One of the most common questions I have been asked in my adult life is, “Wow, how did you end up there?” My current position as an au pair in little, ol’ Pattensen, the year I spent in high school in South Africa, going to school and working for a fashion designer in California, or living and working on board a private yacht in the Caribbean. They all sound much more random (and, many of them, glamorous) than they are. In actuality, each have the same origin and root, which is the short story long…
I am going to make a quite risky, and wildly un-true, statement right now: I am here today, and there yesterday, because of one single event in my childhood. As I said, I know this is not actually accurate. We are a sum of our experiences, and there are many events and choices every single day that lead us to where we have been, and are going.
In my story though, when all of those choices and experiences are stripped away, the core of what is left is a single event in a 7-year-old girl’s summer. She is shy, scared and homesick because she is away at horse camp for a week. She doesn’t eat breakfast in the morning because she is nervous, and she quietly cries at night because she feels so far from home. I was that 7-year-old girl. My narrative could have ended there, and everything would have still worked out fine in the end. Many kids are homesick at camp every summer and their story doesn’t change. But, the Author knew this was a pivotal moment for my tale.
I was blessed that week with a cabin counselor who had the warmest spirit and most genuine heart. She was sincere, kind and patient with me. And she was Australian. This felt so foreign to me. In my little life I couldn’t remember ever having met someone from so far away, who felt so close. As we said our goodbyes at the end of the week, she promised to write letters to me and to visit at the end of summer before she went back “Down Under”. And she did.
My eyes were so open to the world after that summer; after that somewhat-single event. I had fallen in love with a place (Australia) through the acts of one woman who simply made the effort and took the time to make me feel special. Until now, I had only ever recognized this warmth from my own family. My curiosity was peaked about what could lie beyond home. I suddenly felt the urge to explore. So, I have. While I haven’t made it to Australia yet, I sure am thankful for the places I have seen and people I have met along the way.
Over the past nearly-20 years her and I have kept in touch. When a long-distance call meant charges on the phone bill, she still rang. Before the Internet, I filled letters with pictures and promises of visiting once my piggy bank was full. And now we follow each other on Facebook, where she can keep up on my travels and I can see photos of her beautiful daughters.
Sharon, thank you for being such an inspiring, warm, loving woman. I am so thankful our stories intersected. There are a couple stops I have to make first, but I will keep my promise and find my way Down Under soon. All my love & Happy Birthday! 🙂
Little Elk Horse Ranch, Summer 1996