Leaving the Casbah

I joined the Casbah December 21, 1997 when I was a freshman in college. I was on the books year ’round for administrative and security purposes, but I worked there in the summers, and then beginning the Monday after I graduated, I worked there full time. I don’t actually know anyone else my age that has worked for the same place that long. I can tell you that although there are myriad frustrating aspects to the Casbah, over the past eight years I have developed a very deep sense of institutional loyalty to the organization.

So I find myself feeling strange today as I make phone calls to start the resignation process. I have to tell you, it’s TOUGH to write a letter of resignation when you have this much history with a place. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people who put in 20 or 30 years with a company.

As I mulled over what to say to my boss and coworkers, I started thinking back on some of the highlights of my career. Because of Casbah “if we tell you, we have to kill you” type restrictions, I’m somewhat limited in what I can say in this forum, and that’s too bad because I’ve done some really cool and awesome things during my tenure. Here’s what I can say:

~The first time I walked into Casbah HQ, I was 19 years old and had just finished my freshman year of college. I fancied myself very grown-up, and was wearing the closest thing to business attire that I owned, which was a sleeveless dress and Steve Madden sandals. Back in that day, the dress code was much stricter than it is now, and VERY conservative. I remember one of the older women in my unit pulling me aside to say that the Casbah is a male-dominated organization, and the men were predisposed to think of the ladies as merely secretaries and clerks. If I wanted to be taken seriously and viewed as a professional and an equal, I would need to wear stockings every day. I’m not sure how many men actually took me more seriously in stockings and heels, but I took my coworker’s advice.

~One day during the summer after my sophomore year, the secretary of my office delivered the hugest bouquet I had ever seen to my desk. My coworkers gathered around like rubberneckers at a car wreck as I read the card. It turns out the flowers were from a Very Short Security Guard who had never even said hello to me. I called him to thank him, and in the course of our five minute conversation, I believe he mentioned marriage SEVEN times, and being killed at least three times. Did I mention that he had never even introduced himself in person? One word: CREEPY!

~September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday; it was clear and crisp and sunny. I was wearing a black pantsuit and we were planning to take my friend and coworker Karen out for lunch because it was her birthday. Then the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and work totally changed. That day my unit was evacuated, and as we left the building people were running in the streets and screaming. It was so surreal, like being on a movie set. I remember thinking, “But this is America! This doesn’t happen here!” I was actually glad to go into work for long shifts with no days off, because at least I felt like I was doing something. Those first days were awful, stressful, and unimaginably tense. A few days into it, the President came by the room where I was working to give us a pep talk and thank us for all we were doing. It really meant a lot to me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember that it was inspiring and he was shorter in person than I thought he would be.

~I got to travel a lot – around the US and to Europe and the Middle East and Southeast Asia. I wish I had bought more carpets because I have absolutely no desire to go back to many of those locations. When I was in Jakarta, someone at the Embassy noticed I was covered in mosquito bites and asked if I had been bitten in the morning or at night. “I have no idea, does it matter?” I asked. “Well, probably not,” the Embassy official replied, “I just wondered if I should warn you to watch out for signs of malaria, or dengue fever.”

~I would wager that not many people my age can say that they have advised the President, but on several occasions my papers were briefed to the Oval Office and Cabinet, and on at least one occasion a national policy was changed as a result. I am very proud of that.

~When we moved to Indiana, I still worked for HQ doing strategic and policy work, but was logistically located at a desk in the Midwest, where I got to see how things actually work from a tactical/boots-on-the-ground perspective. I learned a lot, and I think my big picture work benefitted from time down in the weeds.

Maybe one of the reasons it’s hard to resign is that I care intensely on a personal level about the mission. I have a tendency to really put my heart and soul into whatever I’m doing, which can be a flaw because it makes me easily stressed out, but I think it can also be a virtue if properly pursued. I do not labor under the delusion that I am in any way necessary to the Casbah – things will not collapse without my presence. But I value the opportunities I had to make a difference in my own small way, and I leave with the knowledge that I did everything I could do, and I did it well.

I think I can also leave without looking back. I am now redirecting my energy toward a new mission, which, although it may not be as “cool” by worldly standards, matters just as much from an eternal perspective. I’m glad that I can look back on my time at the Casbah with good memories and a sense of a job well done, and I’m also glad that now I can use my skills and talents in a new direction as I raise my child (and hopefully others some day as the Lord blesses us).

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