CONTRIBUTED BY JENNIFER SHUE
Editor’s Note: Jen was our wonderful, fearless forum leader for the last few years. She recently PCS’d away from her beloved Okinawa and wanted to share a last post with us!
45 more sunrises
45 more days to see the island
45 more mornings of sitting in traffic on 58
45 more lunches with friends
45 more afternoons of warm ocean breezes
45 more walks along the beach
45 more days in my cramped apartment
45 more evenings to watch the waves from my balcony
45 more sunsets
45 more nights to count the stars and say goodbye
The other morning I finally heard the words I’ve been dreading for the past three and a half years. I am officially leaving Okinawa. My time here and this chapter in my life has finally drawn to a close. I am inexpressibly distraught. Although time may heal all wounds, I feel that, though healed, there may be a scar on my heart that looks suspiciously like this island. Yes, life here has many hurdles and frustrations, but this island has given me so much more than I have given it.
Moving out here, as most of us do, I left all of my friends and family and the life I had known behind. Everything familiar was an ocean and a continent away. At first, it is hard, really hard – lets not pretend about that. How many of us have gotten out of bed on our first mornings here, gone outside and thought to ourselves, “Omg, what have I done?” As if it was ever, realistically, up to us in the first place?
Sometimes, though, that far separation can be a good thing. I come from a family with some very strong ideas about who I should be and what goals I should strive for in life. Ideas like job stability and raises and career advancement and benefits and 401Ks and home ownership and investments and 9-5. Ideas that really, I didn’t care much about. Not to say they aren’t important, but it took moving out here and being away from all of my previous life to get it through my stubborn head and to see clearly that I wanted other things out of my life. Thank you Okinawa.
I know I will never have the material assets that the rest of my family has – I’ll never be able to measure my successes in life in such concrete ways as they are able to, but I will never again feel like my life has been less richly rewarded because of it. My brother probably has close to a million dollars, all added up – all I really have are a lot of photographs – and I don’t even have a million of those. But would I ever trade places? Not in a million years. I have the memories and experiences of one thousand two hundred seventy-seven challenging, enchanting, rewarding, enriching, delighting, frustrating, bewildering, unregrettable days.
In my time here, the island has given me myself, and that is a truly awesome gift. It has become my home like no place I have ever lived has. Many of us are asked the seemingly straight-forward question of, “Where are you from?” only to stall for a moment and begin with something along the lines of, “Well, you see . . . .” Clearly this was about to be a longer answer than the asker had anticipated. They might rephrase and ask, “Well, where is home?” I would never have the delusion to say that I was from Okinawa, that would be absurd. But, I would say this is my home. This is where my heart is. I must pack up my life (again) and leave it behind, likely never to return. That makes for a heavy heart indeed.
I have been here long enough that most of the friends I have made have already left, most of the rest are leaving this summer. That is the unavoidable flow of life and relationships when you’re affiliated with the military. Either you pack up and move, or they beat you to it.
This is also the only home my daughter has really known. She has never known a life in which you couldn’t walk to the beach from school or see the ocean every day. A country in which all meals are not served with rice is a foreign land to her. When we get lunch at Family Mart and I wrap up her onigiri in the seaweed wrapper she asks me, “Mommy, can I have your nori too?” I’m not a fan of that much seaweed in one sitting so I happily share mine with her. She stuffs the whole thing in her mouth in one bite.
When I talked to my husband on Skype the other morning and he told me the news, he could not understand why I was so upset. He was thrilled with his new assignment – had been trying for it for about two years now. I had expected this news to come along much sooner in my life and have stayed here much longer than expected. Even from the start I knew my days were numbered. Now, I have that number.