The building was cold. Drafty would be one way to describe it, but the word wouldn’t do it justice. The heat never worked, and the winter months dragged on. We sat at a long, white table, all bundled in our hats and coats, hands tucked into pockets in an effort to stay warm while the teacher drilled us on the Nominative case, the Genitive Case, and everything in between.
It was 1998, and I was a student at The Institute of Foreign Languages in Kiev, Ukraine. There were seven students in my Russian language class – six of them from China, and me, the blond-headed American with a love for languages and a longing for adventure.
After school we’d attempt small talk. Our only common language was Russian, so if we wanted to converse it had to be in the language we’d come there to learn. We did a lot of gesturing, and a lot of laughing. I’m sure we looked quite comical walking down the street, the Chinese and the American charading our way through Kiev.
On the afternoons when I wasn’t hanging out with my classmates, I’d explore the city on my own. My very favorite pastime was getting lost.
I got lost on purpose.
I’d walk in a new direction and take multiple turns until I didn’t quite know where I was, then I’d make myself find a way back. In my self-induced confusion, I found so many great little treasures.
I stumbled upon a tea shop on one of my wanderings. I walked inside and breathed in deep the heady scent of hundreds of different teas. Glass jars lined the wall from floor to ceiling, all of the labels written in Russian so I couldn’t quite make them out. But oh, how I enjoyed the challenge.
The owner of the shop was an older woman with bright grey hair and piercing eyes that probed my face. She found me amusing, maybe even a little annoying, and after a few attempts at speaking and realizing that my language was not strong enough to keep up with her fast speech, she left me to explore the walls on my own.
Another day, I got so turned around I could not find my way back. It was getting dark, and I was freezing cold. I was twenty, and didn’t always make the best decisions, but I did know that getting lost in a big city after dark on a cold night was a bad idea.
So I hailed a cab.
In Kiev, anyone can be a cab. Stick out your hand and anyone looking for money could swing by and pick you up. I decided to wait until I saw an actual cab car before sticking out my hand. You know, for safety.
I ended up in the car with one of the happiest, friendliest men I’ve ever met. His eyes swam with kindness. He spoke no English, but he was fluent in Spanish. My Russian language was stronger at that point, and I had a small cache of Spanish words stored in my memory from high school, so we pieced a conversation together using Russian and a bit of Spanish.
It’s been nearly eighteen years since I spent that semester in Ukraine, and even now I find that I still long for adventure. I crave that feeling of being lost.
Last year just about this time, I jetted off to Munich for a week with my dad, and on my first day there I took a walk. I turned left, then right, the left again until I was significantly turned around, and my heartbeat quickened. I was lost, and I was thrilled.
There’s beauty in wandering, and comfort in adventure. Sometimes it’s scary, not knowing where the next turn will lead you. But if you’re willing to take the ride, to seek out the treasures in the unknown path, you just may find that the unknown is the place where your soul comes alive.
Some days, I feel swallowed up by the predictability of my life. Each day, though hectic, is relatively the same. We wake up, we have sports and school and bickering and loving, we go to bed, and we wake up and do it again.
I’m not complaining. I love my life. It’s messy and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to walk this path with anyone besides the people I’ve been given. So in the moments when I find myself longing for adventure again, I look at the unknown that stands before me.
Though my schedule may be predictable, the truth is I don’t know which direction tomorrow will lead me or my family. It’s always a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and looking for the adventure that is right now.
Even today, it’s possible to get lost on purpose. The fun lies in exploring each new turn life throws our way.
Are you an adventure seeker? How do you find adventure in the mundane spaces of life?
EDITED TO UPDATE: On January 22, 2019, New York governor Andrew Cuomo passed a law legalizing abortion up until birth. I have re-shared this post to address this current development. Replace “Planned Parenthood” in this article with “New York City” and the discussion remains valid.
For an example of just one of the slippery slope consequences, consider reading this post about a heartbreaking event that occurred in Colorado:
A Woman’s Right to Choose: We Have Failed
I huddled under the umbrella, shivering violently against the cold. Or maybe it was the oppression that still lingered beneath the soggy soil under my feet. As the tour guide spoke, I ingested his words, trying to fully comprehend the horror of it all. But of course, I can’t comprehend it. I’m only seeing pictures.
But still, I felt the ghosts whispering a haunting refrain in that place, and I knew that the oppression lingers for a reason.
It poured rain the day I visited Dachau, which felt right. I can’t really imagine the sun ever shining over those graveled walkways, glinting off the barbed wire fencing that once coursed with electricity and served as a quick death for martyred souls. I can’t fathom the dichotomy between a lovely spring day with birds singing joyfully over the ovens that burned thousands and thousand of bodies.
Can beauty and evil really coexist like that?
But I know that they can – of course they can. It happens every day. Beauty and evil intermingle, clouding our eyes and veiling the horrors around us. But sometimes, I think we have to see the evil in the rain to truly understand the depth and depravity.
I wasn’t going to write about Planned Parenthood and those videos that have been released. So many other people have written about it, and I’ve already said my piece on abortion.
I told you that we failed.
I told you that we can’t ignore Kermit Gosnell.
I didn’t want to talk about it again. I didn’t even want to watch the videos, because I can picture the horror in my mind, and that felt like enough.
But then I remembered Dachau, and I remembered that sometimes you have to see it up close, in the rain. Sometimes you have to get your feet dirty as you trod into the dark places. Only then can you truly get a glimpse of the horror.
Yesterday, I watched the fourth released video – the one that took us a little bit further. I walked into the lab and watched as body parts were sifted in a petri dish. It was the same way I shuffled parts aside in ninth grade when I had to dissect a frog.
Here’s the heart.
Here’s the liver.
But these weren’t frog parts. They were human. I saw intact hands, tiny fingers raised in surrender, pulled violently from the safety of the womb.
I saw a fully formed leg. Little eyes that would never see the light of a summer day. Mangled and torn, the evidence of abortion screamed at me, and I felt my stomach churn the same way I did when I stepped into the oven room at Dachau. And then I heard the exclamation of the lab technician:
“It’s a boy! It’s another boy!”
I stopped the video there because the weight of it all felt too great. It was like standing in the freezing rain and hearing the stories of the men who were tortured ruthlessly, viciously, violently, all because they bore the label “Jew.”
It wasn’t a “clump of cells.” It was a boy. A little boy who would have bounded with little-boy energy. He would have eaten dirt and played with bugs, fallen and skinned his knees, and probably been too rough when he got excited. He would have hated baths and brushing his teeth, and probably would have given the best hugs.
HE was a BOY. He was real – a human being.
The city of Dachau was remote during the World War II era. This made hiding thousands of people there easier. But still, there were residents living outside the gates. Good German citizens, without the stigma of a forbidden religion, lived and worked just on the other side of evil.
Did they wonder about the smoke that billowed from the trees day and night? Did they question the emaciated men and women who arrived by train and trudged into the shelter of the nearby woods? Did they know and pretend they didn’t? And do I blame them?
Speaking out would most certainly have had ramifications. It was better to keep your head down and pretend you didn’t see.
Friends, we can’t keep our heads down anymore. We’ve been escorted directly into the furnace. We can’t pretend it isn’t there. This has to go beyond the legality of what Planned Parenthood is doing. We must get to the very heart of the issue.
Abortion is murder.
I say this with a bit of a cringe, because I know it cuts deep. It’s a blatant statement, and it may make some of you feel judged or alienated. Maybe you’ve experienced abortion, and these statements cut to the quick. Hear my heart on this: I do not condemn you as a person. I condemn a society who told you there was no other way.
As I write this, the clouds hang heavy over my house. It’s been raining steadily for almost two weeks now, and once again I’m reminded that sometimes the horror is better seen and experienced underneath the weeping sky. We can’t pretend it isn’t happening – we can’t pretend we don’t know.
And what do we do?
This is the trickiest part of the equation, isn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be. There are Crisis Pregnancy Centers popping up all over the United States. These are safe havens where young, scared women can go when an unplanned pregnancy leaves them feeling lost.
Let’s start here.
Call your local Crisis Pregnancy Center and ask them what they need. How can you help? What can you provide? And then spread the word. Let’s give young women a chance to get top care, solid counseling, and the ability to choose life for their unborn children. Let’s stop telling them they have no other choice but to abort.
Let’s give them the choice of life.
What do you say?
For two alternatives to Planned Parenthood in the Tampa area, look at:
Oasis Pregnancy Care Center
Guiding Star/ Life Choices Women’s Care
Ten hours and fifteen minutes after taking off from Munich, the plane finally began it’s approach into the Atlanta airport. I couldn’t even really feel excited over the sheer exhaustion of it all.
Ten hours is a long time.
I’d finished writing a chapter in my book, written the beginnings of a short story, read for quite a bit, and watched three movies, because somehow zoning out to the tiny television screen felt the least like trying to slog through quick sand.
Sandwiched between my husband and a very kind young German man, I’d shifted and squirmed through most of the flight, because I can find neither comfort nor sleep on an airplane. It’s a terrible curse to not be able to drift to sleep in any position but fully prone.
One of the movies I watched had a bit of suspense to it, and at one point, when a shark leapt out of the water and almost bit the main character’s head off, I yelped and accidentally grabbed the arm of the kind, young German man. Lee fell over into the aisle laughing while this poor fellow confirmed his suspicions that I was a crazy American. I tried apologizing, and he smiled politely, then shifted as far away from me as he possibly could.
As we made our way down, the runway in our sights, I offered Lee a small smile. “Almost there,” I said, and he nodded in return, equally numb.
We raced toward the ground, waiting for the wheels to touch down on American soil, and then WHAMO!
It was one of the roughest landings I’ve ever experienced in an airplane. I suspect the pilot had his own feelings of numbness to contend with, and perhaps he got tired of the slow descent and decided to just throw that sucker down and be done with it.
As the plane shuddered and bounced under the weight of a quick landing, I gripped the armrest. I almost grabbed my new German friend’s hand, but I noticed he had tucked his hands under his legs in self defense. Poor fellow.
A few minutes later, the plane rolled to a stop, and my grip loosened as I realized we’d made it safe and sound. The plane didn’t barrel roll into the gate like it seemed it would in those first few moments after slamming to the ground. We had arrived. We were home.
I didn’t realize our landing would be a metaphor for reentry into every day life.
It’s amazing how a getaway can revive a person. Last week away was fabulous from start to finish. I loved every minute of it, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t really miss the kids until the day it was time to go home. I simply relished in the freedom of kidless-ness. There were many moments when I wished that the kids were with me. Each time I explored a castle, I wished I could share the experience with them, because I knew they’d love it.
But I never once wished I was back home.
When we finally landed in Tampa, though, Lee and I were beyond ready to get home and see the children. This was our slow descent. It felt like it took forever for our wheels to hit the ground, but finally we were there, and the return hugs and snuggles we got were worth every minute away.
The first night was sweet and fun as we shared our trip with them, and they shared their week with us. My mom not only survived, but she did a slam bang job of holding the house together in the process. She deserves a few extra jewels in her heavenly crown for last week, for sure.
We went to bed that first night, and slept soundly, then woke up and WHAMO! No more slow descent. Arguments, homework, notes from teachers and homeroom moms listing out 8,462 things that needed to be done before the last day of school, soccer try outs, practices, and incidents that occurred while we were gone that needed to be addressed.
It’s like we fell out of the sky and slammed back into real life, and last night Lee caught my eye after we finally managed to get them all in bed. His wide eyes matched mine, and we sort of just stared at one another for a long minute before starting to laugh.
“I guess there’s no easing back into this, right?” I asked. Lee shook his head and raised his glass to me.
“To Germany!” he cried.
To Germany, indeed. I write this now after a restless night with a kid who had nightmares and ended up in our bed…on top of me for the the most part. The same kid woke up with a gushing bloody nose that I got to deal with before a sip of coffee crossed my lips.
Welcome home, and thanks for dropping in, I thought to myself when I got them all on the bus, but there’s a grin behind the thought, because I wouldn’t orchestrate life any other way than this – crazy, and busy, and brimming with love.
I could do without the bloody noses, though…
Salzburg is romantic castles towering high above the city. History and beauty, and so many stories tucked into the marred, stone walls.
Salzburg is graveyards and flowers, and beautiful remembrances of loved ones lost.
Salzburg is doors. So many magical, curious doors. Doors that might be portals back in time. Or maybe they just lead to the dumpster, but either way, there’s something fascinating about all those doors.
Salzburg is a place that can even make McDonalds look inviting and romantic.
Salzburg is exploring and hiking behind the castle where you find a leafy path that leads to…where? You don’t know because you don’t have time to explore it. And also, there’s a sign that says Private Property, which really only makes it all the more intriguing, right?
Salzburg is horse drawn carriages on cobbled sidewalks.
Salzburg is standing high above the city and biting your lip to keep from singing “The hiiiills are alliiiive!” You want to do it, but you know people would think you were weird.
Salzburg is flower boxes in windows everywhere you turn.
Salzburg is a place that you never want to leave. It’s a place you dream of bringing your children.
Salzburg is spectacular.
I decided to leave my bulky camera behind on this trip and, instead, use only my iPhone to capture the images. I’m thankful that I read David Molnar’s iPhone Only Photography book before I came. Have you read it? You should. So many great tips!
Munich is empty hallways, basket clad bikes, and cobbled side streets.
Munich is architecture and structure and history waiting to be understood.
Munich is old doors that beg you to imagine what could be behind them.
Munich is secret gardens tucked behind buildings. It’s vine covered garden homes that glimmer with magic.
Munich is people walking, laughter on the streets, urban and nature all hugged up tight together.
Munich is selfies in hats overlooking the city on a beautiful spring day.
Munich is color and flowers and out door cafes.
Munich is beautiful and inspiring, and I’m off to explore more of her secrets.