Have you ever had a chance meeting with someone that changed your way of thinking?
My journey to Paris last month had been a long one. A five hour flight from Anchorage to Minnesota, a three hour layover, followed by an eight hour flight to Paris. By the time I got off the plane, my left ankle had swollen outside of my tennis shoe. And then there was the crowd. I hadn’t thought Paris was a small town, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the swarm around me. I just about lost my lunch.
A subway ride, a metro, and many wrong turns later, I managed to turn the one-hour trip to my youth hostel into a six hour nightmare. My confidence evaporated.One of my hostel roommates chatted with me while I was resting. He asked about the sites I had seen in Paris thus far. “None,” I told him. “At this point, I’m worried I’ll get lost again.”
How did a nice older woman like yourself end up so far from home in a youth hostel?” I shocked us both when I spared no details. I told this young stranger about the volatile marriage that ended my youth and that nearly ended my life. I told him about raising two daughters on my own, with no financial support from their father or anyone else. I told him how I promised myself in my thirties, after earning my graduate degree, that if I did a proper job raising my daughters, I would treat myself after they were grown to travel far and wide.
The young man sat quietly for a moment on his bed. Then he said“Name what you’d like to see, and I will take you tomorrow.”
His name was Alex, and at 29 years-old, he’s just a bit older than my daughters. Though raised primarily in Costa Rica, his parents made him an interesting blend. His mother is from the Ivory Coast. His father from France. “It’s kept me from getting too puffed up about any one country being best,” he shrugged. “Every country is home, not just the one I was born in.” Alex works virtual jobs in order to live closer to his girlfriend at the university in Switzerland.
I told him about my volatile marriage, and my concerns that my inability to find the girls a father-figure would impede their ability to couple later in life. “What you need is a man with empathy,” he said.
Alex told me about his own mother. Like me, she had been tormented by her husband. Unlike me, she never moved on after her kids grew up and traveled or embraced other hobbies. “I always wanted my mom to travel,” he said wistfully.
As day turned into night, and as our walk about Paris neared five miles, I began to dread ending our time together. I had always wanted a son, and on this night, I felt I had one.
He must have read my mind. “Don’t worry about your girls, Liz. They’re healing just fine. Just look at me. I was greatly affected by domestic violence, but I chose to be different than my father. People follow their parents’ examples often, but they can choose to be different.”
It is true. Children often follow their parent’s lead by reflex, and domestic violence is an intergenerational legacy, but with some information and perspective, kids can (and do) make different choices all the time.
I thanked Alex as we headed back to the hostel, and couldn’t help but notice the benefits we had both received from our day together. That on this cold January night in Paris, a young man could finally travel with his mother, and a mother was reassured that her grown kids would be just fine.