LUGGAGE Lady

Contemplations about Life, Love, & the Pursuit of Meaningful Existence…

Archive for the category “Family”

Broken Girl Behind the Airbrushed Smile

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“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

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I buried this calendar in a storage box long ago, too ashamed to share the truth behind its airbrushed illusion. But, more and more, I’m reminded how swiftly attacks on one’s character can escalate to levels that elicit rash, unthinkable decisions. If revealing my public humiliation and personal meltdown could help even one person — I’d be a petty coward not to do so…

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In the spring of 1987, I was honored to represent my sorority competing in Pi Kappa Alpha’s annual calendar contest to raise money for United Way. What should have been a highlight of my college days would soon turn my little world upside-down.

The contest was at the end of my junior year, and this photograph was taken shortly thereafter. The photographer creatively captured various settings and wardrobe swaps. Perusing the proofs, we agreed the best shot was one of me leaning against a white picket fence, long dress billowing in the breeze. But the ultimate selection was not ours to make.

I returned senior year to this surprise cover. Not my choice — but I was proud to be part of such a great cause. I attended all the PR events, signing calendars and whatever else I could do to support the PIKE’s wonderful philanthropy.

And then it happened: I became the poster child for the date rape problem we were having at the university. Our campus newspaper featured my “suggestive pose” above a female journalist’s scathing article. This quickly morphed into a free-for-all forum, prompting a seemingly inexhaustible rant from those who disliked the Greek System. Their harsh criticisms grew more derogatory with each passing week.

Making matters worse, I’d been elected pledge trainer that year, which meant promoting academics, philanthropy, and — yes — code of conduct to our newest sorority members. As my good reputation was being ambushed, I stood week after week in front of girls who must have wondered who the hell I was to lecture them on morals. Walking around campus, I’d hear snickers and see people point and whisper. Suffice to say, I became quite crafty at fabricating excuses to hide in my room.

Stress ravaged my exterior to match the ugliness brewing within. My hair fell out, and my face erupted. People I’d never met had decided I was a promiscuous tramp perpetrating a deplorable issue — and in my silent suffering I relinquished the keys to my soul. I felt irrevocably tarnished, sinking into a pit so vast the surface was no longer visible. I deferred final exams, returning to my parent’s house prematurely for Christmas break.

But how did the girl who appeared to “have-it-all” explain my torment to anyone?? I was surely a trite fool with zero excuse for being depressed. Shame engulfed me. This girl was down for the count but mortified to ask for help, fearful of disappointing those who believed I had my act together. Stubborn pride made escape seem the only viable option.

Fortunately, a force more powerful than my ego swooped in that dark day — something I still struggle to  adequately verbalize  — and saved me from my utter hopelessness…

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In hindsight, I have nothing but gratitude for those who drop-kicked me out of my superficial existence. Because of them, I boldly reject careless judgments, unfair generalizations, negativity, and hearsay. Because of them, my life has been enriched by countless genuine, upbeat, supportive, humble, loving souls I may have otherwise failed to fully appreciate. Because of them, I can spot pain behind the cheeriest smile. And I will forever defend the downtrodden and voiceless, breaking my arm if that’s what it takes to hoist another upward.

So, for those convinced you’ve fallen so low you’ll never claw your way out, I say this: Get help now!!! Talk to someone — anyone! There’s absolutely no shame in admitting your load is too darn heavy, and so many of us are right here, eager to help. But don’t you dare allow a misguided few to define you. You’re far too powerful and wise to be caged in their pathetic traps.

The good and decent people in this world love you!

💞I love you!!!💞

And the story of your irreplaceable soul has untold chapters remaining…

 

“Place your hand over your heart

Can you feel it?

That is called purpose

You’re alive for a reason

So don’t ever give up”

~ Unknown

When Parents Opt Out

Precious times two

“They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals. I say only that an abandoned child never forgets.” ~ Mario Balotelli

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Working the last few flights of a three-day trip, I’m organizing the back galley when two little girls, I’m guessing to be around seven and four, come back to say hello.

“Are you our flight attendant?” the older one asks.

“I am.” I smile, a stack of napkins slipping from my fingers.

They rush over. “It’s okay, sweethearts. Don’t touch the dirty floor.”

Too late. They’ve already scooped them up, proudly dropping them in the trash.

“You look really pretty,” the younger girl says.

“So do you,” I say. “I love your shirt. Pink is my favorite color.”

She giggles. “Mine too, but this is actually my pajama top.”

“Well, it’s perfect — and it matches your shoes.”

She beams.

“Where are you going?” (I’m thinking Disneyland based upon our destination.)

“California,” the older girl says.

“Southern?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Are you getting off at the first or second stop?”

“The next one.”

“Then you’re going to southern.”

“Okay. ” She shrugs. “That’s beautiful.” She gently taps my bracelet.

“Just like both of you.”

They blush in unison, and I follow them to their seats, eager to compliment the folks responsible for raising such charming children.

“Are these your daughters?” I ask the woman they quietly slide past.

She purses her lips. “Oh, no.  I’m just escorting them to a new home. They’re foster kids, and I’m their case worker.”

My lungs lock. “Well, they’re adorable,” I choke out the words.

Her eyes dart in their direction. “Yes, I suppose so.”

I flee to my galley, tears of disbelief pooling. They should be going to Disneyland — NOT a “new” home!!!! What happened to their parents? Why are these precious dolls floating around the system? And what if things don’t work out this time? Should I call my husband and tell him I’m bringing home two angels to shower with love — and anything else they’ve spent their tender years going without?? I write down my name and number to give the social worker.

But my head interjects, giving my heart a run for its money: This is none of my concern. Who am I to interfere? I probably wouldn’t even qualify as a legal guardian — I’ve never parented anybody!

And so…

I do nothing but serve them drinks and peanuts, all the while marveling at their sweet demeanor and impeccable manners.

An hour later they wave goodbye, sparkly-eyed and grinning. They seem so happy so — well-adjusted.

They’ll be fine.

I tell myself

over and over

just fine…

gulp

blink

blink

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🌺For many, Mother’s and Father’s Days trigger more feelings of loss than joy. I dedicate this to ALL those who’ve had to grovel (like my husband) for the parental love I’ve taken for granted.🌺

***Luggage Lady is off to the Balkans. I’ll return with more stories soon…😘

(Photo: From our 40-mile hike to Machu Picchu, Peru 2013 💕 Incidentally, this darling boy had two doting parents hovering nearby…I just loved the picture.)

Everyday Joy

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“Great is the human who has not lost his childlike heart.” ~Mencius

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Boundless wonder

Spongelike senses

Candid smiles

Blessed innocence

Carefree laughter

Giddy enthusiasm

Enraptured

Awestruck

Cherishing

Marveling

Celebrating

Everyday Joy

♥ ♥ ♥

(Photo from Havana, Cuba, San Francisco de Asis Plaza, United Buddy Bears Exhibition , promoting peace and tolerance between nations. The precious little girl was ecstatic over a photo her gorgeous mommy had snapped of her with the adjacent red bear.)

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Here we are — as you can probably guess from her attire — by the United States bear.

UnitedBuddyBears

Bienvenido a Cuba

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Proximity has zero bearing. Less than an hour flight from Miami catapults us backward 50-plus years. On the exterior of the tiny Cienfuegos Airport, a bright blue BIENVENIDO sign beckons.

I possess a Visa solely as part of an approved People to People Program. Daily exchanges to include: mingling with artists, vocalists, musicians (including members from the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club!!), dancers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, spiritual leaders, historians, teachers, and students.

Being here as a U.S. citizen leaves me both awed by opportunity — yet pondering whether my coming is somehow…unpatriotic.

From a bureaucratic standpoint, our welcome is somewhat subdued. Neither U.S. bank-issued credit nor ATM cards are accepted. We knew this before we came. Cash in hand, we pay a 10% commission to change dollars into CUCs at a rate of 1/1. This is not a bargain shopper’s destination. Cellular service doesn’t exist for those with U.S. carriers, and internet is only available in some 5-star Havana hotels at speeds slower than our modem days.

Our Cuban guide shares that, up until a few years ago, a local would be sentenced up to four years in prison if caught using internet in his or her home. He laughs, referring to our online shopping as folklore. “Cubans can’t imagine paying for something on a screen and having it actually show up on our doorsteps. Forget about returning it and getting a refund!” Satellite TV is also forbidden. Some people have illegal hookups but know they could face hefty fines if the authorities learn of these.

No one in our 22-person group minds. We didn’t come to Cuba to bury our noses in gadgets. We came to experience the contagious verve of the people…

We step onto crumbling cobblestone roads and into another century. Surprisingly well-preserved American made (and Russian overhauled) vintage cars roar all about. Vibrant colors and zippy music tantalize our senses. Even standing in place, the locals sway to a beat I’m convinced is part of their DNA.

From Cienfuegos to Havana, with stops in Trinidad and stunning beaches along the way, I admire close-knit families, communities, and a refreshing enthusiasm from school children to the elderly. The hope sparkling in their eyes touches my soul in a way I struggle to adequately articulate.

I’m just an ordinary girl — with extraordinary freedoms, privileges, and conveniences I need never question. Gratitude and humility flood my heart.

As we make our way to Havana’s airport the last day, our gregarious guide describes the tedious departure process, adding that clients ask him what the airport is like on the other side of immigration. Are there shops? Restaurants? He shrugs. “Well, maybe one of you will be kind enough to send an email when you get home and tell me because I’ve never been…”

🌎 ♥ 🌎

♥ I dedicate this post to my dear friend & colleague, Maria, who left her beautiful island in the second grade and dreams of returning one day soon… ♥

Somehow… I’m Enough

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Celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary recently, someone asked, “Did you guys ever think you’d make it this far?”

As a flight attendant/pilot couple, we’re well aware our odds of marital success are lower than the dismal average. So we take pride rather than offense when such questions arise. But my lungs deflated when my husband replied, “Personally, I can’t believe she didn’t bail the second I started flapping my jaws about my past.”

I forced a smile. But for someone from a cohesive family, including parents who will celebrate their 52nd anniversary next month, enduring a childhood rooted in abandonment and abuse is anguish I will forever struggle to comprehend.

* * *

Mothers are supposed to hurl themselves in front of speeding trains if it means saving their children — right??? But what if you’re a mistake, whisked from your birth mother to an adoptive mother who subsequently opts for “children of her own,” leaving you in the hands of a broken man when you’re just seven? And what if this sole parent turns to the bottle to satiate his anger and to you with raging fists when liquor fails?

My husband needn’t ponder — this was his childhood. And the hardship didn’t end there.

As is frequently the case, the booze triumphed and rendered him an orphan at twenty-three. He pursued his flying dream relentlessly, but the major airlines required a medical history he lacked. In searching for this, he discovered a clerical error: His birth name had been left visible in the adoption records — a unique one, courtesy of his Czechoslovakian mother.

He was twenty-six when he found her. Living with a man in his early thirties, she was terrified that the sudden appearance of her secret son might result in yet another failed romance. After meeting him, she interacted sporadically before vanishing again. As a parting gift, however, she shared his father’s identity —  and the uncanny addendum: He was also an airline pilot!

Optimism skyrocketing, he couldn’t wait to meet his genetic blueprint. Unfortunately, their relationship was doomed from the git-go. Dad was married to a younger woman who couldn’t stomach my husband’s existence — forget subjecting her pre-teen children to such a scandal.

* * *

I’m ashamed to admit, the first time he told me his (less cheeky) version of the story, I quickly located my nearest exit. Don’t get me wrong, I was smitten from the start. He was (and is) my bona fide flyboy in shining armor — and yet?? Even now, in those unguarded moments when I spy a darkness in his eyes I can’t seem to brighten, inadequacy looms:

What if I make a mess of the love he’s gone a lifetime without

Letting him down like countless others?

What if I inadvertently poke holes in an already battered soul

Because my heart is too small?

What if I’m not worthy of the gem that he is?

💞

Then he pulls me into his resilient embrace

Eclipsing words

Halting time

Heartbeats melding

Thumping a tune of

Perpetual devotion

And I know

Somehow… 

I’m enough

* * *

♥ I dedicate this to every person struggling with family or abandonment issuesparticularly during the Holiday Season. I know how hard it is to open your hearts and let another in, but please know that what you’ve endured doesn’t define you. You prove this time and again with your steadfast attitudes and successes. YOU are precious gifts, inspiring others to overcome obstacles while finding the courage to forgive and trust again. And I, for one, am oh-so-grateful for your presence on this earth! xoxo ♥

Ever Grateful for YOU

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May the faintest illumination allay all traces of gloom
A whispered word evoke cheer in your heart even amidst chaos
May providence veer you fluidly from harm
A song renew your spirit
May your blessings be bountiful enough to share
And giving elevate your essence
May love lavish endless color across your days
While the gift of family and friendship provide safe harbor
May you know inner peace and hone this asset
Forever seeking
Passage to soulfulness…

♥ ♥ ♥

Your support means the world to me, precious readers. Sending you ALL my deepest gratitude & love — on this special day — and always! 😘

A Butterfly’s Rousing Journey

ButterflyBlog

Butterflies know precisely when to leave the safety of their cocoons, gloriously unfurling an exquisite new form and fearlessly trusting those untested appendages. When I sprouted my post-college “wings” and headed starry-eyed to the City of Angels, I did so with slightly less gallantry. My mode of transport was an Olds Cutlass Sierra, and my trailblazer spunk came with a convenient disclaimer: If things didn’t pan out, I could skitter back to my midwestern “cocoon” — no questions asked. How different that departure might have felt had I known there was no return option? And what if my destination required me to abandon my comfort zone completely, trekking to a destination foreign in every way, with little more than the clothes on my back and a hope-laden heart?

How much would you sacrifice to seek freedom and opportunity?

For Shermin Nahid Kruse‘s parents, who emigrated from Iran to Canada in the late 80s, the answer was — everything. Today, their accomplished daughter attributes her success to a baba and maman who gave up livelihood, family, and country so she and her sisters could pursue dreams unencumbered by their homeland’s oppressive regime.

From the tender age of eleven, Shermin embraced her new environment with grit, grace, and adaptability. Now, in addition to a resume that leaves me wishing I could package and sell such ambition, she’s written a compelling book that interlaces mother and daughter perspectives of Iran before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution.

Her novel, Butterfly Stitching, makes one feel like a privileged friend, granted special access down a hidden corridor to a colorfully complex and otherwise inconceivable world. She skillfully drops her readers into tenacious Persian women’s shoes, swaying at once to the tight-knit cultural beat with our senses delightfully piqued. We shop at bustling markets, prepare and savor ethnic meals, host secret parties, dance to illegal music, recite forbidden poetry, paint heartrending emotion, suffer a passionless arranged marriage, find and lose true love — all while somehow maintaining positivity against a backdrop rife with fear, repression, betrayal, and bloodshed.

If you’re like me and routinely invent excuses for postponing goals, her rousing journey will replenish your soul’s gusto, transforming yesterday’s paper-thin excuses into possibilities. Thanks to this inspiring author and dear friend, I shall never utter the words “I can’t” again!

♥♥♥

What leap of faith have you taken to achieve your dreams? Tell me about it and possibly win a signed copy of Butterfly Stitching!

♥ LL

(Photo from our latest travels: The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland)

Timeless Souls Plucked from the Spring of Our Days

Classof1984

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A high school friend recently asked me to write something for our upcoming reunion. I struggled for weeks. Then, I thought about the plans being made to honor those classmates who’d left our world far too soon. Several of these losses occurred while we were still teenagers. The impact on our young minds was profound.

As I began writing, however, I realized this wasn’t just for the Class of ’84. This was for every courageous spirit who has endured unimaginable tragedy and found the strength to move forward, anchoring families, friendships, and communities with awe-inspiring perseverance.

I dedicate this to you with Love and Admiration.

♥, LL

(Photo from our journey to De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, 2009)

Redefining Happy

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The greatest privilege of being a flight attendant is crossing paths with passengers who completely transform your day life…

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Jon was born three months early and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The doctors told his parents the deformation in his brain’s frontal lobe was such that he’d likely never be more than a vegetable.

They were wrong.

Jon rolled down the jetway in a motorized wheelchair that allowed him to stand upright, looking like Robert Downey Jr. in the movie Iron Man. His megawatt smile and larger-than-life personality amplified my superhero impression. When I asked where he was traveling, he told me he’d been selected as one of seventy college students nationwide to participate in a five-day leadership conference. He’d be giving several motivational speeches.

“I love talking. Put a tree in front of me, I’ll talk to it.” He laughed. “My plan, once I get my master’s, is to be a motivational speaker. I’ve already produced a few short films, and I’m writing a book.”

“What’s it about?” I asked, thinking I had a fairly good idea.

“It’s about how the definition of happy is completely inaccurate,” he said, upending my presumption. “Happiness is not a single emotion. It’s the ability to appreciate all emotional states, learning and growing from both positive and negative experiences. People buy all these self-help books on how to be happy when what they need to do is engage the world around them. Happiness isn’t an adjective — it’s a verb.”

“Impressive wisdom coming from a college kid.” I winked.

“Well, I wasn’t always so smart.” He fidgeted with his cell phone. “In high school I got a little depressed, you know, focusing on all the stuff I couldn’t do. Fortunately, my mom is a very smart lady. She let me wallow in self-pity exactly three days. Then, we visited a kid born with my same condition. There I was staring into the eyes of a boy roughly my age, except he can’t move, can’t speak, can’t feed himself — nothing. He wasn’t as lucky as me!”

I nodded, digging my fingernails into my palms, trying in vain to keep the tears from pooling.

“Anyway, like I was saying,” he continued, “happiness boils down to how you choose to interact with the world. A perfect example of this occurred coming through security. When the TSA spoke to my travel assistant, their tone was totally normal. But when they turned to me, their voices shot up several decibels, addressing me like a kindergartener. Was I going to let that ruin my day? No way, Jose! I started joking around with them until they were clutching their bellies. By the time they were done scanning all my metal parts, I’m pretty sure they saw me as someone who wasn’t all that different from them.”

He shrugged. “And that’s my secret to happiness: When others treat me with indifference or disrespect, I show only kindness. Most people are so accustomed to confrontation, they don’t even know how to process this. Then, something shifts, and their entire disposition changes. That’s super cool to watch.” His smile illuminated the cabin.

“You’d make a great flight attendant.”

His eyes lit up. “I’d even sing!”

Together We Flourish — Divided We Flounder

Dolphin Always! (5)

Sensationalized reporting

Sweeping generalizations

Inflated sentiments

Morph into disconnect

Isolation

Bitterness

Fear…

Channel after channel

Each attempting to eclipse the other

Competing soundbites trying to sway

Yet, in the real world

I observe a much different story

I see

Folks joining hands

Working tirelessly

Building cohesive families

Earning honest livings

Looking out for their neighbors

Volunteering

Mentoring our youth

Goodwill extended every step of the way

And my admiration skyrockets

The camaraderie of upstanding citizens

Impassioned spirits merging with loving intent

Has always been the glue binding our communities

We don’t need anyone to decipher this for us

It’s ingrained in the very fiber of our shared humanity

Together We FlourishDivided We Flounder

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