Remembering the Magic of When a Community Unites

March used to be one of those months for me that held dreadful anniversary dates.

We all have those dates. Whether it’s the dreaded anniversary of a death, or a divorce anniversary, or maybe even a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are the dates that split our lives in two. There was life before the traumatic event, and life after the traumatic event.

I left my husband on March 5, 1990. He abducted our daughters on March 13, 1994.

There was life before the abduction. There was life after the abduction.

This March, I’ve been busy with book events related to my memoir. The events have given me time to think not just about those anniversary dates, but the phenomenal amount of kindness my family was gifted that helped put trauma back in our rear-view mirror.

My coworkers at the battered women’s shelter donated their leave. Friends threw every kind of fundraiser imaginable to help with expenses. My Alaskan lawyers donated their time and resources, and then my Greek friends donated their time and opened their homes to me. People of diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, and ages worked along one another to help us achieve the impossible. When I look back on that awful period in my life, I am filled with gratitude.

What is it about a disaster that brings out the best in people? And would I have the same experience today, in this age of social media where too often we camp up and talk about each other rather than to each other?

Often, people do show up when help is needed. Think of a car accident with people inside a smoldering vehicle.  A human is in peril. In that moment, it’s all that matters.

Alaskans have long had a rich history of helping one another, especially in the 90’s when my daughters were kidnapped. The weather, the location, the physical isolation serve as reminders that we need each other to survive.

After the girls and I returned from Greece in 1996, we resumed living small, quiet lives. And then two decades later, as I began promoting Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, all the memories came back. Not just the bad memories, but the beautiful memories of all the grace and love we’ve received.

I wish we didn’t need to go through hard times or traumatic events for people to unite for a common goal. But I’m so fortunate to have once been witness to the miracle of unity inside my community, both in the states and overseas. And to have commemorated that period in my book makes me both humbled and proud.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my daughters’ kidnapping. A reminder that I am one of the lucky parents whose kids returned.

Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

Looking Back and Looking Forward/What I Wish I Had Known

Do you ever look at old pictures of yourself and feel compassion for the younger you?

I’d been thinking of my youth this week even before my sister posted this picture on her Facebook account from 25 years ago.

Me with first daughter, 1987.

March is always a reflective month with important anniversaries for me.

*March 5, 1990– I fled my marriage with two toddlers in tow and stayed at a battered women’s shelter.

*March 13, 1994– my little daughters left to see their father for a weekend visitation and disappeared to Greece.

Precisely two years later, I journaled from my hotel bed in Greece.

*March 5, 1996

 Today it is six years to the day that I left my husband. Since then, I’ve been on welfare, raised two children through diaper hood, got my head screwed on straight, earned my degree, found a niche in my job, got a  promotion, bought a fixer-upper home, fixed it up, made incredible and interesting friends. And had my children abducted.

*March 27, 1996– I was reunited with my now non–English speaking daughters in a small village in Greece.

No, I can’t say I miss much about being young.

While it’s true we’re genetically superior in our youth, with more vitality, more hair, less weight, less wrinkles, it doesn’t translate to anything useful as far as I’m concerned.

 

In the documentary I’m Your Man it, a now-old  Leonard Cohen says that it’s the acceptance of what we hoped for ourselves in our youth versus what actually happened in our lives that is the essence of grace (paraphrased).

My daughters are now in their mid-twenties. More educated that I was, more sure of themselves, I still see the angst that comes from being newly grown, living in a big mean world that threatens to eat them up. Disappointments with relationships or disappointment with not having one. Anxiety about finances, education, jobs, peppered with the inevitable heartbreak of an unexpected trauma here and there. Things we’ve all faced.

I find myself wanting to tell them and their young friends what I wish someone would have told me.

Dear Young Person,

Though your circumstances appear dire at times, they will inevitably improve. Those things you feel are awful impediments to your dreams? They’ll be what shapes and reveals your character, flaws and all. And those dreams that have come true for you?  Count them as blessings, not entitlements. Remember, life’s a marathon,  not a race. Slow down. With a little time, some faith, and a lot of hard work, it will all come together. You’ll be fortunate if you can become the old, saggy person you’ve secretly dreaded being. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the elders in your midst. We’ve been there.

Sincerely,

Another Old Saggy Person in Training

What do you wish you had known when you were young that might have made a positive difference? I’d love to hear from you, but if you don’t share it here, share it with a young person in your life.

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