Regarding Airports and Advent…

We flew to Michigan earlier this week. It was our first time on a plane with the baby, and the first time that I can remember ever having travelled by air around the holidays. We flew El Paso to Denver, sat in Denver for about four hours, and then on to Grand Rapids. It was a long layover in Denver and as I looked out at the sun setting over the Rockies and tried to trick J into sleeping amidst the noise and stimulation of the airport terminal I started to think about waiting. 

We had a long time to wait for that plane. Lots of other people were waiting for planes too. Lots of people were facing delays. The restaurants were full of people waiting for food, and workers likely waiting for their shifts to end. The carousels were surrounded by people waiting for luggage. A man with a puppy walked past us, quickly and purposefully, trying to persuade the puppy to wait until they could find a way to get outdoors. I knew that in another part of the airport there would be hundreds of people waiting in arrival areas, eager to hug and kiss their friends and relatives as they got of planes just in time for Christmas. Everyone at an airport is waiting for something.

I thought about the things that we as a family are waiting for. We recently waited for a baby, and now he’s here, people-watching with us in this airport. We are waiting with enthusiasm to see parents, grandparents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends during our time in Michigan, and to reconnect a little bit with them. To learn about the things that they are waiting for in their lives. We are waiting, with some sadness, for our time in Mexico to end in the summer. We are waiting to see what the next chapter is like. We wait with hope, fear, joy, doubt, and every other feeling that humans are capable of. Waiting seems to be a central feature of the human condition.

There is a lot that people wait for. A bus to arrive. Cookies to bake. Test results to arrive. An email or a phone call, that may or may not come. A visa. A home. Peace. We wait for good, beautiful things, just as we we wait for awful, heartbreaking things. We wait, because there is not much else that we can do. Human technology and understanding have come a long way, but we have not been able to completely overcome that obstacle of time that requires us to sit, be patient, and reflect upon that which is to come.

The Christmas season pushes us to embrace this waiting. We watch the decorations come out, and the gifts slowly collect around the foot of the tree. We consider the empty stockings hanging on the fireplace (or in our case on the bannister…no fireplace in our Mexican house), anticipating the tasty goodies that will soon fill them to overflowing. We monitor our text messages to see how close the relatives are to arriving. The refrigerator and pantry fill up with goodies, the makings of a feast. This year I consider my infant son as these things transpire around him, waiting for him to be old enough to understand and share in the joy of the anticipation.

Advent is about waiting. Many of these traditions started to help us to think about the arrival of Jesus. The Jewish people waited for centuries for Messiah to arrive, bringing freedom and fulfillment. Many still wait. We wait now for His second coming; for that day when all wrongs will be put right, all tears will be dried, and death will finally and fully be defeated. We wait for that day, even as we work to bring about peace and justice in the present. We light the candles. We decorate the tree. We wrap the gifts. We cook the food. 
For some people it is a meaningless exercise in the tradition of consumerism. For me, I revel in the spirit of anticipation. The gifts may not provided ultimate fulfillment. The food may give me heartburn. Family may occasionally frustrate me. But the anticipation of good things fosters a spirit of hope and optimism that can be cultivated throughout the year. And what do we need, after all, in times like these if not hope and optimism? Come, Lord Jesus. Teach us hope. Teach us joy. Teach us to be the fulfillment of the hope that others have, when we are able.

Best wishes to you, dear reader, for a Happy Holiday season. We are glad that you have read our blog, and we hope that you continue to come back in 2017 and beyond.

Regarding Marines…

​Marine security guards are a nearly ubiquitous feature of life at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. They’ve been connected with the Department of State at least since the battle of Derna in 1805 (inspiration for the line “to the shores of Tripoli…” in the famous Marine Corps hymn) and have been providing us with various security services ever since. We see them at the front entrance as we come and go, and they throw fantastic parties at the house where the detachment lives. This is true at nearly every post in nearly every country.

We here at the Consulate in Juarez were recently able to witness a rare and fascinating occurrence. We did not have a Marine detachment here until about a month ago. Security was handled exclusively by a local guard force. A decision was made somewhere that we should receive Marines, and a lot of people went to work to make it happen. The Gunnery Sergeant (commanding officer of the detachment) arrived about six months ago to get things ready, and in late October the Marines arrived.

The rare occurrence we were privileged to witness was the activation ceremony of the detachment. It’s rare because most of the 200+ posts in the world have had Marine guards for a long time, and have not needed to welcome them. This moment represented the first time in the 150+ year history of the U.S. diplomatic presence in Juarez that they would be guarding our front door.

It was a short and solemn ceremony. A crowd of a few hundred, including Foreign Service Officers, family members, and local staff sat in rows on a Friday afternoon. The Gunnery Sergeant marched in with his men, all of whom stood at attention in the middle of the stage, not smiling, not even moving. We heard a speech of welcome from the Principal Officer at the Consulate, our Consul General. We heard a short speech from another Marine Officer, a higher ranking type who was in town for the occasion. He then solemnly presented a covered flag to the Gunnery Seargent, symbolizing the handing over of command. The flag was then dramatically unfurled, showing us the seal of the Marine Corps. The Gunny turned to his men, and called forward a Lance Corporal, whom he ordered to take up his place at Post One (the security booth at the front door). The Lance Corporal turned and marched toward his post. Their watch had begun. We listened to a recording of the Marine Corps Hymn, and the ceremony was over. 

The Marines celebrated by hosting the first of what will hopefully be many evenings of food, drink, and music at their house, welcoming the whole Consulate community. It was a lot of fun.

Baby’s first Happy Hour at the brand new Marine House in CJ

I’ve got happy memories of Marines from my childhood spent on the Embassy community in Islamabad. The Marines coached little league, and played games with the hoards of little kids at the Embassy pool. I remember them in their immaculate uniforms, carrying the flag at the Fourth of July party. I remember my parents inviting them over at Christmas, knowing that they were far from family during that special time of year. They were great people to get to know, but there was another dynamic coloring the way we looked at them. Only a bit more than a decade earlier that Embassy in Islamabad was torched by a mob. A Marine security guard was killed, along with an Army officer and two Pakistani staffers. The sacrifice that can come with protecting Embassies remained relatively fresh in the mind of the community, and it is the unspoken yet powerful theme that dominates things like activation ceremonies. The work of Embassies and Consulates is important. Unfortunately there are those who are willing to do violence to disrupt that work. But there are others who volunteer to protect the continuity and security of our work, sometimes with their lives.

It’s been neat to watch the detachment arrive in Juarez, and to see them become part of the Consulate community. I’m glad that J will be a part of communities that give him similar memories to mine, and I hope that he will learn to appreciate and support those who are willing to sacrifice so much.  Welcome to Juarez, Marines! We are glad that you’re here.