Good Lord, it's busy season in Istanbul. Because Bayram this year lined up with the end of summer travel season, the start of the school year, and the arrival of our new CG, we went from sleepy August haze to red-lined September insanity with little adjustment. We have lots of official visits in the next few weeks, and planning for those has kept us jumping - by the time quitting time rolled around Friday, we all looked a little zombie-like. However, it's not just the alphabet soup of acronyms for offices and high-level visitors that has me cross-eyed; I have something else weighing on my mind.
Two weeks I wrote about the pain of helping grieving Americans who had just lost a loved one in Istanbul. I can't share any details about the case, due to the Privacy Act, but I think I can say this: I wish I'd known the deceased; we had a lot in common, and I think we would have become fast friends. Someone with such a loving family could not but be wonderful, and they'd come to Istanbul, a place they'd always wanted to see, for a family vacation together that turned into a nightmare. The family has become my own due to what happened after I spent hours in the hospital with them. I got home to find out that my mother's sister, my aunt and one of my dearest loves in the world, has late-stage cancer and may not live for more than a few months.
My family's strange in a very modern way: I have broken off ties with almost all of my blood relatives, and the family I love most are not actually related to me except through the bonds that are formed through hardship and shared experiences. My mom and my aunt are essentially the only two people in my family tree whom I still talk to and love. Anyone who knows me realizes how close I am to my mother; she and I talk two or three times a day, no matter in which time zone I live, and we have no secrets from each other. My aunt is the third pillar in the family - I don't talk about her as much, but for a few decades now the three of us have held together through deaths, divorces, moves, and God knows what else was going on around us. Laughter, offbeat greeting cards, gossip, inappropriate jokes, cynicism, and love have gotten us through it all relatively unscathed. The thought of her not being here with us is preposterous, unthinkable. Who will worry with me about my mom not taking care of herself? Who will my mom complain with about whatever dumbass thing I do next? And who will my mom turn to when her older sister is gone?
So I found this out hours after spending an evening with one grieving family. I wanted to go see them before they flew back home - before they left this beautiful city that had gone so horribly wrong - but I just couldn't get myself out of the floor where I'd spent the day crying. Luckily, I did get to speak with them over the phone as they boarded their plane to go home a few days later. It may be a long time until I see them again, but through their sudden pain and my own slow-developing tragedy, we have a tie that can't be broken. I talk to them now that they are back home, to see how they are recovering physically and mentally. They check in with me, to tell me that they are praying for me and my family. We share photos of our loved ones, and we laugh through the tears. MAS and MRS, I love you both so dearly. I can't tell you how much it means to know you.
I've always believed, in large part because of my own screwy kinfolk, that your true family are the people you love even though you don't have to love them. These people can be found in the most surprising of circumstances, and what would we do without these sparks of happiness to keep us going?