On Sunday, March 30, my husband and I arrived at the Lajes Field airport just as they opened. We are both neurotically punctual and wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get checked in–especially when traveling with three pets. After we checked in, we returned to what had been out beautiful home for the past three years to finish grabbing our luggage and our animal-babies.
Everything had this prolonged surreal sense of melancholy about it–as if leaving was still temporary, despite our now empty home, and the fact we had been sleeping on a sofa bed for the past week. I have always hated the middle-bit of time when you know you are leaving, or you know a loved one is leaving–and you are just waiting for that inevitable announcement to board a flight. My sensitive soul struggles with goodbyes. The world is small, and through technology it is easy to remain connected despite vast geographical distances, yet leaving is never easy. Although, I was mentally preparing to embrace my new adventure of life in the familiar Midwest, a part of my heart was breaking.
As I mentioned in my previous posts. I was leaving Lajes a different person than I was when I arrived. I am simply happier, more content with life because of my experiences there. I have found a renewed sense of faith and love in other people. I no longer fear every person I meet, and every new social situation. I have healed more than I could have hoped.
After we had checked all our pets onto the flight, my husband and I were greeted by the familiar kind faces of our friends and acquaintances who had come to say goodbye. At that point, we were officially in the dreaded middle-bit. It isn’t that I didn’t want to see these amazing humans one last time–of course I did. I love those people. Nor was I was I not grateful for their willingness to take time out of their lives to see us off–that meant the world to me. I just hated the sadness swelling in my chest. My eyes were watering almost as soon as Megan hugged me after I returned from checking in my dogs. My eyes are watering a little now, simply recalling leaving.
Hugs. Lots and lots of hugs. That is what I mainly remember. At the moment, the goodbyes felt like forever. Standing around with several of my absolute favorite people, talking, laughing, crying a little–waiting for the inevitable intercom voice to announcement.
Our base commander and his lovely wife were also at the airport to see people off to their next duty stations. Since I do know both of them as humans, having taught their daughter art lessons, I assumed we would exchange quick goodbyes before we headed out. However, I was taken aback when Col Bargery coined me. (For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of military coins, here is a little article explaining a little more.) I had never received a coin for specifically being me. I have been to Dining-Ins, Dining-Outs, and other large-scale base events where coins were given to everyone. However, this was different, and far more meaningful. Our commander gave me one of his special coins, that only he and the base Chief can award to people–each coin is individually numbered, making each unique. He had a lot of very kind things to say, however, being the big-ball-of-emotion I was at the time, I can’t recall most of the specifics.
The fact that he felt I had been part of what made Lajes a good place floored me. I was struck with the strange realization that I had been living in a small community, and I had grown out of my shell to such an extent that some people would be aware of my absence. The realzation was a little incredible, especially based on the fact that three years prior, I had been doing my very best to keep my head down and hide away from human interactions. His gesture meant a lot to me.
He also coined my husband, but he coined me first–so–I win.
As his wife hugged me goodbye, she quietly said, “Never stop being you”. I felt my eyes flood with tears again. I’m such a dork. People are so sweet, sometimes.
Finally, the announcement came–and we hugged our goodbyes–again, and again. Casey and I hauled our sweaters, winter coats (preparing for North Dakota weather) and our three heavy carry-ons through the security line, watching our friends exit one way as we left through another. Then we sat quietly in a waiting area, emotionally drained, yet so tremendously grateful for the loving humans we had met.
From the window of our plane, I watched the familiar green fields grow smaller into the distance. I watched the white ocean waves blur into one huge expanse of blue. The same expanse of blue the had isolated me from so many other people in my life for the past years. The same endless ocean that made my heart happy daily simply because it was beautiful. The same ocean that has always existed. I will miss the ocean.
Even now, sitting in our new rental house on my recently acquired thrift store chair, in Grand Forks–it is hard to believe this is my new life. Many of my friends from Lajes have since received their orders, and are now preparing to embark on their various adventures throughout the world. This is simply a way of life for military. I have accepted it. However, I don’t know if it will ever get any easier. I think any sane human would agree, moving is a tedious process. Moving is also very lonely. I am lucky to have several good friends from college who live in cities near by. But settling into a new place, is always daunting for me. Each day, I have to find ways to get out of my comfort zone in an attempt to make a life here. Even if it is something as small as getting lunch alone at a local cafe, or simply stopping into a new coffee shop.
Our quaint and quirky new home will provide me with my project opportunities. They will keep me busy for weeks while we wait for the rest of our household good to arrive. Reviving our lawn, planting a garden, refinishing a dresser, painting the bathrooms, etc. all provide me with a sense of purpose. That purpose helps to keep my mind occupied and, in turn, keeps my depression at bay.
My husband and I left the Azores with the intention of keeping Lajes Goodness with us. We want to maintain that kindness and positivity we found at Lajes Field–that easy willingness to help others, because it is nice to be nice. Life moves slower in Terceira, we want to make that effort not to get overwhelmed by the unnecessarily fast and stressful pace of life in the US. Despite the fact that my island life becomes more distant with each passing day, I have changed irreversibly for the better simply from the people I have met and my experience living there.
Hearts to you–pretty island…
I suppose now, it is time to embrace my new North Dakota adventure–and attempt to spread Lajes Goodness to other humans beyond the Atlantic Ocean.