We are entering a season of In-Between.
People ask me if I’m ready to leave Kosovo, for my time here to end. My answer confuses even me: “I’d be happy to stay in Kosovo for another year. I like it here. But we aren’t staying; we’re leaving. So I’m ready to go. I’m tired of preparing to leave; I just want to leave already.”
I’m tired of preparing to leave. I’m tired of not knowing if this is the last time I’ll see this particular friend or visit this particular restaurant. I’m tired of hearing of newcomers arriving and shrugging my shoulders and saying, “If they need anything, I’m happy to help—but they’ll be better off hanging out and making friends with people who don’t have one foot on the plane.” My body and my stuff are still here, but my heart is in the process of disconnecting and my head is already gone. I am no longer fully here but not yet fully gone. I’m In-Between.
In roughly three weeks, this part of the In-Between will be over, and we’ll move into the next phase. We’ll be done with the mental preparation and on to the real, tangible sign of our impending move: packout. Our stuff will disappear into boxes and crates. We’ll have one week of living in our house that is no longer our home, with no pictures on the wall, no beloved treasures to remind us of past homes or adventures, no imprint of our family on this house. Alexa will play only with the five toys we allow her to take in her suitcase, I will cook only with borrowed pots and pans, and we will eat only off borrowed dishes. I’m glad we’ll have only one week of that this time—the time after packout is by far my least favorite time at any post. The empty house is not a symbol of possibility and anticipation like it is at the beginning of our time at post; instead, it’s a symbol of endings and loss. After the end, but before the beginning: the In-Between.
Then we’ll be in the most easily recognized In-Between: in between posts. No longer living in Kosovo, not yet living in Greece, just visiting in the United States. Wanderers who can answer the question “Where are you staying?” but not “Where do you live?” Don’t get me wrong; it should be a good summer. We have plans about which we’re excited—attending our first homeschool convention, going on a cruise with friends, renting a townhouse not far from our extended family. It will be a good summer. It’s probably the part of the In-Between that we’ll enjoy most. But it will be a summer of cramming in as much America, as much family, as much time with friends as we can, because it won’t last. It’s only In-Between.
The final stages of the In-Between will be in Greece. Hopefully they’ll be in our “permanent” housing (as much as any housing is permanent in this nomadic lifestyle), though they may be in temporary housing if our assigned quarters aren’t available yet. We’ll be back in an empty house, but this time, the emptiness will be waiting to be filled rather than waiting to be abandoned. We’ll start learning our new neighborhood, our new community, our new language. Eventually the boxes and crates will arrive and be unpacked. Our new house will become our new home. The In-Between will end, at least for a while, and we’ll be home again.
The Ending that is becoming the In-Between will lead to the new Beginning, which eventually will transition into another Ending.
It's a common experience. We all go through changes that include Endings, In-Betweens, and finally, new Beginnings. During these bittersweet times, we mourn the old and anticipate the new. Everyone experiences it as they make life's great transitions: from child to adult, from student to worker, single to married, childless to parent, worker to retiree.
The Foreign Service lifestyle, however, puts this rhythm on an endless loop and hits the fast-forward button. One of the great sacrifices of the Foreign Service lifestyle is the frequent mourning as we say goodbye; one of the great beauties is the frequent anticipation of new adventures, new experiences, and new friends. The In-Between is the transition between and intermingling of the two. Because the Endings and Beginnings happen so frequently in the Foreign Service, sometimes it seems that we live perpetually in the In-Between, that we just barely make it out of the Beginning before the End is back, and so the only part we experience fully is the In-Between. We don't have time to settle, to live, to abide in the comfort—or in the tedium—that we establish during the Beginning, because it so quickly becomes time to dismantle it all for the Ending. Life never becomes routine, at least not for long.
It's perfect for those who crave variety. It's difficult for those who crave stability. I am one of those who craves stability—but at the same time, I also love the adventure and variety of this lifestyle. I am beginning to recognize that I need to satisfy my need for stability not in long periods of time in one place, settled in and comfortable, but in the predictable pattern, the rhythm, the ebb and flow of hellos and goodbyes: the In-Between.
I need to accept that I live, always, in the In-Between. It is my home, as much as any house ever will be. I need to put pictures on its walls, carpets on its floors, and memory-keepers on its shelves. At times it's more noticeable than at others, but the In-Between is always there. I need to create my stability in routines and traditions that hold up well in all the phases of transition—in the Ending, in the Beginning, and in the In-Between: Friday night pizza, daily devotions with my daughter, evening cups of tea. We need to take the advice I've seen on several expat blogs and create traditions around the Endings and the Beginnings, traditions that create stability, no matter if we're in Egypt or Cambodia or Kosovo or Greece.
I was wrong. The In-Between is not a season we're entering: it's the life we live.
Welcome to the In-Between.