Standing behind a row of fold-up 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 once-over and offer my best, insightful ‘maybe’ nod, trying not to seem too eager as I sidestep from the sheet entitled “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.
Their sheet proclaiming “Young Adults Group” third.
Suppressing my urge to exclaim Sold!, I stretch out my hand to make an introduction, careful not to seem eagerly crazy even though I really just want to grab that sign up pen of theirs instead. I intend to simply 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.
In the military, no one tells you about the other side.
You prepare for moves. You prepare for going away parties. You prepare for hugs pre-loaded with silent, forget-me-not sentiments. You prepare for goodbye.
But no one tells you how to be the one to say it. How to plan the party. How to deliver the hug.
No one tells you how to be the one who is being left.
Well, always-smiling Nicole and beachwear-loving Vincent (yes, their names did eventually stick) left us this weekend.
And it stings.
They provided us with a small group community. The 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 little thing. Aviation students come, we get attached and then the military sends us away. When we first moved here I once joked with one of our non-military friends, comparing him to a lonely little puppy who always gets left at the shelter. It’s a terribly depressing image, and I think we both nervously laughed so that we didn’t cry.
Well I should be honest. I laughed because I thought we were going to leave first. Whiz through primary training, select jets and off we would go.
Shocker, the Marine Corps had different ideas. (News flash: I’m married to a mighty fine helicopter pilot-in-training.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have to stay in Pensacola for another six, seven months. I get to stay in this beach city. And ironically, God used Nicole and Vincent to provide so many of the reasons why I use that latter verb.
They welcomed us into the small group I thought we could never find since leaving home. Through 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 key influence in making Florida become our home. And it stings when someone you care about leaves home.
So while they prepared to load their lives into 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 haven’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 un-invited lesson, I’m grateful to have learned how it feels to be the loved one on the other side of this military lifestyle. To be the ones who are left.
So allow me to share the moral of this story.
Never make friends with a military couple.
Please love us.