Deciding to Be Different/Leaving the Legacy of Domestic Violence

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.

The next afternoon, we were off. To the Eiffel Tower. To the Pantheon. To Notre Dame. The Latin Quarter.  The more we walked together, the more we shared about our lives.

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.

How Do You Measure a Good Vacation? My trip to Italy and France

How do you measure a good vacation?

Is it the sights you’ve seen?

The friends you’ve made?

Or is it that you’re positively thrilled to return to your own routine of work, chores, and friends?

Reconnecting with a dear friend made in Laos

However I measure it, I had a great time. I’m tickled to be back.

After spending three weeks on a frugal trip to Italy and France, I can honestly say it was an unforgettable trip.

Given my propensity to get lost and to break things, travel far away is always a particular risk for me (or the people around me).

Thank you to my hostel mates for filling in the gaps. To the wonderful Costa Rican young man who set aside time to show me the ropes of Paris subways and navigate the way to all the best sites.  To Hakan in Rome who intervened when a creepy staff member starting following and  harassing me. To the gentle, elderly Parisian woman who must have sensed my loneliness and sat with me on an empty subway to share her life story. To my old and very dear friend Popi for bringing me into her life in Trieste, Italy. And to the many, many others.

Venice, Italy

Everyone has a story worth hearing.

For me, it takes removing myself and going far, far, away to make the time-from work, from family, from hobbies, even from writing, to really focus on hearing those stories.

And guess what? I returned under budget, two pounds lighter (no small feat given the countries at hand, and couldn’t wait to re-connect with you.


Remembering Grace and Making New Memories/The Bright Spot of My Daughters’ Abduction

I’m in Italy this week, spending time with a cherished friend.

Have you ever been the beneficiary of uncommon kindness from a random stranger?

There is something special about going through a brutal time and finding that you have guardian angels who pop up out of nowhere. 

Such was the case for me in 1995 when I found myself alone in Greece without two dimes to rub together, looking for my abducted daughters.

On my first trip to Greece after they were kidnapped, I met with a lawyer I had retained there. Two young women attorneys worked in his office, and after our initial meeting, they invited me to lunch with them.

They weren’t involved with my case. They were not being paid. They simply extended their hospitality, and they were only too happy to practice their English skills.

One of the women, Popi, inquired about my living arrangements while in Greece. When I told her I was staying at a hostel, she piped up. “It is settled, then. You will come stay with me in my spare bedroom.”

And I did. 

At the time, I had long been a motherless child, and was now a childless mother.  Popi’s nurturing presence was medicinal to me. She taught me to read and speak Greek after work, something that would come in handy since my daughters no longer spoke English. Popi took me on outings with her friends, and when my lawyers quit my case temporarily due to non-payment by me and due to the fact that I second-guessed them constantly, Popi stood in the line of fire with them to help me find a private investigator. In turn, her job was threatened.

What do you say to someone who has done so much and asked for nothing in return?

Thank you, Popi. I said I would never forget  you, and I have not.

We’ve all faced hard times and have been the recipient of uncommon grace.

Who in your life has stepped up to help you?

With luck, I’ll post next week. Otherwise, I’ll return to you at the end of the month.
Take care.