clinic?). What I found most impressive was the fact that not only would most questions be answered quickly, usually someone would offer to additional advice, directions, or even rides to help people get where they were trying to go–just to be nice. On a daily basis, this utterly ordinary, yet very important communal helpfulness could be witnessed. Humans simply wanting to make life easier and more pleasant for each other.
~Once my car broke down on my way to work. I had no idea why (I later learned by my husband’s car’s gas guage is off 1/4 a tank–is actually empty). Not only did a random human stop to help me (because, of course I had left my mobile phone at home), but the nice man even drove about 10 mins. to the local gas station to get fuel for me. Seriously?! How nice is that?
~When my friend Dale arrived to the island, my boss spent a weekend showing her and her husband different available houses. My boss wasn’t their sponsor, she was simply being nice and trying to help them get settled.
~Our landlord let us borrow his car for our first week or so on the island (his son had gone to mainland Portugal for a while, so our landlord used his son’s vehicle, while we used his). The thing is, he wasn’t even our landlord yet. He was just a nice man working in my husband’s shop, who knew we didn’t have any way to get around the island. We have discovered people will frequently lend out their cars, to friends or co-workers who don’t have one because they are either just arriving or about to leave.
~If you are walking and look lost, or have a heavy load (or maybe even simply walking) someone will stop and offer you a ride.
~After a severe flood devastated a local village, the base community helped clean up, or donated food and clothing, etc.
~When a family is in crisis, severe illness, or a death in the family, several people always figuratively step forward to bring food, offer to watch you pets, etc.
~Higher ranking base officials know many of their airmen and their families. One colonel spontaneously helped give my friend’s daughter her puppy at the base club’s social hour, because, you know, Santa came through and told him to. The previous base commander knew an A1C’s golf handicap, because it was a small community, and they had been in tournaments together. The current base commander stopped to say hello to a TSgt and knew his name–but more impressively, also knew the name of his dog.
The list goes on, but I feel like I have made my point? Lajes is a community built on kindness. Yes, people have days that go wrong, and sometimes people are rude, but that doesn’t mean Lajes Goodness doesn’t exist.
Despite the very real goodness all around me, it took months before I didn’t fear social interactions. I kept to myself. I was nice to humans I encountered, but ultimately, I tried to keep my head down and go unnoticed. I was tremendously broken after my experiences at my first base. I just wanted to hide away from the world with my sweet husband and my adorable pets.
My first few months, I did met a few nice people in passing, but I never really let them into my life. This isn’t because they weren’t good people, some of them certainly were. I was basically too afraid of everyone. I didn’t want to be burned again, trusting people took and effort I didn’t have left in me. I didn’t want to give a stranger the opportunity to use that one misstep against me for their own benefit. Real friendship didn’t seem like an actual attainable thing, and if it were, it seemed like far too much work. I assumed people wouldn’t get my sense of humor, or realize I was a bit (charmingly) weird and dismiss me as useless. Why would anyone want to know me? I felt there were few redeeming qualities left within the walls I had built around myself.
Looking back now, I probably missed out on knowing a few amazing people. In turn, the personality-red-flags I had learned a couple of years prior, did help me to avoid some intensely over-dramatic un-good humans.
Eventually, the beautiful human, Trishell, came into my life. She was the first person I truly let get to know me in over a year. Our dynamic friendship duo gradually expanded into a small group of friends I now love like family.
Over the next couple years, I began to trust people again, and enjoy being social. I no longer feared leaving the house or social interactions with strangers. I can’t pinpoint when exactly started to return to being me, or maybe a slightly stronger, less naive version of me. I know I laughed more. I spoke up. I didn’t shy away from being who I am. I came out of the figurative shell I had been hiding within for months. I talked to people more. I became involved.
I also ended up joining the Lajes Spouses Club because my friend, Megan, had a diabolical plan to take over Lajes (and rule with an iron fist)–apparently, being members of the spouses club was part of that? Lajes Spouses’ Club is for both officer and enlisted spouses, because the base itself is so small. Most bases have separate clubs for enlisted spouses and officer spouses. Thus further establishing the idea that spouses should be divided by the ranks of the humans they married, and not socialize based on their own characteristics or commonalities.
To be honest, I dreaded the idea of joining. I had been at Lajes Field a year and half–why join now? I had finally had couple of close friends, I had a job I loved, my art was gaining local attention, and I was content to stay where I was comfortable. Besides, why spend time with people who would hardly acknowledge me at any other base? Maybe that is where Lajes Goodness comes into play again. A lot of the spouses, regardless of their husband’s rank, their ages, education level, number of children (or lack therefore) were kind and welcoming. I only felt out of place at the first couple of meetings, due to my own social reservations. Then, I just acted like myself–who accidentally laughs too loud, who likes hugs, and occasionally makes inappropriate, yet delightful, sarcastic comments.
I can admit when I am wrong, and I was wrong–most of the spouses I met held little regard for the established keep-your-friends-within-the-proper-ranks-of-officer-or-enlisted, that had seemed so important to the officer spouses my past fighter base in England.
When I first arrived at Lajes Field, I was told repeatedly, that the base will be what you make it. If you want to enjoy your time, you will. If you don’t make the most of Lajes, you will hate it. That sentiment was true, and I loved my time on Terceria.
On April 1, 2011, the morning after we first landed. I was finally able to see my new home bathed in sunlight. I felt love. A part of my heart felt free of the past. (That sounds so cliché, I know.) I was nowhere near the person I wanted to be, or the happy human I could be, but I was surrounded by beauty that seemed to be a daily reminder that life was somehow okay. I can’t really explain it. I decided that morning not to take the beauty that surrounded me for granted.
I don’t think a day passed that I didn’t look at the gorgeous expanse of ocean, the stone-fenced fields, hydrangea-lined roadways or the random cattle traffic jams and smile to myself, in awe that I was able to live in such an unusual and beautiful place.