While in Europe, I was constantly in awe of how warmly we were treated, and how warm I was able to be in return. My guard was down. I could express myself openly and be embraced. I could relax in conversation. It felt like breathing after holding your breath under water.
Why is this? The defensiveness and harshness existed here in the U.S. before COVID and political divisions, but I believe they’ve become worse. How can we–how can I–lower my own defenses, soften my edges to embrace those around me with more grace, generosity and openness? Here are a couple of journal entries from our time in Europe reflecting on the connection with others.
As we were on our way to dinner walking through the streets of Lyon, France, we came upon a small corner market and in its doorway was a perfectly folded, thick wool blanket with a wrapped pastry carefully placed on top. It was a shocking site. Could a shopkeeper really be meticulously caring for the person that camps in their doorway at night?
We walked home after dinner a couple of hours later and, sure enough, there was a young man and his dog peacefully laying on the blanket in the doorway.
In the U.S. these two parties are at odds, but here, they had worked out some sort of mutual agreement and respect. It made me so sad for how we treat one another back home.
We upgraded our train pass in Switzerland to first class due to the crazy amount of luggage we had because of Iyla’s ski equipment. On the train from Visp to Geneva a beautiful woman boarded and sat across the aisle from us. Her hair was wrapped in a white, silk turban. She was wearing white, wide-leg tuxedo trousers and a loose white, silk blouse. Black sneakers adorned with rhinestone were on her feet and her ears dripped in diamonds grazing down her neck to the large, diamond encrusted Cartier jaguar hanging there. Perfectly drawn cat-eyes with full lashes and a red lip matched the red, patent leather Louis Vuitton bag on her shoulder. The three of us felt very underdressed in our hiking shorts, t-shirts and baseballs caps. We probably smelled a little, too.
Fifteen minutes in, she reached across the aisle and offered us some chocolate covered nuts. I returned the favor with a Lindt chocolate. Then pulled out a full tea/coffee service from her luggage: thermal pitcher and small, crystal, hand-painted cups. She filled them both with some golden brew and handed one of the cups across the aisle to us. She explained it was coffee–saffron coffee. “Lighter than what you are used to.” She explained.
We began talking about why we were all visiting Switzerland. (She was from Bahrain and had just dropped off her youngest child to a university in Montreux. We were there for Iyla’s ski race training in Saas Fee.) She was so warm, non-judgemental, open. I was moved by her generosity despite how very different we were.
*The photo is from our group that summited Allalin together in Switzerland.