From the Persian Gulf to Omaha, Nebraska

14 05 2015

I rarely get to bring all of my worlds together.

Growing up as a third culture kid in Europe and Asia, then leaving the homeland again after graduate school, there are few times when all of the important people in my life can gather in one place. My wedding in 2008 was one of those rare and precious moments… folks came from near and far, 8 countries were represented, and my many lives finally intersected.

But beyond something like that, it’s hard. Everyone has their lives and their priorities, their kids and their careers. That’s not bad, it’s just the way it is. It’s kind of part of growing up.

So on our trip across this vast and varied continent, we decided to take the opportunity to see some folks that we haven’t seen in a very, very long time… or in my husband’s case, ever. One could argue that we were just in the neighborhood… and a few hundred extra miles is no good reason not to stop and say hello.

I first met Jeff many years ago, on a floating city in the middle of the Persian Gulf, amid the winds of war. We had taken very different paths to the moment of our first handshake on the steel deck of USS Abraham Lincoln, but we both had come from the same place.

USS Abraham Lincoln: My home away from home for two months in early 2003.

USS Abraham Lincoln: My home away from home for two months in early 2003.

After he graduated college, Jeff joined the Navy and saw the world. I had had the privilege of studying Journalism at Columbia University, and working for a global news agency which gave me the opportunity for adventure. He was the press officer on board, I was the eager and curious reporter covering a massive, globally relevant story.

Though we were each firmly seated on opposite sides of the traditionally adversarial journalism-PR divide, Jeff and I quickly became friends when we realized that we both grew up in southern New Jersey, two towns apart. (What were the odds…?) And we only found out much, much later that our fathers worked for the same company, in the same plant, at the same time, and could also have been friends, or at least colleagues. They have both passed on, so we will never know.

On ship back in those heady days of early 2003, Jeff’s red hair earned him the nickname “Mr. Strawberry”, I quickly became “Ms. Vanilla”, and a third south Jersey kid on board, Billy Ray, who is black, was “Mr. Chocolate”. We were unlikely buddies in an unreal place at a crazy time.

When my assignment on Lincoln was over and I returned to my home in Berlin in April, 2003, Jeff and I kept in touch, even as the logistics of life took over. He had three kids to raise and a nation to serve. I was just trying to manage a journalism career as the industry began an existential fight for survival.

I invited Jeff to my wedding, hoping he too could come to the place where my many lives would finally meet, but his orders had him deploying to Afghanistan that same week. And while we did manage to meet up for nachos in San Diego in 2004, lunch in Philadelphia in 2011, and drinks in Boston in 2014, there were plenty of other situations in these past 12 years that had us passing like ships in the night… geographically close, but just not close enough. Thankfully, there is Facebook, but it’s not a great replacement for the real thing.

Jeff retired from the Navy two years ago and settled in (land-locked) Omaha. And since we were in the mid-west this week, I finally got the chance to introduce my husband to my friend. Jeff and Monika welcomed us into their home with open arms. It was very special.

From that first handshake on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of a hostile environment, to a heartfelt farewell hug in the middle of downtown Omaha yesterday, I am so thankful for my friends.

xxx

Monika, Jeff, R and me.

 

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