The Big Apple.
I love snail mail. Hand written cards are my jam - along with yoga, sunsets and a good patio with friends - but that’s beside the point. So imagine my surprise when a postcard connected me to a family from the small town of Unkel, Germany some 4,939 miles away.
Being the adventurous traveler I am, I reached out to the family to connect while abroad last year. I showed up at a train station where the family I’d never met anxiously awaited me. Almost immediately, I bonded with their 13-year-old granddaughter over broken English, braids and SnapChat.
Fast forward almost a year, a hundred texts and many voice memos later. Time and space no longer separated us. Over the year, we navigated the language barriers, her teaching me German, and me helping to prepare her for English tests, always having to correct her pronunciation of words beginning with “J.”
When the family decided to surprise this young lady and her sister with a trip to America, they asked me to be a part of it.
I almost said no. I almost didn’t go to NYC. I almost let money, time, work and other excuses steal my joy. Several years ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t look back on my life with regret. I knew if I didn’t go, I’d regret the opportunity to connect with some amazing humans.
That trip is everything I live for - surprise. Spontaneity. Adventure. Travel. Breaking down barriers and connecting people.
So once again, I said yes. To adventure. To travel. To shifting priorities. To following my gut. And I’m telling you, my gut never steers me wrong.
Seeing my America through their eyes was such an incredible experience. And, it taught me some really valuable lessons:
We’re all different, yet exactly the same: While there were SO many differences between me and them, we were also the same. We were cold, tired, excited, nervous. We got blisters on our feet. We loved taking photos. We spoke different languages but loved the same music, had seen the same movies and shared similar travels. Their parents worked. Mine did too. They played sports. I did too. They loved basketball. I do too. They know love and hurt. Good and evil. Friendship and betrayal. I do too. Different, yet the same.
Our differences can bring us together or tear us apart. What if we shifted our perspective toward our similarities? What if we began to recognize that underneath hair, eye and skin color we all bleed the same?
Fear knows no bounds: At the 9/11 museum, we swapped stories of the day the world as we knew it changed. As a junior in high school, we huddled around a television wondering what this meant for our country. Their father crowded around a radio in school - he and his friends wondering what this meant for the world. Both of us wondering if a war was on the way.
Fear touches us all in some form or fashion. Know you are never on an island.
It isn’t how much time you have that matters, but what you do with the time that counts: Their father relayed to me that at home, he leaves for work before the girls are awake and comes home late in the evenings. But Sundays, those days are reserved for family and food. As he shared with me how he isn’t at home much one of the girls joined the conversation and blew me away when she said, “Yes papa, but you are here now. That matters.”
How you choose to spend your time is up to you. Make it count.
Language isn’t a barrier, it’s an invitation to listen more closely: English is a hard language to grasp. We speak in slang, use contractions and have 50,000 different conjugations of a verb. Rather than allowing language to be a barrier between us, we all took it as an invitation to listen more closely to each other and question what we didn’t understand. Words were chosen purposefully and spoken with much care. While their grammar wasn’t perfect nor their verbs always in the correct tense, I practiced the art of truly listening, not just listening while anticipating what I wanted to respond. Rather, I listened to comprehend. I listened with compassion. I listened with heart. I listened with gratitude as they carefully constructed sentence after sentence trying to relay to me their thoughts and feelings.
What would our relationships look like if we chose our words carefully, listened more and spoke less? If we listened to comprehend what the other is saying underneath all the words? If we interpreted body language? If we showed compassion in all of our exchanges?
During our brief 72 hours together, 3 Germans and this American walked more than 25 miles all over Manhattan taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the big city. Sweet friends, that’s how we do hospitality where I’m from! And let me tell you, the conversation, laughter and selfies were worth every single step.