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PARALLEL LIVES

On a camping weekend with my husband Frank and our three boys, I found that I have a "parallel life" person. Out of 1,000 camping spots in that state park, we had so much in common with the people who were our neighbors. They had three small boys (like us), the husband had a physically demanding, tough job (like Frank), the mom/wife was estranged from family members (like me). And like me, she was caught up in the world of trying to raise three decent little men and not go broke or insane in the process.

We talked about things we had done and seen that day and what our plans were for the next day. We ended up sharing our firewood that night and cooking s'mores together.

She and I felt an instant connection, even though we had just met and will probably never see each other again. Our lives are so similar. It makes me wonder: If we take the time and make the opportunities to really see what is around us, will we find that our world is actually much smaller than it seems? Are we more connected than isolated in our goals, dreams and challenges? Are there more people out there with parallel lives?

April - Washington

THE MORE WE TALK . . .

It is so easy to group people as "those" guys over "there" and to forget that they are wonderful, caring and intelligent people. I truly believe that the more we talk, the harder it is to hate.

In the mid-1980's, I was studying Danish literature with a group of foreign students in a small town in Denmark. Most of us had come from Norway, where I was working on a graduate degree. It was fairly soon after the revolution in Iran. As an American, I felt a sensitivity when I met one of my fellow students. He was from Iran. We began talking a lot about our countries. A number of people started asking me about Iran, so I asked my new friend if he would be so kind as to explain what had happened in his country. I said that many people were puzzled about recent developments and that I refused to believe that the answer to "what happened" and "why" was as simple as so many people were trying to make it out to be.

After all, a country with a long and proud history and strong culture does not just succumb to a bout of mass stupidity. Intelligent people had done something that cried out to be understood. Later on, a group of us gathered in the basement of a building and listened to the Iranian fellow speak. He explained in great detail what had happened, and we all talked afterwards, anxious to explore our new understanding.

Another time, I was on a train in Norway. It was one of those cars where passengers sit facing one another. An Arabic-looking man sat down opposite me. I looked up from my newspaper and smiled. He smiled back. We exchanged "hellos" in Norwegian, and I noticed he had artificial hands. We began to talk. I learned he was Palestinian. He learned I was American. We kept talking. He had lost his hands to a grenade, most probably made in my country. We kept talking and parted with a handshake and smiles.

Eric - Victoria, B.C.

MY ANGEL, FRANCINE

I was rushed to the hospital with a severe asthma attack. It was 2 a.m. and on top of the asthma attack, I had a killer flu. Finally I was given a room and was feeling a little better because I could breathe again. As we approached the room where I would be spending the next week, the nurse leaned into my ear and said, "The person you are rooming with has Down syndrome." She said it in a hushed whisper and walked away.

I was scared to death. I had never met anyone with Down syndrome, and I started conjuring up all of these thoughts . . . I was up wide-eyed all night in fear that this person would unknowingly somehow kill me! I laugh at that now, but then I was completely ignorant about most things. The next morning the curtain between our beds was flung open, and there in front of me was this beautiful cherub-faced girl about my age.

"Look, they're pink. My name is Francine. I want to be a math teacher." By pink she meant her fingernails which were not pink at all . . . they were blue! Francine was dying of heart failure. As the days passed I realized how special this angel was. Every time she had a chance to help me, she did. She would jump up to take me to the bathroom and knock and ask if I needed help. Every day at 2 o'clock the math would come out, and she would work very hard to reach her goal of finishing the page. I found out that her family couldn't take care of her; her mother had died of asthma. I wanted to adopt her, but I was 21 and living at home and Francine was dying ... I left the hospital brokenhearted and mad at myself for being so ignorant in the beginning. Francine touched my life deeply. It pains me still that I never saw her again before she passed on.

Three years later I had a baby girl, Sara, born with -- you guessed it -- Down syndrome. I didn't find out until the moment I saw her. I felt and feel to this day that Francine has come back to me or that Francine was an angel sent to prepare me for Sara's birth. Without Francine, I know I would not have been nearly as accepting. Or maybe I would have been really afraid.

- Cindy

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