Make some room

Make some room

“Make some room”.

“MAKE some room”.

Barked my Sparta Class instructor as he restlessly roamed the circuit class floor.

We had just finished a solid hour of weight training exercises executed in pairs – 24 exercises total. My breath was labored. I was covered in sweet. A deep thirst filled my being. “What could possibly come next?” I thought, then I found out.

“50 Burpees” came the command.

Many groaned. I didn’t have the energy.

I wondered : “Can I do this?”. I had never done 50 burpees. 25, yes. 30, yes, but 50, never. Especially after giving everything I had to a circuit weight training class that was heavy on chest and back exercises. Could I make it to that impossible sounding number?

Before I had too much time to ponder, my partner hit the deck and I followed. I think this is one of the reasons for the partner: peer pressure.

Hands on the ground, I jumped my legs back into plank position. Sunk down into a solid push-up. Sprang my legs back in and jumped up. “One” rang out in my head.

The first 5 were solid, then it started to become a bit harder. I considered cutting out the push-up. Out of habit, it remained.

Suddenly I was at 25 – halfway there. I started my count over at 1 to spare my brain and spirit. Just 25 burpees now.

At 45, my partner was finished, and I was going slower. She then did the unthinkable and jumped in to finish my last 5 with me. I started to call the numbers out loud. My form was as good again as the first 5 and soon we were done.

I had completed 50 burpees. A feat in and of itself, but after an intense 1 hour workout, I was elated. I gulped down some cool water and thanked the instructor for showing me I could do something that I didn’t know was in me.

And that is why I train. I love finding the edge and pushing through it. Respecting what my body can do and knowing when it’s the right time to take it further.

It occurred to me that I do the same thing at work. I love finding an impossible challenge, grappling with how to solve it, adapting along the way and ultimately completing the goal. The outcome might look very different than I originally envisioned, but if it is fit for purpose, then it works.

As you start this week, make some room. Make room in your life for a new challenge. Look for an impossible goal and achieve it. As we close this year, finish strong! Go into next year with renewed confidence in your ability to push your limits and overcome. Then, nothing will be impossible.

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The time in between

The time in between

What follows is a tale of a surprising encounter I had on my last day in Germany which reminded me to never presume I know a person by what I see on the outside. This opportunity came about following a strange series of events that created “the time in between”. Some would call it serendipity.

In my last week of living in Germany I had a boat load of things to wrap up. I packed a small box of items from my office – a framed picture that I’d carried with me from America to Germany of the Digital Farming team crowded in front of a 57 Chevy parked in front of y’all Nebraska corn. Another photo of a younger version of my husband smiling at me from the top of a boulder along a river near Yosemite national park. My 5 year service award. My favorite coffee cup.

This box sat in my apartment, ready for the movers who would come and add it to the pile of boxes and wrapped furniture that would be loaded into a van and packed in to a sea crate for delivery to my home in America.

As I prepared to move home, one task on my list was to return my fleet car to the Opel car dealership in Cologne. Cologne is a city I thought I’d visit often while I lived in Germany, but as it turned out my life in Germany was focused either in Düsseldorf, traveling to another country for the weekend or striking out for a wanderen (hike) in the Bergischeland near Altenberg Dom. I made a few trips to Cologne and every time I went I found the drive to be frustrating, parking to be a nightmare and the experience to not be different enough from my time in Düsseldorf to justify the trip. So, I traveled a few times with visitors who wanted to see the impressive Dom or drink a glass of Kölsch at Früh.

I also traveled a few times to the car dealership for an oil change. So it came that when I called up the dealership to arrange to return my car and booked the last appointment of the day on the day before my return flight to America I suddenly realized I wouldn’t have a way to get home. The drive was long enough that I didn’t want to hassle a friend, so I texted my favorite taxi driver and arranged for him to pick me up. I don’t know why I didn’t consider a train… my only excuse is I had A LOT on my mind that week and I wanted to simplify.

Now I realize that I made that choice for a reason. I made that choice so I could have “the time in between” to engage in a conversation that has fundamentally shifted my view on a very important aspect of humanity. Let me explain it to you here.

Here’s how “the time in between” came to be. In my last Wednesday in Germany I went to the office and forced myself to clock out on time to make it to Cologne for my car return appointment. As I traveled the busy roads the clock was ticking and I found that in spite of my best efforts I’d be a bit late. Which leads me to one of the most humorous things I learned in Germany. The idea that Germans are extremely punctual is a myth. Sure, Germans, just like most of us, strive to be on time or early, but I didn’t find people where any more often on time or late than anywhere else I’ve traveled in the world. Nevertheless, I would encounter a real logistical problem if for some strange reason I couldn’t return my car that day. At 6 am the next morning I’d be boarding a plane bound for America! I had to drop off my car!

As I pulled up to the dealership I rushed in to begin the return process. I had budgeted an hour for the process so the taxi was scheduled to pick me up at 4:30. At 3:45 we were done and I pondered what to do with the time. I decided now was my chance to enjoy one last Kölsch in Köln before I repatriated. I had noticed a corner bier joint on my way in to the dealership.

I finished handing over my keys, said one last farewell to Super Z and took off down the street by foot. The streets bustling with people, I passed by kiosks and kebab shops en route to my destination. Shortly after climbing out of a train-line underpass, I found the bier joint I had spotted on my way in. Two older gentlemen stood outside at the traditional round table for 3 – both with a tall, thin glass of Kölsch resting on a coaster in front of them. One smoking a hand rolled cigarette.

I walked in and ordered a beer from the bar maid. My German passable as we completed the entire brief exchange in Deutsche. I began to feel I had actually made it and could pass as a local. It was a lovely afternoon so I walked outside with my Kölsch and was pleased to find the y’all round table vacated. I dropped my shoulder bag at my feet and took my first long drink of the lighter cousin of Alt.

Halfway through the glass I received a text from my taxi driver. He was in Köln, but unfortunately discovered that there were two locations in Köln with the same exact address and he was clearly not at the right one. This meant he was still about 45 minutes away from me. I eased his distress by letting him know I had a comfortable place to wait. Then settled in to a bench seat at a table and order eine mehr Kölsch mit bratwurst, bitte.

This series of events is what led to the “time in between”. What happened next was completely unexpected and changed my view on an entire population of people: namely – refugees and native borne peoples of non-native descent. What struck me later is that none of this would have happened if the car return hadn’t gone so fast, or my taxi was late, or my nostalgic thirst hadn’t kicked in, prompting me to walk up the road and grab a bier.

What happened next is a lady walked up weighed down by heavy bags – the plastic handles cutting into her forearms – and expressed to me in German how tired and thirsty she was. This declaration was promptly followed by collapsing herself into the bench seat at the neighboring table. We began to carry on a conversation across the two tables. After a couple of sentences in German from me she switched to perfect English. I guess my German wasn’t so good after all… A bit later, the bar maid appeared and she ordered a beer. When it arrived, we toasted our biers and I welcomed her to join me at the bench just opposite me at “my” table. I say “my” table because in Germany, a table never belongs to one person. They are meant to be shared. Sharing doesn’t always result in a conversation, but many times it does and these spontaneous conversations are sometimes the most interesting you’ll have all year. Such it would be that day.

But, first I should give you a bit more insight into what I was rolling over in my very mind that day in the hours that led up to the “time in between”. The German election results had just rolled in and AFD had gained seats in the parliament. Enough seats to indicate that 1 in 10 voting age Germans had supported their cause. A cause which was largely rooted in anti-Islamic campaigning efforts. I myself had witness these campaign signs as I traveled on my daily commute to and from the office and when I was strolling about in Berlin on sunny Saturday afternoon. Signs which featured sun-kissed women in bikinis accompanied with slogans: bikinis not Burkas. Others featured women wearing said Burkas with messaging making it clear this was not welcome in Germany. But the one that really got me was a tight shot of not one, but two, pairs of bosoms bouncing out of the top of Dirndl blouses which espoused a fervent desire to maintain traditional German culture.

As I had driven through the neighborhood just a couple of hours before, I was contemplating the results of this election and the conclusion that 1 in 10 Germans had felt strongly enough in this direction to vote as such, ok maybe not completely on the Islamic topic, but this and some others associated with it. And as I drove, I looked at the people in the streets and observed that nearly 100% of the people I saw did not look like “traditional Germans” but were in fact appeared to be Arabic of some descent. We’re they Islamic? This is could not tell by looking, but I observed a bustling neighborhood with people who likely hailed from Turkey (note that in Germany you will find the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey – many of whom are practicing Muslims. My own local treasured Turkish grocery did not sell pork products at all…), South Africa, and possibly refugees from Syria. I found myself wondering how these people felt when they woke up and heard the election results and learned that 1 in 10 of the local population maybe didn’t want them here? Little did I know that I would soon be able to hear how this felt first hand!

I was rolling this over as I walked back through the neighborhood to grab a beer and then this is when “the time in between” brought me full circle. There’s a detail I haven’t yet revealed to you. My drinking partner was a woman of Arabic appearance. We started with the usual stuff: where are you from, what do you do…? I learned that she was a chemist intern who would love to be hired by the company I work for: Bayer. After the small talk, we somehow, maybe it was on her mind too, came to the topic of the elections. She introduced her self as a Muslim, non-practicing. I found this to be an interesting way to define herself. A catholic (especially one that is non-practicing) typically wouldn’t define themselves as a catholic in terms of their racial or ethnic background. She wore no head covering, and otherwise traditional “western” clothing. But her face, her face and her hair color is what gave her away. This was of no consequence to me until I realized what it meant to her and her new perspective of how she felt she could fit in her current place in the world. Which, I’ll cut to the chase, following the election results, she felt she didn’t fit at all.

And here is where it got really interesting – she was born in Germany! Yet, she now felt she did not belong, in the place of her birth because of her appearance and her implied connection with a religious group. This is where the conversation became startlingly eye-opening for me. I too was living temporarily in Germany, but thanks to my Northern European roots and my wardrobe acquired in Germany, I had come to the point where everyone thought I was a local. So much so that when I traveled to other arts of Europe people would be more inclined to think I was German than American! And here was a woman who was born in Germany and suddenly felt she did not belong, and this part made me profoundly sad, was no longer safe in her own home. To make matters worse for her, she was recently married to a refugee who struggled to find work and also felt at risk of attack.

Then the situation became more dire. She talked about her former dream of moving to America, which she now wasn’t so sure about following our own elections and general sentiments toward Islamic people in the US. I reassured her that there were places where she could live and be safe. But, again, I found myself reeling from learning about her view on the world.

Then I sat back and wondered what did these guys (AFD) really hope to accomplish. They say they want to preserve and protect the “traditions of Germany”. But, if new people were coming in, couldn’t it be that new traditions could be accommodated while the old were preserved?

They campaigned on a platform of no Islamic mosques, but how can you welcome people in to your country for safety and not allow them to express their religion? Is the only way to thrive in a new place to adopt the local religion instead of making space for diverse religions? Ok, I visited Turkey and I experienced the intrusiveness of the call to prayer ringing out so loudly from a nearby mosque that we literally were forced to stop talking until it concluded. But is this so different from the lovely loud church bells that ring from towering spires in the center of every German town many times a day?

I know that there are elements of good and evil mixed in with all these establishments, but I couldn’t wonder if the AFD strategy was beginning from a place that could never win. People voted for them for many reasons – some out of fear of change, others perhaps out of hatred, some in reaction to feeling out of control. But, I wondered if this vote would only do more to empower the forces of terror in the Islamic world?

Many of these thoughts developed in my next conversation so I didn’t talk about it with my new friend. I wrapped up our conversation by encouraged her to keep studying, train in Krav Maga, stay alert, and don’t give up on America. We parted with a hug and a smile. Me, saddened, but also grateful for “the time in between” where two worlds serendipitously collided.

My taxi pulled up, and I dashed across the intersection (of course only after the little man went green – I was still in Germany after all!) and climbed in. As we made our way to the autobahn, he grumbled about the mix-up and the traffic. I shared with him my experience at the beer joint. And this is where the day took yet another interesting turn.

My driver was a native born German who had deep German roots and a traditional upbringing. I couldn’t miss the chance to gain his perspective on the election. He shared with me his take on where the vote came from – a point of deep-rooted frustration in the German populace. The decision to take in a large refugee population had created local strains in services and public spaces. Welcoming people into your community but asking them to exclusively follow your rules had (I would say not surprisingly) caused some rubs in small communities. Many refugees are still not allowed to work and struggled to learn the German language. There is no safe place to where they can return but it appears many people feel there is no plan to appropriately integrate them as contributing members of German society. Add on top of this the high tax rates in German and abundance of social systems, all of it came together with some tragic terror attacks to stir up nationalism similar to what is seen around the world. This is a gross simplification of all the social factors, but was the gist of what we discussed.

At the end of the day I found myself with quite a lot to contemplate as I considered the plight of my two very different German native-born conversational partners. One who feels like she no longer belongs in her home, but had no home to wish to flee. I failed to mention her parents live in Turkey and she is Kurdish, so no option for her to safely return. Another who feels his tax burden is increasing with no end in sight and his homeland is being invaded and not respected by a people who struggle to adopt the local customs either out of blunt disrespect or lack of understanding.

I debated if I would even write about this on my blog because I fear it could create some non-productive discussion, but I’m still a believer in the power of sharing stories to learn about others. It is for this reason that I offer this to you and I encourage you to think harder before you look only at the outside of a man or a woman or a child and think you know that person. Because the truth is that what is on the outside is often only the beginning of the story and what lies underneath may be very surprising indeed.

#optoutside

#optoutside

There is this thing in America which begins earlier every year and is increasing in strength and ferocity. We call it “Black Friday”. Immediately after giving thanks for everything in our lives, we either take off after the evening meal, or wake up at the crack of dawn to join thousands of other Americans to go shopping. I tried it once years ago – there was no place to park, crowds in stores were elbow-to-elbow, and to top it all off, the prices were not good! So, I decided then – never again.

Delightedly, this year I learned of a new tradition called #optoutside. Instead of heading in to a store for shopping, or sitting on your couch watching tv, thousands of Americans decided to opt outside for some time in nature.

We pulled up the google maps, located some new trails, and then headed out. Our trail selections were just about 2 miles from each other but about as different as night and day. Our first stop was at Spring Creek Bluffs. We parked in a small gravel lot, leashed up our hound dog and took off. The trail started in some scrubby woods and quickly we found ourselves in a high bank overlooking Spring Creek. Chas found a log that had fallen across the Creek creating a natural bridge and walked across it with Desi. It was mid-afternoon and the light glowed through the colorful leaves creating a scenery that looked a bit like the stained glass of European cathedrals.


We wondered if these were the Bluffs and hoped that wasn’t true. Soon enough we came to a point where the Bluffs appeared, with straight, tall Beech trees sporting yellow leaves standing like guardians on the slope.


The slope quickly climbed steeply to the peak of the Bluffs and as we reached the crest we met some folks who spoke with an English accent turning back because they thought the trail had ended. We enjoyed the view for a bit before continuing on.


Good thing we continued because the trail became even more breathtaking as we followed the ridge and meandered down to a greenway that bordered a neighborhood. We met a runner who jogged by with ragged breaths and a haggard expression on his face. Boy, I know that feeling, I thought. After a few hundred yards we turned back on to our trail to loop back to the beginning.

A short distance later we rejoined the path and walked along the ridge and down the slope before winding up on a surprisingly long boardwalk. The place must be swampy in the summer time. At the end of the path we found a beautiful placard engraved with this poem. Nice inspiration on our day opting out in nature.

After completing this trail, we drove the short distance to Hemlock Bluffs – a nature preserve that had a beautiful nature center and what turned out to be very well-developed chip bark trails.

Such a contrast to our first trail experience of the day. At Spring Creek Bluffs we saw maybe 10 people and one dog. Here groups of families, many with happy hounds tugging at the end of a leash, strolled along together enjoying the fine fall weather. Because we were still traveling the same bluff (I had assumed), I expected the scenery to be the same. As it turned out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This park hosts a rare grove of Hemlock trees – a type of evergreen that is normally found in the mountains of western North Carolina – that thrives here because of a unique cold and swampy microclimate.

The preserve also has a large population of beech trees and what blew me away was the color of their leaves. Here the trees were wearing golden brown leaves, while on the other bluff the leaves were bright yellow. I still don’t know why this phenomenon would occur, but you can bet I’ll be doing some research on it.

We hiked all the trails at the park (about 3 miles worth), sometimes racing to stay ahead of noisy families, other times enjoying a rare human-free moment. I was impressed with the infrastructure and think it would be fun to return in the summer for a hope at a glimpse of the many salamander species that make this preserve home.

Today was sunny and warm and we headed off to San Lee for a mountain bike ride. Another gorgeous day on a challenging terrain made a bit more treacherous by the coating of colorful leaves.

I’d recommend checking out all of these parks if you have some time to explore in the area of Cary and Sanford, North Carolina. And if you didn’t do it this year, I’d encourage you to join us next year as we #optoutside!

‘Tis the season?

I’m settled back in to my home in America and find myself seeing my old world through new eyes. Something about returning to a place gives me a warm feeling when I recognize something familiar, but a bit of a jolt when something is different. If you’ve left your home for any decent stretch of time and returned, then you know the feeling.

Tonight on my drive home I saw Christmas lights draped across a large hedge. Then a bit further up the road, a full blown Christmas tree lot with an inflatable Santa bouncing around happily, beckoning to minivans loaded with small children.

On Saturday, I went for a hike with my book club crew and stopped by Walmart on the way home to pick up a few things. I noticed that the outdoor garden center was jam-packed with rows of children’s bikes neatly parked on kick stands waiting to light up little Billy’s eyes on Christmas morning. Just inside the store an entire seasonal section was loaded with wrapping paper and bows and every other imaginable Christmas item.

And if all got me to thinking…why can’t we celebrate the moment? The present moment being Thanksgiving season in America. It feels a bit intrusive to me that retailers and tree vendors and even homeowners have taken the decision to simply over-shadow a huge America holiday by thrusting the trapping of the next holiday on us.

Then I realized that the retailers would certainly not be stocking items before people are willing to purchase them, which means we are part of this equation. The guy running the tree stand is not going to start stocking perishable trees before people will buy them. And for Pete’s sake, a person wouldn’t choose to spend extra money on lights decorating their shrubs before they deem it’s the right time.

So, I’m left wondering. In the midst of our apparent crisis of not being able to live in the moment. Leading to a host of books and podcasts and seminars and retreats on mindfulness. Here’s a perfect time to try it. Can we all come together and say – no, it’s not Christmas season yet. The season upon us is Thanksgiving. Let’s fully live this season and then move on to Christmas! How about we all try it on for size? It’s a great test of our ability to implement mindfulness and savor the season, as they say on all the frozen turkey wrappers.

Otherwise, I’m thinking we might as well give up now and just go ahead and join our friends down under and celebrate Christmas in July!

Lap Child

Lap Child

Yesterday I boarded my third and final connection to get me back home after a week of business travel in Germany. The time was about 9:30 pm and I’d been traveling for approximately 15 hours. As I boarded the Air Canada flight, I had one thing on my mind – plugging in my headphones and getting some rest. I found my seat – 5D – threw my carryon in the overhead bin, shoved my backpack under the seat and sat down. 

You can imagine what I was thinking when a few minutes into boarding a lady walked up carrying a small child in her arms and said she had the window seat next to me. I asked her if she’d prefer the aisle, something in me said this would be easier for everyone, and she accepted it happily. As the little fellow began to settle in I replaced the batteries in my noise canceling headphones and prepared to tune out with some music and my book.

But, first, I decided to say hello to my new seat-mates. Lately, I’ve been trying to reconnect with the people next to me on the plane. I think it stems from this desire to counter the toxic themes in our society by being part of the change. I want to make more connections and be part of a pleasant exchange with another person. It doesn’t mean I chat the entire flight, but it just seems like a decent thing to do to acknowledge the human sitting next to me, breathing the same air. 

We exchanged our hellos and then the mother had the delightful task of convincing her 21 month old son, who’d also, by the way, been traveling all day, to sit facing her for take-off. He was having none of it. The frustration and screaming began and at first I thought “this is going to be a long short flight”. Headphones secured I tried to block out the noise. Then I decided to take a different tact. Maybe instead of blocking out the “problem” I could be part of the solution…

I began to play with the little tyke. We turned the reading light on and off, then moved on to peek-a-boo. I realized I hadn’t played with a little kid this age in a while and racked my brain for little games or songs to sing. I found the teensy weeny spider hiding in the cobweb of my memories, and pulled it out. He was fascinated! 

After takeoff, I decided to work on some drawing I’d begun on the long flight over the ocean. Of course, this peaked his interest and I loaned him a pen to decorate the in-flight magazine. Along the way his mother and I chatted about life and travel. Occasionally we were silent, enjoying the peaceful moments.

When the drink service started things took a turn for the worse as my seat-mate decided to dump a glass of orange juice on all of us. Luckily, I had my leather jacket draped across my lap for warmth and was saved the shower. His poor mother was drenched. As she looked over in horror, I laughed and said, for perhaps the 20th time that flight, its fine, don’t worry! I was amazed to find that I actually wasn’t upset at all.

I found myself feeling like I could relate to the poor fellows frustration of being locked up once again, unable to move freely, except for brief strolls up and down the aisles. I have found myself angry and wanting to cry on a plane after a long day of travel. So, I wasn’t at all surprised that this 21 month old little cutie was freely expressing his emotions.

As we prepared for landing his mother had the fun task of again securing him. By this point the poor fellow was even more frustrated so in addition to peekaboo and the teensy weensy spider song, I added the try to grab my hand routine. It was a hit. As we slowly rolled up the runway toward our gate, he gave up and fell asleep, snuggled securely in his mothers arms. This presented a new challenge – how would she gather all her things? I and another fellow helped out and then she and I walked along side-by-side toward the baggage claim area. Each pushing one handle of the stroller which he wasn’t in the mood to sit in and was loaded up with a tiny backpack and diaper bag.

I marveled at how encountering a lap child sitting on the flight next to me had felt like the worst way to end my day, but in fact was a tremendous gift. As I waited for my husband on the curb, I felt lighter. The memories of his little smiley face and the gratitude of his mother lingering in my mind. So, next time you wind up next to a lap child, remember that instead of an apparent problem, it might just be an opportunity for joy. It’s all about how you choose to respond to the situation. 

No photos please

This evening I had the pleasure of sharing a lovely dinner with friends in Düsseldorf. One thing I noticed was different about this dinner. While phones were around, they didn’t consume the guests attention. As I observed this, I found myself itching to ask the guests to gather together for the usual cell-phone groupie to remember the night.

I paused to consider why I wanted a photo. Would I post it on Facebook? Would I look at it in the airport lounge on my way home – a few pixels to remember the night? Would I simply add it to the series of other photos of my increasingly cluttered digitally-curated life?

At the moment when I wanted to request a photo, my friends were comfortable – hair undone, make-up non-existent or minimal, clothing casual and comfortable. They were beautiful and natural, but maybe pausing to take a photo would make them assess the way they looked. After the snap, they might pull the phone out of my hand and critique a wrinkle they acquired from smiling in the sunshine while playing with their children. They might think “geez I should have done my hair instead of squeezing in a yoga class before dinner”. We’d have to snap another and another until everyone looked good, or someone half-heartedly said, “we’re done now, it’s fine”.

Requesting a photo would have taken us out of the moment. Our conversation string broken. Who knows what brilliant piece of German/English fusion would have been lost in that moment? Would we have lost the discussion of a book author, or an artist, or why is everyone so consumed with their phone? Time that is spent for one purpose can never be used for another.

No, this moment was too precious to capture in a photo. This moment I would capture in my memory by studying the faces at the table – glowing in the soft light of the low-hanging table lamp. The sparkling white gemstones that dangled from the ears of my friend, her shoulders cloaked in a dark green scarf to deflect the draft. The way my friend across the table curled her legs up under her chair and earnestly followed the conversation with serious concentration in her eyes. The open, content smile of my host – perched on her child’s chair to my right, with one hand gingerly supporting her suddenly not-so-comfortable-back. 

The warm, earthy flavor of the ratatouille cooked with loving care by my hosts. The bright green of the fresh-cut cilantro that I sprinkled atop it with my fingers. The rich, slightly dry red wine that rolled across my tongue. Contrasted with bubbles of sparkling water poured from a ribbed glass pitcher that spit and hissed as it hit my glass. 

Soft candlelight glowed on one edge of the room and the children came and went until bedtime. Then the oldest snuck into the entryway again – a ghost chased back to his room by his parents.

No, taking a photo was not the way to remember this night. This night was too precious to be rendered as purely a digital snapshot. This moment needed to be lived, completely. A memory reinforced by scents, tastes, sights, sounds and wrapped up in the warm embrace between two friends. 

Maybe tonight was a turning point for me. Next time you see me not taking a photo – don’t think it’s because I don’t care… There just might be a memory in the making.

United by Joy 

Today I found myself re-engaging with an old familiar routine – early-morning airline travel. I’m off to Germany again – but this time not to my apartment (which is no longer mine) but to a hotel for a week of business meetings. I managed a remarkable 21 day stint at home! Nearly a record for me. And when it came to packing-up, boy did I ever procrastinate!!!

Which is how I found myself waking up at 5 am, barely managing a quick coffee and a shower, before I madly packing my suitcase and backpack. I thought I’d done pretty well until we pulled up to the first turn and I realized I had forgotten my jeans – back to the house we went.

No harm no foul.

To make this journey fun, my husband and I pretended it was my first trip to Germany. Wow – it was going to be so amazing to visit a new place and finally practice all that German I’d been learning. Adding a humorous spin to the day certainly lifted my mood.

A quick farewell at the curb and I checked in my suitcase (I’m returning with gifts for the other expats and will also load up some clothes I left with a neighbor), passed through security and lined up in the old familiar cue of weary travelers at the Starbucks. Americano and banana in hand, I rode the people mover down to the gate. Last weekend, on my 39th bday, I was overly ambitious and rode two mountain bike trails with my husband. My back sure is making me pay. Let’s just say I’m feeling my age!

So, here I was as I boarded the United flight to Newark, New Jersey – sleepy, a bit melancholy about leaving home, with a sore back. I was so happy to be greeted by a smile and some humor from the flight atttendant – Berg. I quickly surmised that this man loves his job. Either that or he just decided to be positive today.

Every gesture was accompanied with a smile, humor and kindness in his eye. I found myself wondering, does he truly love his job? Or does he just chose to be happy? Did, in fact, something very terrible recently happen in his life and he’s chosen it won’t get him down? Maybe he in fact woke up in a bad mood but decided he wouldn’t share it with others? 

I don’t know what question is true, but I decided to be one of the few people who gave him the curtosy of watching the security briefing and silently chuckled at the extra silly mimes he interjected to the standard routine. After we were airborne, coffee was served up hot with an offering of Bailey’s to “spice it up”. I politely declined and resumed drawing in my notebook. Happy to be in the presence of a joyful person.

The flight was short – a mere hour and fifteen minutes – and as we began to descend I noticed Berg was meticulously folding a piece of paper. My first guess was he was assembling a paper airplane to throw at someone before we landed, a final, desperate gesture to improve the mood of grumpy, early Saturday-morning travelers. 

As the folding progressed, he tore off the bottom third of the page and was left with a neat square. He stayed busy with his hands and it quickly became obvious that he was practicing origami – a crease, a fold, followed by multiple firm swipes down the edge. Crease, fold, turn, the pattern continued. 

We landed and I became distracted by the act of gathering my things. I lost track of the origami and frankly forgot about it for a moment, until I deplaned. As I passed by Berg, I offered a smile of farewell. He smiled in return and firmly pressed a paper crane in to my hand.


As I bounced up the gangway to the terminal, with a smile plastered on my face, I was amazed at the power of a piece of paper in the hands of a creative, positive person. Remember that how you behave can either make someone’s day better or worse. Which do you choose?