When we travel overseas I become “that American person,” in a sea of different languages and cultures. I’m the one who asks strangers if they want me to take a picture of their family when I see them struggling with a selfie. I smile and strike up random conversations. I once helped a silent monk find a way to his airline gate with the help of other friendly American passengers who were going in the same direction. Americans, by their very nature are weird friendly. On one particular visit to the grocery store, my Swedish mother-in-law asked me if I knew the woman who was shopping at the deli counter because we struck up a mutual friendly conversation about some jacket she was wearing. When I told her I had no clue who this person was, she expressed surprise and simply shook her head. This behavior, to complement a stranger, to offer help or assistance is very American and is a behavior I am very proud to display. Of course this is different than the American who wears bright white tennis shoes and who loudly asks if there is a Jack-in-the-Box fast food restaurant in the middle of Cannes because they haven’t had a decent thing to eat in France (true story). Oh the stereotypes we create in the places we must go!
On one particular business trip to Paris with my husband, this weird friendliness came out in full force. It was December and Paris was getting hit with a ton of snow . Our plane was sitting on the runway, still in view but the airport was a mess. Technically we missed our flight because the doors were closed and therefore had “departed.” My husband and I got into a long customer service line to rebook our trip. He went into full business survival mode intent on rebooking our way home surrounded by travel chaos.
Then I saw her.
A grandmotherly Romanian woman was walking back and forth at the gate completely distraught. It was clear she didn’t speak any English. She looked scared and confused. Much to my husband’s surprise I invited her to wait in line with us. Somehow she had not been given any help, was supposed to be traveling from Austria to DC and was instead rerouted to Paris and didn’t understand why she wasn’t able to board the plane. She didn’t speak a word of French or English. We let her use our cell phone to call her daughter in the U.S. who translated and helped us understand her predicament.
One look at my face and my husband knew I was going to temporarily adopt a grandmother.
We walked up to the counter and explained the situation to the frazzled agent. It was clear that they were not rebooking many people right away and that we were all stranded for at least a day. The relief on that agent’s face when I told her we would take care of this woman was priceless! I can remember her repeating the words back to me “So you will take care of this woman and make sure she gets on the plane tomorrow?” A resounding yes got us a free hotel room with my temporary grandmother down the hall, free dinner tickets and a seat in business class!
Upon arrival at the hotel we promised her daughter we would get her up on time for the flight. Breakfast followed and a seamless flight home to Dulles airport ensued. Home sweet home! Rikard and I breezed through customs. As I looked back I saw one of the border control agents giving our travel companion a difficult time. Once again I looked at my husband who smiled as I ran back to the agent and told him the story. They let her in the country once I vouched that she had a person in-country meeting her. The love and gratitude from this woman and her daughter warmed my heart.
But why am I telling you all of this? Why now when this happened years ago?
Because today, years after this incident I found the gift she gave me. Using Google translate I was able to finally understand the words on the card. She gave me a Romanian travel prayer card that she had on her person! This is the translation:
Save us and Keep us Safe, Travel Prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, our God, all the way, the way, the truth and the life, and he traveled with your servant Joseph and with you my servant blessing my journey. Send me the guardian angel, to be my foreman And protector, to keep me safe from all evil happenings, that in peace and in health I will return to mine and all my life to glorify Your name, the Father of the Son and of the Holy Father
She kept this travel card as a talisman on her person because she was so nervous about flying. I bet she prayed and prayed during this trip and just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Giving this to me was a thank you that I didn’t even understand, a thank you for a prayer answered. It is moments like this one that makes me understand even more that love and kindness are truly what make life worth living.
I’m a strong believer in making a difference in this world one person at a time. Never underestimate the joy you can bring to another human being. I often think of her when I see this card and now it means even more to me now that I have translated the words. You’ve got to love Google translate! It’s summer now and many of us are traveling. Let’s spread love and kindness wherever we all go!