Living in the Past, Present, and Future–and how that fits into our Foreign Service life
First day back to school for my kiddos and, while I love them dearly, as they raced around excitedly and noisily getting their day started, I was definitely looking forward to a bit of silence. When I got home from dropping them at school the dogs looked at me as if to say “didn’t you forget something?” Our lab mix even went so far as to pop her head out the door before I closed it, glance around, look at me, glance around and look confused. “No, my four-legged lovelies, I didn’t forget anything!” I hummed as I skipped through my house, smiling at the silence. I made my way out to the terrace, unrolled my yoga mat, plopped myself down and let out an ahhhhhhh … before starting my warm up for sun salutation. I felt how tight my muscles were, and how warm and loose they became as I settled into the routine. In perfect silence, ahhhhhh …
As I sat in prayer position, focusing on the Buddha I have on a table for exactly that purpose, I found my mind drifting to a sunny Dublin morning, one of many where I made my way to City Center after dropping the kids at school, sometimes for errands and, on days when I had time, sometimes for whatever struck my fancy. I saw myself wandering the rooms of The Chester Beatty Library, full of ancient artifacts and texts. This is a museum that is an introvert’s paradise–while you will often find many people moving through its rooms everyone is silent, immersed in their own thoughts as they absorb history. Each time I went there I found myself standing in front of various Buddhas, lost in their curves and the tranquility they brought me. I sat in front of my own small, seated Buddha and appreciated being taken back to those peaceful strolls through one of my favorite museums; I breathed deeply again, feeling quite centered somewhere between the present and fond memories of the past.
I went downstairs to shower, thinking about what to do with the children once they got home, standing under the hot water I thought about the possibilities–ice cream at the mall, swimming in our pool, a walk with the dogs–and found myself again lost in memory, this time the memory of picking our two youngest up from their school in Dublin. Often we would take a stroll with Terry, my closest friend in Ireland and my very favorite Aussie, and her daughter, who was my daughter’s BFF. We would all walk to the Starbucks near the school for hot chocolate and a treat, Terry and I would chat while the children giggled over pastries, and we would giggle as we watched them sprout a heavier mustache with each sip of chocolate. Then we’d make our way back to our cars, still parked in front of the school, and hug goodbye. Each time, Terry would say “We’ll see you tomorrow, my darlings!” Thinking of her voice, and how she’s the only one who calls me darling besides my grandmother, made me smile. I thought about that walk, which I could probably do with my eyes closed, saw myself strolling those wide sidewalks and turn towards the gym where the kids took swim lessons …
I found myself sitting in the gym watching my two youngest children learn to become the strong swimmers they are today, glancing to my right when my oldest, fresh off the rugby pitch and covered in mud, sometimes battered, always content, walked through the door of the pool room to grab his suit from me and get cleaned up for his lesson. Which led me to another memory of me texting my husband in Iraq, where he spent the last year we lived in Dublin, each time a large man in a tiny speedo sauntered past me, typing out “holy crap, it’s another one! Stop this madness …”
The thought of speedos brought my mind to a quiet, breezy room on an island off the coast of Conakry, the capitol of Guinea, Africa, where I and a handful of others were immersed in the movements of sun salutation when we heard wild laughter coming from the beach, so loud and joyful we couldn’t help but move to the open door to peek. Snaking its way down the beach was a conga line of giggling Guinean children, led by a heavy Russian man carrying a bottle of vodka and wearing a tiny speedo. We stared in disbelief before we all burst into laughter at the surreal sight of the drunk man leading the children in an early morning conga line.
Then my mind was back to the present and my brain that was no further along in figuring out what to do with the children but had gone on quite a journey, from Dublin to a tiny island in Africa, each experience linked by one thing or another. We are in the middle of bidding right now, which means doing all the things we need to do in order to figure out where we will land next. Since we don’t find out for a while, and it’s completely out of my control anyway, I try not to be preoccupied by it but it’s hard not to think about. The other night my hubby and I were discussing the possibilities, things he’d heard from various people who make decisions, ways we can push harder for our top choices. In a moment of silence I looked at him and said “we live a weird life,” he laughed and said “yes, we do!”
It seems like so much of what we do is somewhere between the past, the present, and the future, which I’m sure is true for many people in many different ways. We say goodbye to one home, settle in another, then after two years, with one year to go, prepare for the next country. There is always the challenge of not losing the present to the past or the future but, at the same time, there’s the warmth of so many full and beautiful memories and the excitement of new experiences in a new country.
There are a good handful of things about life in the Foreign Service that frustrate me but I think my husband and I have learned that we are, in our hearts, nomads and at least two of our children are as well. So we float, somewhere between the past, the present, and the future, trying to savor all of them while never shortchanging one for the other. Which leads me back to today, hugging each of my children before they raced off to play at school, smiling at the laughter coming from the yard, marveling at all the possibilities that are open for our family, and for our kids, marveling about everything their past, present, and future means to them and holds for them.