When I was nine years old my family lived in Bangkok, Thailand for three months. It wasn’t until recently I realized the wit and fearlessness my parents must have had  in taking my sister and I, ages 9 and 13, out of school and in tow for our first trip abroad.  We  spent Christmas with my aunt and uncle in San Francsico before boarding the plane in January, Tokyo then Bangkok, 1992.

I’ve been thinking about those three months a lot lately. My sister could tell the story better and she does. I chime in but mostly to confirm the images I still have in my head. I knew one day I’d be back and here, eighteen years and a world of reasons later, sitting in 52A with grateful goodbye tears streaming that I find myself like you might one point amongst an infinite number along a full circle.

There are so many events, images, and stories to tell from those three months. The smell of stepping off the plane and onto the tarmac, long walks through busy streets to the bus stop, to the  market, to the University pool, stretching of sheets to fit the beds, Beatles duets while washing dishes,  train rides through the country sides, slash and burning fields burning in the night, vendors meeting a hard bargain with (me) “the baby”, cockroach mortuaries on the laundry floor, learning Thai from “Mr. Dang” on a cassette  tape, incense sticks on spirit houses, intricate daily flower arrangements, making offerings to monks in morning, Buddhist temples,  rose apples, learning to love and learn through living, the meaning of graciousness and filial piety.

I remember before leaving Thailand our friends and Dad’s colleagues at the University held an elaborate farewell luncheon for our family.  There were so many to thank and bid farewell, toasts and speeches to give, gifts to give and receive and a banquet of food to devour. Dad said, my sister and I were to be prepared to speak, give our thanks and goodbyes. I remember the long table was set for several courses and crowded with different sized cups and glasses. The cashew chicken oozed thick and dark brown with purple peppers overflowing on the pink and white plates.

At thirteen, mature and confident speaking in front of a table full of faculty and family friends, Clare stood and dutifully delivered on Dad’s request when called on. Unprepared but unworried and knowing I was next, as everyone at the table turned their heads towards me like slow motion and I immediately burst into tears. Overwhelmed and unseasoned it was all I could do at the time to express the gratitude and emotion I felt for the people around the table, and the time that we had spent with them there.

I learned a lot during those three months. We met a lot of people, had a number of  formidable life experiences, and between all of the fun and funniness of forging through heat-shock and cross-cultural mishaps, our family had established ourselves and a way of life there. It was hard to leave.

I tell this story because it reminds me of Fletcher.  It reminds me of how I first became interested in  international affairs and the world beyond Falcon Heights, MN . It reminds me of the importance of experiential learning and teaching. It reminds me how quickly we bond with new communities and surroundings, and how many meaningful and memorable moments can take place in the blink of an eye, an era we will look back on and think of fondly, some of the times of our lives. And it reminds me how hard it can be to say goodbye to such experiences and accept the circles and transitions of life.

After a phenomenal first year at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, filled with an immeasurable number of fantastic moments, events, experiences, relationships, new knowledge and skills, even the lows stand out as highs in my 27 years of life. And the Fletcher community. It’s not hard to close the textbooks and shelve the note cards for a summer internship in Cambodia, but I find myself back to sitting at the banquet  table wishing I could find the words to express the magnitude of gratitude and emotion I feel towards my fellow Fletcherites and especially the graduating class of 2010 who ushered us into the magical mystery tour.

After spending eight month’s worth of beautiful days and long nights debating, challenging, laughing, learning and loving with a tight group of people in libraries and on dance floors at house parties in Medford, MA only to turn around and bid farewell to many whom you now consider really good friends for life, I find myself returning to one of my Dad’s “life-long learning” adages: life is like a convoy.

On the one hand it’s so obvious: people get on and off your convoy, some stay longer than others.  But the key is that your convoy keeps moving.  It  navigates the intricate seas of social relationships, chance, serendipity, and fate. And though I still find it difficult to leave and let such wonderful people, places and times go, I am reminded though your convoy docks at various ports along the way enabling people to get on and off along the way, it does not stop. We keep moving.

And so I remind myself that while I feel so much is forgotten when we forget to remember, as my convoys sails to Phnom Penh for the summer, it now carries the carvings of this past year’s people and passageways, as we leave pieces of us wherever we go.

Advertisements