Unpacking in Prague: Women’s International Network

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.

travel nytimes

travel nytimes

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.

travel nat'l geo

travel nat’l geo

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.

064 copy

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.

czech transport

czech transport

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.

21 thoughts on “Unpacking in Prague: Women’s International Network

  1. I would volunteer to tote that heavy bag, but at this point you are probably stronger than I am, and we are no longer on the same continent. Good luck,

    • Jack: What a lost opportunity, to not have spent time with you on this land mass. Still regretting that. And if you were here to tote the bag, I’m sure you’d do squats with it held high above your head while crossing Prague’s plaza. Love and thanks–M.

  2. Melissa your musings struck a chord with some of my own sometime discordant feelings about “reality” and how I yearn too for that day when all that we are, all that we have thought, spoken, felt, dreamed, done and undone, when the endless encyclopaedia of our minds will be unravelled by the Masterful Minder, we will neither fear nor doubt our complete connection with divinity – and the precious common connections with each other. Gladly, we have the promise and assurance of Jacob that “the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls”! And so perfectly prosed by Elder Neal Maxwell, “Even now, one hears faintly the distant but approaching drum roll of history building towards a crescendo of mortal recognition when all shall see “things as they really are.” (Jacob 4:13.) Prague is beautiful, here’s a prayer it brings it out in you!

    • LCairns-
      My heavens, where is your book, friend? The elegance of your thoughts and prose are too much for this little comment box.That passage from Jacob has always been a favorite; thank you for quoting its inspiring lines. And I am grateful for every moment – maybe not a drum roll, but a clear *ping* – when I see things as they really are. That clarity pierces through all sorts of blurriness, even the kind stirred up by self-doubt and sweat. With thanks, M.

  3. I’ve attended many conferences and talked about my scientific work many many times. I never talked about something that is related to my own private life. But I can imagine how you feel right now… The “you” of 25 years ago is surely incredibly proud of what you’ve achieved and will applaud you from the audience!
    Everything you pack – memories and framed pictures – are reality and your dreams and the present will overlap and generate a beautiful, powerful picture that you can really be proud of! – The conference looks very interesting. I wish you all the best! Ich drück dir die Daumen! Viel Spaß in Prag! – Ute 😉

  4. Ah Melissa. So beautiful, so powerful, so gut-wrenching. How do you pull words out if your soul like that?
    You will be fabulous. And I’ll do better than wish you luck, you’ll be in my prayers. Bisous xo

  5. Melissa, every time I read your writing, I weep. As you pour out your gratitude and pain on the page, or in song or speech (or tap-dance!) you call up our gratitude, too — and our pain. We share the Dream — and the Reality. Dance your heart out, my friend.

  6. Words are inadequate to respond to how your post has touched me. Women, perhaps a bit more than men, rely on the faith that their dreams will one day become a reality and when they do, it’s a sort of magic. Good luck!

  7. Sometimes, I’m lounging on Mary’s gloriously pink bed, making my children laugh until they can’t breathe with bunny stories and I think, can this be real? Can I really be here with these beautiful, happy children? And I wonder, later, if those nights will feel like a dream? I love what a previous commenter said about the you of 25 years ago cheering you from the audience. Sometimes I think the old ladies in the grocery store are the future me coming back to say, “Enjoy every minute; it goes too quickly.”

    I want to hear, more, everything about your conference. And I think it’s my dream too, to stand on a stage like that, but NOT to sing. Maybe just to run the film?

    • Michelle: I have GOT to get myself cloned.

      I’m the lady in the canned goods aisle, Michelle: “Enjoy – infuse with joy – every minute; it DOES go too quickly.”

      I’ve just unpacked from Prague, and have a blog post about it rattling at full boil on my front brain burner. That essay begins with (wait for it) my luggage getting LOST. (Cue: low groan then spitting laughter). It arrived a couple of days later, just in time for my first presentation.

      Michelle, I think you should MAKE a film for the next conference. There was another filmmaker there, Vandana Kohli, from India. Interesting and forceful piece on the Subtext of Anger.


      Do think of coming next year. . .

  8. Hi Melissa,

    I am terribly sorry please could you or the administrator for these pages remove the previous comment from me as for some reason in my haste the comment had incorrect information on it!!

    I’ve heard a lot about you these last couple of days (don’t panic! 🙂 ), I work in the same function and company as Randall but based in the UK. My colleague, who also attended, mentioned you were at the W.I.N conference, I also have heard lovely stories about your family and about your book (which I can’t wait to read).

    Randall shared some fascinating stories with the team including some about each of your children after he had an inquest from some of my colleagues. A colleague noticed that there was not an up to date description of one child as with the others. Randall modestly mentioned that there was more information in your book and that we should read it. Hearing the already fantastic stories from him set my expectations high as to what adventure was missing and I was knocked off my feet to read the devastatingly sad passing of your son Parker.

    I felt compelled to write to you and firstly express my condolences, also to say that reading what I have read so far and meeting Randall not only in a professional sense but personally I am inspired by the stories and experiences of your families travels and experiences. I can only imagine the challenges that as a family and personally you have had to overcome.

    I have tried to keep the message anonymous due to the work connections I wanted this to be no more and no less than one human reaching out to another with no room for thoughts of an ulterior motive in a work context.

    I was fortunate to have a brief direct conversation with your husband (which isn’t always possible at my level) who gave me some valuable advice that applies not only to my career but life in general, which after reading about Parker has resonated even more than it did at the time.

    For that I am grateful.
    Sending warmth.
    Another fan.

    • Just Another Fan: Thank you for this unusually kind and generous comment. I am grateful for your time and sincerity, and for the description of my husband, my dear partner, Randall. How fortunate that he’s reached out to you in a professional context, and that that has encouraged you.

      And thank you for taking an interest in our family’s story, and for leaving a loving acknowledgment of our son Parker’s life and death. (It’s taken me these 6 years to write those words. They’re still impossible to me.) In such a cynical and calculating world, this kind of simple, unfiltered human contact is life-giving. Thank you.

      Randall gives good advice (he’s been a solid counsellor to me all these years together) and I’m sure his words to you were wise. He cares very much about people, and is above all things, authentic.

      God bless-

      • Do the names Schwester Allen, Schwester Mangrum, Elder Williams, Elder Radman, Elder Knapp and last, but not least, Elder Weeks ring a bell for you? Awaiting your reply via email. Would love to re-connect. Happened to find you here.

      • Of course, David! Not only do those names ring a bell, but I have been looking at pictures of you all as recently as this week! Yes, so glad to reconnect. Those were wonderful, dense days, especially the day Randall and I announced we were getting married. Do you remember that Sunday?

  9. Well I didn’t see further reference to tap dance but I’m sure you do so impeccably well Melissa. Seeing those images of Parker were both wonderful and terribly sad at the same time. No matter how we rationalize all that occurs over the course of our lifetime there are certain life situations that simply aren’t fair…and certainly not when it culminates in a young man not living to see his dreams, to experience the joy of holding his mother’s hand in her old age with reassurance and caring.

    It is wonderful, however, to see the good memories that you share with us here. It is those wonderful memories that help us heal and live on, happily, in the name and spirit of those we have lost.

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