One of the truths about Foreign Service living is that a different kind of intimacy exists when you’re in another country with folks on a temporary assignment. People gather frequently for dinner or drinks or sightseeing; it’s easy to start making friends.
And then they move away.
This week, for instance, Jack said goodbye to Jaime (pronounced HI-may), the driver of the armored van that takes him and five other students to school every day.
Jack liked Jaime from the very first day, when Jaime offered to help him practice his Spanish while Jaime practiced his English. Because Jack was the oldest student, he sometimes sat in the front seat beside the driver. They spent two hours or more together every day starting at 6:30 a.m., when Jack was the first pickup for Jaime’s school rounds before crossing the border.
Jaime was easy to know, whether they talked or sat silently, and that was a relief for a kid who was overwhelmed by starting a new high school of 2,800 students — so many students that it seemed impossible to get to know any particular one. Jaime also took an interest in Jack. He showed him a local university campus (college might be fun!) and got him a light jacket for Christmas, having noticed that Jack never wore one on chilly mornings.
Jaime had told Jack pretty early on that he would be leaving at the end of the semester, returning to his hometown in another part of Mexico, so we all knew he was going. Yet it still came as a shock when Jaime’s replacement started riding in the van to learn the route. I kept thinking perhaps we’d get word one day that Jaime had changed his mind. But by the end of last week, it was clear he was going. And we needed to say thank you.
Those of you who are parents know how you feel about people who are kind to your child — you are so grateful you want to give them the world. But I learned long ago that it’s almost always impossible to pay back people’s kindness. You can only pledge to pass it along when you can.
So we bought Jaime a keepsake (a Mexican friend had suggested a nice pen) and wrote a note to somehow convey how much he had meant to us all.
And perhaps we will learn, in one of our first happy hellos and painful goodbyes, to appreciate relationships more in the moment, not taking the people in our lives for granted. That, in fact, would be one last gift from Jaime.