Muddy Roads Blue Skies

Chapter 10: Forgiveness, Excerpt

Here’s what I know about forgiveness: It’s hard to do. I should know. I’ve had plenty of practice trying to forgive people at various times in my life.

I’ll start with the hardest first. For years, I played by the rules in the Foreign Service. As one of the few African-Americans and women in the IT and communications field, I possibly was a token, but I also knew I was a role model. I considered it a privilege to serve my country and worked as hard as I could to be a worthy representative of women and African-Americans—not only for those in our country but also for those in other countries who had never interacted with a woman or African-American in a professional role. I recognized that many women around the world couldn’t imagine doing something like I was doing simply because of their gender or race—it was unprecedented or taboo in their culture.

I advocated for everything the Foreign Service stood for, and when colleagues had issues, I encouraged them to work within the system, to follow the rules. Give the process a chance—it won’t let you down, I’d say.

I received awesome performance evaluations and many awards and commendations throughout my career. I did my work, did it well, and was recognized. If a suggestion was made that sounded doable, I made it a personal mission to bring it to fruition. I paid close attention to those in upper management—their work habits, how they spoke to others, how they handled conflicts, and even how they dressed. I sought mentors who could advise me both professionally and personally. I modeled my work ethic after those who knew how to get things done and were kind to others in the process.

I was also proud of working for the Department of State. In Holmestown, I held my head high, pretending not to notice the stares from folks when I walked by. “That’s Martha Rae and Eugene’s baby daughter. She’s a diplomat or something like that,” I’d hear them whisper. My family became small-town celebrities because of the career I chose, and the money and presents I sent from around the world added to the mystique.

Had I not believed so blindly in the collective mission of the Foreign Service, I might not have been blindsided when my security clearance was suspended. I was a solid and honest part of the team, working to promote the sitting US president’s foreign policy agenda for the country assigned and to provide services to US citizens abroad. I was a team player, followed the rules, went above and beyond, never swayed, never let personal business cloud my judgment.

Out of the blue, I was escorted out of the embassy in Cameroon, in front of customers and staff—with no explanation—and allowed to take only my purse with me. All that was missing was a swift kick on my rear end to break me down like a useless dog! I was humiliated. My face flushed, my legs wobbling, not sure what was happening to me. What did I miss? How could this have happened with no warning? Not me! Not do-everything- right Vella. I always crossed my T's and dotted my I’s. When I was walking in the blistering heat to my car, I did a quick replay of my time in the Foreign Service, but nothing came to mind that would warrant me being ushered out of the embassy. What could have brought this type of havoc into my life? was my thought as I drove home, bewildered, with salty stinging tears in my eyes.

I was deeply hurt. I felt betrayed and abandoned. When the air cleared, and the legal wrangling was over, I received a letter advising that my security clearance was reinstated. Just like that.

As suddenly as they suspended my clearance, they reinstated it. Wow, that was one of those deals where the average person would either have just left the Foreign Service or sued. Not me. It was nearly impossible, but I had refused to allow people to see me quiver during the ordeal. Finally, I was getting back on my feet. It felt supernatural. I prevailed. I forgave, I survived. I moved on. I forgave anyone and everyone who had a hand in the suspension. I’d never experienced divine intervention so direct and complete, except from what I know of my momma hitting the numbers to build our new house or when I was on my knees praying when I received the call from the Department of State offering me a career. But that’s what it was, because there was no way I could have forgiven on my own.

I learned some important lessons. I realized that the Foreign Service is not perfect. Like every other organization or corporation, it is full of bureaucracy, and people sometimes become misguided about the mission.

I discovered that moving on to the next level is impossible until what’s hurting me is out and done. I loved my career. Holding grudges would only hurt me professionally and decrease my lifespan due to the stress. Don’t try to suppress your feelings. Deal with them, or that hatred will eat you inside out. If all else fails, move on and forget it.

And I did. It’s ironic that I worked as a recruiter for the Foreign Service while waiting to learn the fate of my career, but never once did I let on that anything was amiss. I meant it and still do when I tell people that the Foreign Service is a great career. I don’t think I would have felt that way if I hadn’t had the blessing of forgiveness within me.