The Best People

The Crown, S2:E4 “Beryl”

TONY: You’ve probably never been on a bus, have you?

PRINCESS MARGARET: (puffs on her cigarette) No.

TONY: Pity. You really do meet the best people.

I don’t mind riding the bus. When the temperature is crisp and precipitation is less than predictable, it’s worth a good hair day to check the schedule, validate that ticket on my phone, and hop on the number 28 to some of my familiar, if not favorite, places.

I’d had a wonderful morning with some friends and needed to scurry to the grocery store to grab a few (ha!) things for upcoming festivities at our apartment. The bus would be another 5 minutes and since I was most likely the oldest person waiting, I parked my tired boo-hiney (West Virginian for buttocks) on the not-so-clean wooden bench to await my extra long limo. A woman, most likely near my age, joined me on the seat then began speaking to me en francais.

“J’aime tes chaussures.” I smiled, and immediately told her, in French, that I spoke only a little of the language. She was not deterred from pursuing conversation, so I tried in my best bad French to tell her I walk a lot in these shoes, because I couldn’t remember the French word for “comfortable” (which is, of course, confortable— almost the same word with a French accent!!). She spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of French, as she told me her sister had a bad foot and footwear like mine would be good for her. (Was that a compliment? I hadn’t thought of my sandals as orthopaedic).

My bus arrived, and it was, of course, her bus, too. I boarded and sat against the window, and as she approached I realized she was going to sit with me, so I patted the seat and smiled at her. She introduced herself: Marianne had lived in Luxembourg for a very long time, though she was originally from Cameroon. Her skin was beautiful brown, as she pointed to her hand and said her children were the same color, though her husband is Luxembourgish. We talked about how Luxembourg is a country of peace and the people are nice. We chatted about window shopping at La Belle Etoile and cooking. She swore the prepared chicken wings at that Cactus were better than any other Cactus store in the country. She told me her husband is a good man, and asked if I had a good man, too. When I answered, she smiled broadly and we both nodded.

As we parted ways, she squeezed my hand, and I told her I hoped to see her again.

It was no random occurrence, the encounter with Marianne, in my heart or in my mind. In this place, so foreign and far from home, I’m finding a human touch, a smile, a word goes a long way in making me feel like I belong or matter or make a difference.

Have you been on a bus in Luxembourg? You really do meet the best people…

Talking Turkey

Lest I beat a dead turkey, I cannot let this Thanksgiving holiday pass without my inventory of gratitude. Because that list would unfurl like a roll of toilet paper, I’ll confine my obligation to five things I’m thankful for in dear little Luxembourg…

The weather 

As I look at the weather app on my phone and see days and days of 6°C, as compared to endless tundra of -9°C in motherland, this mother is grateful it’s cool enough to ward off hot flashes, yet balmy enough to keep those nose hairs from freezing! And how very humorous that a country with a distaste for air-conditioning also has a law against allowing the car to run on cold mornings simply for the purpose of defrosting the windshield!

The views

Maybe I’m just not over Europe, but there’s still a sense of awe when I look out my window. As I look past the dead (nearly) geraniums in the window boxes on my terrace and see the roof-line of the houses below, small billows of white from the chimneys, I fall in love with Luxembourg all over again.  I feel comfortable in the landscape here–the countryside reminds me of my native West Virginia until that moment of “Oh look! a castle!!”

The history

I’m mesmerized by World War II–the facts, the families affected, the fallout. I’m drawn to the resiliency of the people, the resolve to move on, the remembrance to honor. Whether it’s Gëlle Fra –the Golden Lady in Place de la Constitution, or Winston Churchill (in his own Place), or the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, tears of gratitude come for the sacrifices for freedom. And then, just as you’re out for a leisurely stroll, you discover this       marks pic

and the tears come yet again…

The wine

A picture is worth, well, you know!wine

The people

Over the years, we’ve had friends from many places in the world–Italy, Belgium, Argentina, South Africa, Germany–and friends who’ve lived many places in the world, either as missionaries or in private industry. We’ve always enjoyed those friendships, appreciated the differences in culture and traditions. But there’s nothing like now meeting those friends on their soil. The generosity (in word and deed) of my Dutch friends, the laughter and warmth of my Italian friends…the humor and encouragement of my French friends, the energy and sass of my Spanish friends…and the acceptance and love of my Luxembourgish friends, to name a few! I adore my friends from Poland and Ireland, and Romania and Uruguay and Finland and Scotland, and Canada and England and Slovakia and Germany…see what I mean? What a wonderful mix of personality and nationality, and I’m more than grateful this anonymous quote applies so well to my life in Luxembourg ♥ “A friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

 

Physician, heal…

I should’ve listened to my gut when I called to postpone my appointment and no one spoke English. Oh, wait–my gut was the reason for having this procedure, stopping my beloved reflux medicine for two weeks, giving up coffee and wine and anything that tasted good or was called “food.” I should’ve remembered having no paper gown to cover up my broad backside when I went to the gynecologist, no ugly cotton gown with a grandpa’s pajama print to cover me while waiting for my mammogram. That time, all I could muster to keep modesty tears from my eyes was my little sister’s joke: Did you know the bra was invented by a German? He called it the “Schtoppschemfromfloppshen!” (Please forgive me, my dear German friends, but it makes me laugh–every time!).

In the meantime, waiting for November 2, I did my research on WebMD and MayoClinic.com since it was difficult to translate the brochure sent by the Centre Hospitalier. From what I could decipher, sedation would be available for those who were anxious about the procedure. I’d had an endoscopy 30 years ago; I remember little about it, only that I had a bit of a sore throat the next day. When I Googled “what to expect during an endoscopy,” here’s a portion, the portion I clung to, of what I found:

Sedation. For most examinations with an endoscope, a sedative is provided. This increases the comfort of the individual undergoing the examination. The sedative, which is administered via an injection into the vein, produces relaxation and light sleep. There are usually few if any recollections of the procedure. Patients wake up within an hour, but the effects of the medicines are more prolonged, so it is not safe to drive until the next day (WebMD.com).

Oh, yes, I recall the dreamy sleep from sedation (if only I’d had it during my children’s teenage years). I knew then, without a doubt, I would be sure to ask for sedation, maybe even some in a TO-GO bag! There was my homework before the procedure: learning how to ask, in French, for sedation without seeming like a weak American. After all, I’d labored with and delivered four children without even a Tylenol! Surely I’d earned to right to a little calm and “light sleep” while a doctor rammed a hose with a camera down my throat all the way to, well, who-knows-where…

Now, here I am, a few days on the other side of the procedure. I did ask for sedation, but I was more than wide awake and a little anxious during the endoscopy. I don’t believe what they put in my vein would even earn the label “Sedation Light,” but more like “Sedation Zero.” There are definitely lessons for me in this experience:

  1. Don’t always trust that the smile and murmuring in French is understanding.
  2. Be prepared to wait an hour past the appointment time.
  3. Appreciate the smiles and kindness of the medical staff.
  4. Just ask for drugs: I have since remembered French for “I want to go to sleep.”

The truth is that the cultural differences between Luxembourg and the United States were magnified in this experience–the U.S. medical approach values patient comfort for these kind of procedures. The truth is, I was made to feel like a weak person by asking for sedation instead of just putting up with the discomfort for 15 minutes or more. The truth is, I wanted to be a good patient and trusted the medical professionals to take care of me. The truth is, I do feel a bit violated about the whole thing, and hope it never happens this way to anyone else who prefers otherwise. But, the truth is, I’m a pretty tough cookie and I endured a very uncomfortable situation–I’ll live!

Home Again, Home Again

A week ago, we said our goodbyes, gave lingering hugs, dried teary eyes. It’s a 16 hour trip, door to door. If only there were a gradual transition from one country  continent to another, a way to ease into the cultural differences, the language differences, the housing differences, the people differences, THE STORE HOUR differences…oh wait, there is a transition…the airport. Having just wasted $5.99 seeing 47 Meters Down, a film about stupidity and diving with sharks, I see the similarity between the decompression stops a low-depth diver must use to prevent getting “the bends” to the time in the airport during our long journeys,  allowing us to adjust from one home to another.

The airport is a time warp.  From the moment I present my passport to the not-so-friendly TSA agent until the destination airport is facing my ample backside, time takes on a speed of its own. The date no longer matters, hours seem sooooo much longer than 60 minutes when the layover is expanded. But when those connections are tight, the minutes aren’t long enough, despite shuttles, moving sidewalks, race walking, and/or praying. 

Store hours are deceiving. One of the hard things about returning to Luxembourg is adjusting to the limitation of store hours, grocery and otherwise. In the airport, though stores are open 24/7, none of them near the gates have items anyone begs to purchase. How many neck pillows, magazines, and packages of gum do you need???

Airport people are a culture of their own. This time, we were the ones coughing and sneezing and sniffing (compliments of the grandson and great-nephew we loved on). We saw the rolled eyes, the grimaces, the recoil, but we were too Nyquilled up to care, until Mr. Wonderful broke his tooth on a cough drop… lacking compassion in my cold med stupor, I ignored his soliloquy on the what-if’s and if-only’s and son-of-a-guns, using all my willpower to keep from rolling a stinky young kid with a scroungy backpack off the 4 seats he was occupying so could take a nap. And those fellow travelers who love to talk, to anybody, and for those business people who participate in (loud) conference calls? The congestion in my ears was a gift!

Man-sleeping-in-airport-terminal

Now we’ve said our hellos, settled into schedules, and filled the fridge. I jumped right back on that bus to the grocery store, parallel parked for an appointment, accelerated to 140 km/h (sh!) on the motorway. When we’re here in our cozy apartment, our visits to our other “home” are dreamlike. But no matter where we are, we’re engaged, we’re busy, we’re involved, and we’re exhausted. So here’s the deal, Luxembourg–we’re back, and we’re ALL IN!

 

 

 

 

Six Years Ago Today…

Mr. Wonderful was preparing for his mission trip to South Sudan, working one more day before leaving with our pastor and friend Sam to fly to Africa. They were visiting a school for village children, a school struggling for funding, straining to keep students in the cultural tug of war between education and custom. He was open for his purpose in going, the reason he had this opportunity to form relationships with people across the world who needed, in addition to money and infrastructure and peace, an extra dose of encouragement. I’d helped him make lists: buy a hat to protect his easily sizzling Scotch-Irish skin in the African sun, get immunizations to protect from malaria-spreading mosquitos, pack, pack, and pack for his departure the next day.

In the meantime, I was carrying on with normal–going to work, making my grocery list, having my yearly mammogram. I had a wonderful day at work with my co-workers and quirky high school students. On my grocery list I put the usual eggs and milk, potatoes and chicken, along with a bit of ice cream to celebrate having my breasts in a vice! It’s a good thing I bought the ice cream…

My mammogram wasn’t normal. And though it would be two days before I received the official report, the doctor said from the films, then the ultrasound, then as he performed a biospy that very afternoon…he said he was sure the lump was cancer, and yes, I should tell my husband before he leaves the country.

With a big bandage on my boob and fears picking at my brain, I stopped at (my beloved) Wegmans on the way home–after all, I had a grocery list. The sweet girl at the check out asked the perfunctory, “How are you today?” I started to answer as usual, to say I was fine. Instead, I blurted, “I just found out I have cancer.” The next day at work, when my sweet friend Donna greeted me with her usual “Good morning, Sunshine,” I joked with her, dancing through her computer lab as I spilled my news. I can keep other peoples’ secrets to my death, but not my own.

I couldn’t keep the fact that I had breast cancer a secret. Not only did I have cancer, but it was diagnosed in Breast Cancer Awareness month! I really thought I deserved a special award of some kind…so we cried with our family, made light with our family, I milked it with my children to be funny. Treating this THING as something humorous was the only way I could feel I had power over it. And Mark went to South Sudan–it was a wonderful trip for him, and a wonderful distraction for me to wait for pictures and stories of his encounters and experiences. While he was gone, I was at peace, and I can’t exactly explain that, but it’s true. Maybe it was the loving attention from my friends–the pink boxing gloves, the books, the scarves, the notes and cards and phone calls.

That was six years ago. Today, I’m healthy and happy (and I still think I’m funny), and I believe I’ve been equipped to be an encourager to others in the same situation. And now it’s October again–Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pink ribbons everywhere. Every October, I remember…I say “this is MY month, it’s all about me!” While it is important for me to rehearse the faithfulness of God in this chapter in my life, this month isn’t about me; it’s about people everywhere–women and men–and the need for early detection through mammograms. It’s about my very dear grandmother, who died at the age of 86, 16 years after being diagnosed and having a mastectomy. It’s about my very dear mother, who was diagnosed at the age of 70 and won that battle after a lumpectomy and radiation. My dear cousin, Suzanne, was diagnosed in her 40’s struck back with surgery and chemo and is now healthy. So it’s about her, and my friends Vikki and Kerry, who had more surgery and treatment than I.

In Luxembourg this month, the Think Pink Ladies Night is Friday, October 20th (thinkpinklux.com). The American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is having a Think Pink Coffee Morning on Tuesday, October 10. The Think Pink staff will will be sharing information about women’s health and support services in Luxembourg.  I’ll be thinking (in pink) about women who are battling, who are newly diagnosed, who are doing routine checks. And I’ll be praying for them…my bosom buddies…

walking with mama lockhart

 

 

Vienna Waits…

It wasn’t how we’d planned our last day in Vienna.

It had been an amazing week–3 days in Vienna, a train ride for a few fairy tale days in Salzburg, then the train back to Vienna for one last evening before our flight home. We’d seen the Spanish Riding School, Schonbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Opera House, the Parliament building, the MuseumsQuartier, Stadtpark.  As we learned about Jewish history, and Mozart, and listened to music (Mozart and Strauss, and Verdi, and Beethoven, and more), drank good beer, saw the history of Freud and the opulence of the Hofburgs, we compared the Vienna we grew up in (Vienna, West Virginia) with this “real” Vienna. Sure, our Vienna has a river, too–the Ohio River rather than the Danube. Our Vienna has a boys’ choir, too, thanks to Janet Blessing and the Smoot Boys’ Choir. Our Vienna has woods, but the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains rather than the Alps. In this Vienna, we hopped on and off, Ringstrassed, and wiener-schnitzel-ed more than we dreamed possible.


The last, and critical, item on our list included sampling the very best desserts of Vienna–the decadent sachertorte, a dense chocolate cake including a layer of apricot jam under the dark chocolate frosting, and strudel, the whirlpool of thin buttery pastry with fruit filling. We had chosen the best locations for the sweets, in the best places, to people watch before we left for the bus stop. Then we met Rose.

She was waiting, as were we, for the bus from the airport to the Zentrum.  The pretty, older woman asked us, in German, what time the bus would arrive. With our stumbling and deer-in-the-headlights look, she quickly began to speak English, and we discussed the arrival of the bus, our nationality and hers, and the warm and sunny weather. She relayed that she had accompanied her son to the airport, that he had been in Vienna to comfort her on the 2nd anniversary of her husband’s death (that day), but was headed back to his home in Zurich. Her plan was to enjoy an ice cream treat before she went home alone to her apartment.

We sat with Rose on the bus as she told us about her home in Salzburg. We enjoyed conversations around music and books, loving and missing family. As we three left the bus at the designated spot, Mark and I thanked Rose for the chat and wished her comfort in her grief, telling her we would keep her in our prayers.  She grabbed our hands and asked, “Won’t you please join me for some ice cream?” The answer took not a moment of review on our part, and we followed the woman across the trolley rails and down the block, arriving at Schwedenplatz, commandeering a table for three. She smiled proudly as we ate, and introduced herself as Rose, German by birth, resident of Switzerland for many years before moving to Vienna with her second husband, Leo. She talked about their yearly tradition of attending an opera, but twice having walked out at intermission as it was too progressive. She told us she was born in 1939, that her father died two weeks after he was conscripted to serve in World War II, that her family fled to Switzerland in order to survive. And after we talked and laughed, finished our ice cream and grabbed the bill, Rose bid us farewell in the traditional three-kiss Austrian fashion. This woman, kind and wise and beautiful, grabbed both my hands and looked in my eyes. “Take care to love your husband so well,” she said, then patted Mark once more on the arm and walked away.

We never did taste sachertorte  or Austrian strudel, but we did have the most delightful sampling of human nature! I don’t believe in luck, or karma, or kismet–it’s no accident that we encountered Rose, who delighted and encouraged and taught us. It was on our itinerary–not the one we made–all the time.


 

 

 

My Sunshine

We missed it.

My amateur astronomer, brilliant scientist husband would have been over the moon to see the eclipse that was a bigger news flash in the U.S.  yesterday than Donald Trump’s latest social media post. Our kids messaged us at various stages of the path of the moon, in various stages of excitement and anticipation. My fluency in “nag” kicked in, as I reminded my adult children to beware the dangers of looking straight at the sun, to which my offspring replied, in less than stellar fashion, “Don’t worry, Mom. We used protection.” Even today, as my daughter posted her views of the eclipse on Facebook, tagging her dad and asking him to chime in, that celestial alignment drew us closer, despite the ocean between us, the miles between us, the years and differing stages of life between us.

We’ve missed a lot. We’ve missed the funeral of a beloved cousin, a beloved aunt. We’ve missed the funerals of some very old, dear friends. We’ve missed the celebrations of retirements and graduations. The opportunities that slipped through my fingers…spending more time with my grandson, shopping with my daughter and daughter-in-law as we sip Starbucks and solve the social ills of the world, cooking with one son who recently loves my recipes, listening (in the same room) to a son who composes, watching a son who passionately builds retro projects…loving them all, up close.

Here’s what we’ve gained: the undeniable knowledge that our kids are great adults, smart and kind, deep thinkers about the hard things in life, appreciative of the pleasures and challenges of living and loving. Even if they weren’t my flesh, I would want to be friends with them (though I’d give them a good warning before I dropped by so they could clean up first!). We’ve gained the world–friends from EVERYwhere, travel here and there, and a sprinkling of a new language.  It doesn’t take the planets aligning, or whatever an eclipse is (sorry, honey!), for us to realize the opportunity we have here in Luxembourg is astronomical. The distance, the time, the heavenly occurrence…can’t take my sunshine away.

Music performed by my very sweet daughter!

Summertime, and the living is easy. And quiet. And deserted. The programs at churches and clubs are bare bones for the summer. There is no book club, or travel talk, or Bible study or small group, no French classes–no traffic–as everyone (and I mean the whole country) goes elsewhere on vacation. The American expats fly home to Alabama and Michigan and New York and Oklahoma and Seattle and Ohio and Texas for weeks on end, taking advantage of the completion of a school year. The EU expats travel to Italy and Ireland, to Provence and Poland, London and Latvia, the Netherlands or New York. The motorways are filled with campers and motor homes going everywhere but here. 

travel-plan

For a week I sat here by myself, while Mark flew to the U.S. for work, still far FAR away from our kids. I did my best to stay busy, but I nearly had to break up with Netflix–it was so much easier to settle in with my favorite shows and actors and movies than to make myself join the rest of the remaining population of Luxembourg. The weekend was the hardest: despite the never-ending festivals in Luxembourg, the energy and activity of city centre, the evenings defeated me, so I called up my old friend Tom Hanks and the staff from Downton Abbey to keep me company.

Mr. Wonderful has returned, and the rest of Luxembourg is slowly trickling back. I’ve now experienced the sadness of losing three expat friends back to their homelands–just the nature of the beast here. And now is the advent of a  new crop of expats, having spent a last summer wherever “home” is, squeezing out every last minute with family and friends, staying in temporary housing until the shipping container arrives, shopping for appliances with the correct plug and wattage, foraging in the grocery store for products that look familiar despite the two languages choices on the packaging being more than foreign.  This summer, I’m the adviser, the info desk, and I’m anticipating the new friendships in the making.

Giant Blue Container Ship and Small Red Tugboat

The predicament here in this beautiful country, whether sultry summer, foggy fall, wet winter, or pretty printemps, is the coming and going of allies, fellow compatriots navigating not only the narrow roads but the wide cultural differences. I recognize that friendships exist in my life in seasons, for reasons–to teach me, to mature me–and I’m grateful for that instruction as well as the pleasure of rapport, no matter what the weather. But today? It’s Assumption Day in Luxembourg, and while this Protestant doesn’t understand why it’s a public holiday, my BEST friend is home from the office.  It’s summertime and, at least today, the living is easy. Cheers!

cremant