It’s easy to miss the learning moments when whizzing through our days. And so hard to stay alert to them. Don’t you find that to be true? It seems we default to auto-pilot. Being intentional takes, well, intention.
I almost missed it. Well, it was early, and I was flying out of my city at 5:40 am. So I had that 4:00 am wake-up glaze. But I was also brimming over with anticipation for what lie ahead. And running on adrenaline.
I slid into my window seat on the small jet heading to San Francisco. I wondered if I’d have a neighbor.
Ellie flashed me a warm smile as she took the aisle. “That’s good,” I thought. We struck up an easy conversation.
We discovered we were at similar stages in life, though I sensed she was a bit older than I. Kids headed off to college. One, whom she was visiting on the East Coast, already there. It would be Parent’s Weekend for her college junior, and she was taking the opportunity to attend.
She showed me a picture. All girls. And they are beautiful, shining young ladies.
I registered she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, a clue that perhaps she was no longer with her husband. Although quite confident in her skin, I believe it rang as an alert to a hidden pain.
Her two youngest recently graduated from high school. One is already settled in her freshman year at a well-respected college. She went early because she’s on a full athletic scholarship and practice began during the summer.
“The other twin is attending a late-start school,” she told me. “So I left her at home. But she won’t be there when I return. Her father is taking her. It makes me sad I cannot see her off.”
The Opportunity Opens UP
We discussed the empty nest. We’ll be there as well within a year now. She told me her only consolation is the two dogs and two cats who will be there when she returns. Then she acknowledged, “They are just like little kids.”
We both had careers as we raised our children. But we reminisced how those early days, when the children were little, were full of such physical challenge. How it would be difficult to even go to the bathroom without a child needing you, much less take a shower. The demands of juggling so much.
Then we shared about what we do now. I told her about my work with international students, and more specifically, international wives, couples & families now. And then I also told her about CultureWeave. She seemed genuinely interested.
“In fact,” she shared, “We had a high school student from Bosnia live with us for a year early in our marriage. It was part of a program set up to take about a dozen young Bosnians and give them a break from the war and pain in their country. To give them opportunity in America.”
“But, I’m sad to say, this experience almost broke us and our marriage.”
Boom! A personal bomb dropped. I expressed my concern and shock.
Going Deeper Towards a Solution
She went on.
“This was before we had our daughters. In fact, we were trying to get pregnant but having some challenges. So, we were probably more stressed out than we should have been. Even though we thought having this girl stay with us would be healthy and helpful, that was so far from reality."
“Turns out, my husband and I were on such different pages. Because, he thought we should be more understanding. But this Bosnian teen had not lived under rules or boundaries because of the condition of her country. Sadly, she thought coming to the U.S. was a free pass to live any way she’d like.”
I told her I was so sorry this had happened.
“You know,” she went on, “We had no training for what we were about to experience with her. And neither did she. Our group just took her out of there and plopped her into suburban America. And they expected all of us to ‘just figure it out.”
“If there had been something like what you’re aiming to do years ago, it would’ve helped us so much. Cross-cultural training. Learning how the other person, the other culture, thinks. And no assumptions.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That’s what we’re trying to develop with CultureWeave. “Tools, training and community to help people through these challenging situations. To empower. So the experiences people end up having are, on the whole, more positive than negative.”
Building bridges. Between cultures, yes. And between Seats 8A and 8B on a little commuter flight to San Francisco. I was so glad I had kept alert.
We arrived and, as we did, Ellie turned to me and asked, “Do you have some information about your site, about your business?” So I handed her my card, and she gave me hers.
Learning to stay alert – this is key. And keeping my eyes open for opportunity. To make a difference. Even when we least expect it.
How do you practice staying alert – being intentional – as you move through your days?