Packing for Prague. I like the sound of it.
This week, I’ll be in the capital of the Czech Republic as a presenter at the global Women’s International Network conference. The W.I.N. conference is an annual happening that draws in both women and men from around the world, and from among global business and opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, executives, academics, NGO representatives, artists, and yes, a couple of us writers. Over several days, we’ll participate in plenary sessions, workshops, forums, dinners and networking activities. For this, I’m packing, among other necessities, yoga stretchies, a great-fitting suit, dental floss, my scriptures, and a ball gown. To give you an idea.
I’ll first be presenting an extended workshop entitled, “Making a Home in the World: The Whats and Whys of Raising a Global Family.” I’m all ready to roll this one out, an audio-visual, bells-and-whistles journey through our life, packed with years of my personal research into the various angles of expatriate living. How many of “us” expatriates are there in the world? What is the average failure rate of expatriate assignments? What are the primary reasons for that failure? What can expatriates themselves and sponsors of expatriate relocations do to avoid such failure? And then I’ve rehearsed a tap-dancing interlude, if things go really well. (Or if they don’t. Either way, I might have to dredge up my inner Ginger.)
That, friends, promises to be the high energy, speedy, dynamic and entertaining part of this week for me.
Then there’s another moment. For it, I’ll have neither Power Point nor body mic. Not a single bell. Nowhere a whistle. No tap shoes. I’ll be part of a forum panel, which will address issues of feminine resiliency. My contribution is entitled, “When Crisis Hits: Tragic Loss, Resilience, Living Onward With Grace.” As you intuit, this is where I’ll share our family’s story from the point of view of the mother. Whereas in the first workshop I recount how and where we’ve come this far geographically, in the second I’ll describe how and where we’ve come spiritually. Scriptless and ready to field questions, I’ll get to share with complete strangers what drills directly into the marrow of my soul’s bone.
When I arrive tomorrow in Prague, and find myself alone in my hotel room, I’ll lay out my yoga pants and glam gown on my bed, then dump out my cosmetics from their Ziploc bags onto the small bathroom counter. I’ll then turn on my chosen inspirational music on my phone. (Coldplay, Ella, and the MoTab are set to drown out my droning self-doubt.) Then I’ll roll my impossibly heavy carry-on to a corner, the one bursting with 50+ copies of this book I’ve written, the book that will be sold at the conference bookstore, the one that, like my newly-minted business cards, has my face on its every surface.
It could make one feel important. For about nine seconds.
Finally, I’ll take out four enlarged and framed pictures. I’ll find a place in this hotel room to line them up for company and for comfort. One picture, a girlfriend in Singapore made. It is a posthumous family portrait (how else to put it?) with all of us smiling in 2010, and she photo-shopped in our oldest, Parker, absent to the eye since 2007. There he is, though – right there! – smiling more broadly than any one of us.
Next to that picture, I’ll place three more shots just of Parker. There’s the shot of him leaning against a lamp post in Montmartre. And then the shot taken right before he rode that sling shot contraption in the Tuileries. And in the third picture, he’s drumming his djembe in front of the Eiffel Tower, his favorite place to hang out. He’s drumming that djembe with abandon, and with a beaded head band a little Moroccan girl had just gifted him. “I put it on to make her laugh,” he told me when I saw that picture in June. “And she did! Man, she was so sweet.” A month later, he died.
Here’s part of what I’ll be thinking, maybe, as I unpack in Prague. That over 25 years ago I dreamt of a moment like this : I would write a book. Pages, a front and back cover. And I would arrive at some international conference to talk about that book. In an auditorium. Where there would be (in my dream) many languages. A microphone. Beads of sweat. I’d be pretending (as everyone with a book, an auditorium, a mic and sweat must pretend) to be confident.
Certain realities , it turns out, can be more powerful than certain dreams. The me of 25 years ago would never have believed it. Yet the me of today is living it. The Reality that we chose and that has driven us became this: a loving (and imperfect) marriage and four splendid (and human) children with whom we’ve pursued a life that skipped, groveled and hiccupped across many geographies. Reality, for me, meant I needed to be with these children in an intense manner to hold stuff together. There was simply no bandwidth in that Reality (and less and less personal ambition, over time) for pursuing certain Dreams. And of course there was the Reality of death.
While we’ve crawled through death, it seems the Dreams have hung there, waiting for another Reality to catch up with them.
Tell me, though. Are these photos in a hotel room – these precious children, this flawed but thriving family, that smiling spirit son, this carry-on of published words – are they not Reality? To what do I ascribe the convergence of a misty Dream and a rock hard Reality? The luggage-tagged and framed-smiling evidence of something I have lived? On this autumn day? In Prague?
Is the human heart even engineered to handle so much gratitude and so much pain – such Dreams and such Realities – and keep on beating? And strongly enough to speak about it all?
Wish me luck.