The man retold the story of his family’s escape from Saigon now 40 years before. He was 6 and his father told him to listen for the helicopter and, when he heard it, to come with his mother and 2 younger siblings. It was their escape plan.
As I watched the story unfold on public television 2 nights ago, my mouth was agape. The father flew the huge Chinook copter with his family out to the Pacific not knowing where to land. They spotted a US ship and approached. After his family jumped, yes, jumped to the ship and to safety, the pilot hovered for 10 minutes off to the side to prepare for his escape.
He took off his flight suit while flying the helicopter. Then, he tilted the helicopter one way while he jumped out the other way. He made it and they escaped to America against all odds. They came with nothing but the clothes on their back and a whole lot of courage to start a new life.
I reviewed the basics of a very familiar transition tool called R.A.F.T. developed by David Pollock for Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). I can tick off the acronym fluently, Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think destination. It’s a part of me now having taught or learned or lived it more than 20 times in my adult life. It’s second nature.
When I watched the story of this family’s escape from Vietnam, I grieved for them, knowing they left everything with no hope of going back. There was no time to reconcile, affirm, say goodbye, or think about what was next. They just left and picked up the pieces along the way.
I felt some of that, albeit on a much, much smaller scale when we moved in 2015. A hasty move for us filled with grief, but we got to pack.
It is harder to glue the pieces of life back together after a hasty move. It’s easier to unwrap life neatly like carefully packed dishes–that’s what I thought RAFT would do for us. Wrap up our life so nothing got broken in moves.
Problem is, there’s always something broken in a move. It’s unavoidable whether you pack neatly or not. Of course, less gets broken with better packing and that takes more time.
But we don’t always get the time to pack neatly. It’s a gift when we have time to move through transition as best we can manage. But life doesn’t always allow that luxury.
Spring of 2015 brought such a move for us. All the books and models said it was all wrong but there was not much I could do about it.
We lived through my father’s terminal illness that spring then turned around and moved 3 weeks later. Its the kind of move people tell you not to do. We didn’t seem to have a choice, though. We had to move out of our apartment and we already bought a home in our new location before my dad’s diagnosis. It was one of those moves where you just get things in boxes and hope they survive.
We managed a couple get togethers before we headed out, but all I could think about was getting to our new home where I could unpack and throw, no, burn the boxes in an intense bonfire while sipping Dr. Pepper in my one glass I hoped survived the move.
So what do you do with such moves? I lived in that reality. I have no big answers or cures. It’s not just time that makes it better, but steps in the direction of life is always worth the work. My steps in that direction that year involved:
slowing down when I felt overwhelmed
abiding by some consistent routines like waking up early
reading the Psalms
gaining perspective by being part of something bigger than myself and my situation
relaxing and trusting the Lord to bring up what needed grieving in its own time
reaching towards community
Not all moves are pleasant and well planned. Not all are awful either. But they are all change. I learned through the “wrong” move of 2015 that it’s impossible to hold everything together through the tumult of a move…even in the good moves. The right moves where we had the goodbye parties and RAFTed like a boss.
What I can expect with every move is to know more of the God who walks by our side in the midst of it.
I have no idea what happened to the family who escaped Vietnam in such spectacular fashion. I know the child lived to tell his story… in English. Reading between the lines I can see that he lived and his family managed to make a life in the U.S.
Though they lost most every earthly possession, they kept going. They lived. Severe mercy, yes, yet mercy nonetheless.