Keeping the heart open
If I’ve learned anything in the past year, its that I need to let myself be open to new experiences. I need to let go of the “what ifs” and embrace the “let’s sees”.
I first learned the lesson last winter when we took in Lucas, our German exchange student. That one was easy for me, though. A boy was in need of a loving home. I was a mom in need of boy to love. Easy. We opened our doors, took Lucas in, and allowed ourselves to enjoy six months with someone to cook for, someone to greet us in the morning, someone to worry about, someone to help with chores.
And through Lucas, we were able to have our second “just be open” experience. That one came when we got to know his Mom and her husband through the miracle of Skype. We had emailed them, or course, as soon as Lucas came to live with us. “We’ve got him! He’s here, we’ll take good care of him”, we messaged. Our emails went back and forth for a couple of weeks, and then Lucas asked us to Skype. Paul and I don’t particularly enjoy the kind of forced conversation that comes with Skype, and we didn’t even know these people at all. We speak no German, and don’t know much about the country or culture. “Twenty minutes”, we told each other, “We’ll just say hello, show them the house, answer any questions they might have.” So Lucas made the connection, we put on good clothes and sat somewhat awkwardly on the couch with him between the two of us.
Two hours later, we finally said good bye with many promises from both sides to “do this again soon!” Kisses were blown, hands were waved, “Bye-bye” and “guten nacht” were called out. We logged off and looked at each other in amazement. “Wow”, Paul said, “They’re fantastic!”
It was only this week that we learned that the very same conversations had happened in Germany before and after that Skype session. “Twenty minutes “, Katja had assured her husband before the call. “We’ll just introduce ourselves and thank them. We don’t even know these people.” And then, “Wow!” when the call was ended.
Because we were open to something new when Lucas needed a home, because we didn’t let our common sense talk us out of it or remind us of all of the possible complications and inconveniences, we had let ourselves make a connection with a wonderful couple across the world from us.
Fast forward 9 months, and you will come to our third “open yourself” lesson in this surprising life. After more long Skype sessions, glasses of wine “shared” vicariously on the screen, and many long stories, some laughs and even some tears, we had arranged to have Katja, Lucas and Jörg stay with us for a week this month. And we are in the middle of planning a trip to see them in Germany next summer.
Can you imagine? Two total strangers (technically) coming to live in our small house with our big dogs, leaving the beautiful city of Berlin and spending time in the wilderness!? We were nervous but so excited to host them! It has been even better than we could have dreamed!
We feel like we’ve known them our whole lives. What a joy to find people who are so smart, compatible, flexible, honest, easy. What a week! We took a trip to the Cape, went to Portsmouth New Hampshire, hosted a cocktail party for them and took a trip into Boston.
And it was in Boston where our final serendipitous encounter took place.
We were at Faneuil Hall, the historic old seaport area where sites from the American Revolution brush up against trendy shops and upscale restaurants. A fun and vibrant part of our city, and one that Paul and I have seen many times before. Our guests went to do some shopping while we walked around the original Faneuil Hall building itself. And it was there, in front of a display about the first African American Regiment to fight in the Civil War that we made the acquaintance of a young woman from Seattle. We started to chat about history, but moved quickly onto more personal stories. The woman was pretty and warm and it was so easy to talk with her. She had a fresh, honest face and I liked her at first glance. Truly, if I were to choose a word to describe her, it would have to be “open”. Within a few minutes of meeting, I had told her that I was a retired teacher who loves history, and she’d told us that she was the mother of a three year old girl, and was on a work trip to Boston from Seattle. She began to cry as she said this, with the kind of gentle, graceful tearfulness that I thought only Ingrid Bergman could achieve. As she wiped her tears and ruefully explained that she hadn’t ever been away from her daughter for five whole days, and missed her terrible, I opened my arms and pulled her into a hug.
It sounds pretty strange as I write this; what kind of lunatic old couple walks around talking to strangers and then hugging them? We didn’t even know each others’ names yet, but here she was, this tall, fair woman, crying on my shoulder.
We found out as we continued our conversation that she was also grieving the sudden recent loss of a close friend. Another hug for that one! And then we found out that she speaks fluent German, and that she was rushing around to see a few historical sites before returning to her hotel at dusk. She was alone, and didn’t know the city, so she wanted to be safely in her room by dark. She would be heading home the next morning, so this was her one chance to see part of the city.
So naturally, having learned to be open to new people and new experiences, we invited her to join us for dinner in the North End. She was surprised and delighted; see? She’s very open!
We walked through the city with our new German friends and our new American acquaintance. We talked all the way, both languages flowing. We had an incredibly delicious meal in a little restaurant called “Bella Vista” on Hanover St. We ate a pile of pastries and fresh cannoli.
And we hugged and exchanged contact information as we said good night and headed home.
So we find ourselves, having learned to be more open, with an upcoming trip to Germany and an open invitation to visit Seattle. We find ourselves with new close friends in Katja and Jörg, a third son in Lucas, and the memory of having offered comfort and friendship to a beautiful young woman in a tough spot.
What could be better than that?