Copyright © by Ralph Couey
I'll never forget the moment. It was my last day in uniform, capping 10 years of a globe-trotting Navy career. I had spent the morning with the inspector from the Navy Housing Office as she cleared us out of quarters. The furniture had been gone about a week, the kids with in-laws in Hawaii, and Cheryl was in Missouri already on her new job. I was alone, but looking forward to the time when we'd be all together again.
The afternoon I spent aboard the ship, completing the checkout process and saying my farewells. Finally, everything was finished and after one last nostalgic tour of the ship, I ended up on the quarterdeck. For the last time, I saluted the Officer of the Deck, saying those long-anticipated words, "Request permission to leave the ship." I then saluted the flag, and headed down the brow. When my feet hit the concrete surface of the pier, I suddenly felt a dizzying sense of disorientation. I was homeless. I was jobless. I had no place to go, no sanctuary. Looking back at the magnificent gray lady that had carried us across the seas, I realized that I was now an outsider.
My recent situation brought back those desolate feelings with full force. I've changed jobs and am in the process of changing locations as well. While we still have our home in Somerset, it will be going on the market soon, and then we will get serious about finding a home in our new location. But on that day when I left my job for the last time, the memories of that day 20 years ago came flooding back. I had spent the week doing those multitudinous tasks associated with ending a professional relationship, including passing my current projects onto their new custodians. The rest of the time, I spent talking and saying goodbye to people who had become more than colleagues, much more than friends. It was bittersweet and at that moment when I turned over my access badge to the security officer, I was under a bit of a cloud.
I left the building, crossed the street, and like Lot's wife, I turned and gazed back at the building where I had invested so much of myself. For years, this had been a familiar place for me. I was part of the town, I was part of the organization. But in that moment, I realized I could never go back in there again. I felt empty and alone. Once again, after a short walk, I was an outsider.
It would only be a short weekend before I would start my new job, so it wasn't the emotional guillotine that I experienced when I left the Big Blue Canoe Club. But it was still a difficult moment.
I've written a lot of words lately about change and loss. Like many columnists, the subjects I choose often reflect the direction of the current of my life. I'm coming to grips with the full implications of this new situation. A commute that once flowed across mountains and through the valleys of the beautiful Laurel Highlands has become a unending cityscape flashing past the windows of a train. People who who greeted each other with a small town's friendliness has changed into throngs of strangers who close their privacy around themselves like a burial shroud; who won't even look you in the eye, and who've apparently forgotten how to smile. But then, this is the Big City in all its impersonal glory. I shouldn't have expected anything more.
I know time will pass, and I will slowly become accustomed to the new environment and the faster pace of life. I will make new friends and what is new and unfamiliar will eventually become normal and accepted. Such is the process of change. But this is what I live for. I never wanted a life where I did the same thing every day for decades until retirement was forced upon me. I like the challenge of new and different, and hopefully, my remaining years will be liberally decorated with new horizons.
For me, life will always be about the unknown ahead rather than the familiar in my wake.