Saying goodbye to military friends may come with the territory, but that doesn’t mean we’re prepared for every scenario. Sometimes, we are on the other side of goodbye, standing still while our friends drive out of sight.
Friendship at First Sight
Standing behind a row of folding tables, a dozen unknown faces return my shy, newcomer smile as I simultaneously try to read the bolded titles of the scattered sign-up sheets. Ignoring my knowledge gleaned from guilty years of “just looking” at garage sales, I make eye contact with each hopeful representative on the other side of the table, willing me to pick up their pen.
I give each page a two-second glance and offer my best, insightful ‘maybe’ nod, trying not to seem too eager as I sidestep from the sheet titled “Fishing Group” like a spooked horse.
Husband lingers. I move on.
I see her curly hair and unabashed smile first…
his Hurley surf-shirt second…
and their sheet proclaiming “Young Adults Group” third.
Suppressing my urge to exclaim “Sold!” right then and there, I stretch out my hand to make an introduction, careful not to seem overly eager, even though I really just want to grab that sign-up pen of theirs. I intend to match a name to this wide-grinned girl and tall, surfer-clad man beside her.
Focused on making eye contact and a friendly, lasting impression, I forget their names three seconds later.
Thankfully, one second is all it takes to meet best friends.
The End (Just Kidding)
In the military, we prepare ourselves for moves. We prepare ourselves for our going away parties. We prepare for hugs pre-loaded with silent, forget-me-not sentiments. We prepare for goodbye.
But, no one tells you how to be the one to say it — how to plan the party, deliver the hug. No one prepares you for saying goodbye to military friends when they leave you. And it stings.
These friends provided us with a small group community. These California natives modeled a godly marriage and how to go with the flow of life. But best of all, they made me realize deep friendship can be rooted in the middle of constant transition.
Making a home and building relationships in Pensacola, Florida — or anywhere with a nearby military base for that matter — is a risky thing. Aviation students come in, get attached, and then the military sends us away. When we first moved to Pensacola, I joked with one of our non-military friends, comparing him to a lonely little puppy who is never the one picked at the shelter — always left behind. It’s a terribly depressing image, and I think we both nervously laughed so we didn’t cry at the thought of saying goodbye to military friends.
Well, I should be honest. I laughed because I thought we would leave first — whiz through primary training, select jets, and off we would go.
Shocker, the Marine Corps had different ideas. I’m married to a mighty fine Huey pilot.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have to stay in Pensacola for another six or seven months. I got to stay in that beach city. And ironically, God used our friends to provide so many of the reasons why I say I got to stay versus had to stay.
They welcomed us into the small group I thought we would never find after leaving home. By example, they challenged us to serve our church’s youth, seamlessly sharing leadership when we felt called to step into it.
They offered their best beach wisdom, hosted crazy games of ping pong, and provided multiple dolphin sightings through use of their paddleboard.
Put simply, they were a major factor in making Florida feel like home. And it hurts when someone you care about leaves home.
So, while they prepared to load their lives onto a Washington-bound truck, we prepared a going away party. Unsure of how to make a hug say, “Please don’t forget me,” I wrapped my arms around each of them, light-heartedly inviting myself over to the house they hadn’t even seen in person yet. I said goodbye.
Fueled by the need to encourage, I have always chased after empathy when relating to people. And while it was an uninvited lesson, I’m grateful to have learned how it feels to be the loved one saying goodbye to military friends — to be the one left behind.
Allow me to share the moral of this story: Never make friends with a military couple. Just kidding, please love us.
Photo Credits: Pixabay