The Power of Words

There are so many individual events to catch up on my blog (for instance my sister’s entire visit), but I feel it’s time for a post that’s not simply a recap on my every day world. So here goes nothing…or something.

I have recently been pondering the power of words. They can carry so much weight and yet they flow off the tongue with such ease that their strength is often forgotten. Words can seamlessly bring people together, clear the murky waters of misunderstandings, and create a connection in people with the most diverse backgrounds imaginable. They are amazing. These simple words that I’m typing right now are conveying thoughts and emotions that would otherwise remain trapped in my head. Spoken language is incredible.

Since being in Australia I’ve had countless moments where I am simply in awe of language.  Words can vary so dramatically language to language, country to country and even just person to person. A word spoken by one person can be entirely flipped in pronunciation, emphasis and even meaning when spoken by someone else. It amazes me how how someone from France or Italy can take even the most bland English words and turn them into something poetic, almost lyrical. There’s a flare to the words that I just don’t seem to have with my own language. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ve worn mine out. I have spoken the same words (probably repeating the same few thousand fairly regularly) for 25ish years. Maybe that’s why a new language is so exhilarating–new words to describe the same experiences. But it goes beyond that even, because oftentimes through another language we discover new ways to describe things we never had a word for.

I’m not quite there yet with my second language. I’m still simply trying to learn words to describe my every day habits (yes, I’m finally past the “teach me the dirty words” stage of learning French—though, I am very fluent in several such phrases). My friends that have mastered at least two languages, however, get to reap the benefits of a nearly infinite volcabularly. They can just switch back and forth, French to English, to find the absolute BEST pieces of each to describe life. They call it Franglish and fight against it, but I call it impressive and dare I say, superpower-ish. Fight it all you want, but I would LOVE to have an entirely new volcabularly at my disposal. I have always loved words, and consistently try to challenge myself to use those “SAT” words I studied so much in high school, but that’s me just having some fun. Oh how I wish I paid more attention in my French classes.

But, I digress. The point is that language is incredibly powerful and can literally make or break connections. For instance, if my international friends here had never bothered to learn English, there’s just no way we’d be able to communicate effectively enough to forge a deep meaningful friendship. I mean, don’t get me wrong, our communication isn’t perfect. Even now, we have many nights where we spend hours playing charades with each other, only it’s not a game, it’s reading a recipe, and it’s not just gestures, it’s playing with words and the emPHAsis until we have the ah-ha moment of comprehension. But really, these moments just offer some comedic relief to relationships already built on so much more. I won’t say all of human interaction and meaningful connections hinges on spoken word, but I will say the ability to speak and share thoughts and emotions can create a truly powerful connection between individuals.

As with most things in life however, this power presents itself as a double-edge sword. Along with the ability to connect, build and bond comes the ability to tear down, separate and destroy. It is so easy to think a thought, say a word, and be forever free of it. But words aren’t words by just being spoken. They gain meaning, power and strength by being heard. And the perspective and context in which they are heard can dramatically influence their power. Words spoken in haste do not always disappear so hastily from the listener’s ears .Words can leave someone quickly in anger, but stay with another, resurfacing and replaying for years to come. An earnest jest could tug at the deepest insecurities of a friend. You truly never know the lasting effect your words could have on someone, so all you can do is assume the best.

Assume everyone has the best memory. Assume your words will forever be stamped in the story of their lives. Assume your words are so influential and powerful that they could literally change the world. Because you know what, for better or for worse…They can.

Choose carefully

 

 

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Turkey Day in Oz

Being an expat is exciting. Every day has some element of “newness” to it. Even today. Even ten months into this whirlwind of an adventure I find something new each day. There are the lunchtime debates surrounding the proper way to eat a sausage (why do they not like hotdog buns here??), the horrible screeching sound some of the birds here “sing,” the highly suggestive ice cream bar commercials, the animal character adorned icy pops, the tongue twister worthy outer suburb names, and so on and so forth. It’s all new. It’s still new. And as fun as it is…it’s also challenging.

For every new discovery, there’s an unfamiliarity. There’s no history, experience or memory associated with at least half of the things I’m experiencing here. Which is great! Talk about a crash course in broadening your horizons. Consider me officially dunked in the proverbial pool of cultural awareness. It is hard though. The best way to describe it is like being on the outside of a constant stream of inside jokes. Only the jokes aren’t jokes–they are a candy. And they aren’t called candy. They are lollies. And then when you go to share your “insider information” on your country’s oddities, there are blank stares and you become very aware of the fact that you are an American. And you are not in America.

I’m sharing this not to make the expat experience seem less exciting than it is, because, as I said, it’s pretty exciting. I just wanted to shine some light on the other side of things. Sometimes we get so caught up in sharing the new and exciting that the whole experience loses some of it’s authenticity. Hopefully by shedding some light on the challenges associated with this expat life, the other moments are able to shine just a little brighter and carry a bit more weight. Take Thanksgiving, for example…

This was my second thanksgiving that I spent without my Papi who passed away last year, and my first without any of my family. Let me take a second to say how blessed I know I am to have had 25 years of never missing a thanksgiving meal with my family. I was so worried about spending this time of the year away from home because I have been completely spoiled with love, memories and amazing food on thanksgiving for 25 years of my life. I am very thankful to say that absolutely nothing changed this year. Well. Sort of.

I am in Australia, not the US. I was homesick for the first time since I got here. I spent my week working at Uni rather than sitting at home with family. I had to track down a turkey. When they only had frozen ones (and TINY 4kg ones at that), I had to thaw it out over the course of a week. I actually had to COOK the turkey, and not sleep in while my mom or Nana did the work. I had to bake the pies and organise the food, drinks, dishes and people. I had to plan ahead and do a grocery shop at the only american food store in Melbourne to collect a few “key” turkey day items. I had to host the meal outside because I had 16 guests and a small apartment.It was work. It took time. And I could stop here and leave thanksgiving as this, but let me back up and tell it properly.

I am in Australia, not the U.S. So every time I spoke about thanksgiving, everyone just got really excited about this whole holiday they never experienced. Expectations were high, and it honestly made my holiday mean a bit more to me to have so many people so excited about it too. I was really homesick. There’s no way to sugarcoat that one. It was a hard week and in years past, the week of thanksgiving is the easiest most relaxing week because you just sit at home with family!

I did have to find a turkey, but when I did and realised they were only 4kgs, my other American friend here stepped up to cook a second turkey. Then I ended up grabbing another quarter turkey. So all in all, thanks to Australia and their teeny tiny turkeys, I set a new personal record for number of turkeys at one thanksgiving at 2.25.

At home the pies are one of the highlights of the meal (duh), so I was very nervous to take on this task. Luckily I didn’t do it alone. One of my best friends here spent a very late friday night baking pies with me. It was quite a task because the ovens here are 1)in celsius (boo!) 2) are fan forced (which just really destroys any confidence I have in my cooking). I also did not make the process any easier by proclaiming the pies burnt every 5 minutes. I was entirely obsessed with “oven watching”–I swear that night it might as well have been my television. You know you have a good friend when there are flowers, cookies, wine and patience in response to my complete and utter pie meltdown. They turned out delicious by the way…

I did have a long trek to the one and only American food store, but, as is the theme of this story, I wasn’t alone in that either. Not only did one of my guy friends drive me down to the shop, but he even walked away with a few goodies too (though I did advise against the twinkie purchase). ha. Here are some of the items only available at the American food store!

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He also took on the ultimate thanksgiving challenge by tackling the stuffing. After an awkward conversation about what stuffing ACTUALLY was, he emphatically took on the task. (when I said stuffing he thought he was going to make what was going into the bird. I had to explain that in America stuffing is a side dish and does not necessarily get shoved into the turkey. He then started calling it dressing, which was equally confusing, but I’d heard the term before so I was convinced at this point we were at least talking about the same thing)

Stuffing is my absolute FAVORITE part of thanksgiving. He was well warned of the importance of his mission, and I’m proud to say he surpassed all expectations. He left the recipe up to me, so I went non traditional and assigned him a beer bacon and cheese stuffing. That dish disappeared immediately on thanksgiving. So good.

Back to prep. I did have to cook the turkey. There was no getting out of that one. Luckily another friend came over to cook his banoffee pie (never heard of this before, but it was another fan favourite) the morning of thanksgiving (we celebrated on a saturday), so he got roped into turkey baking as well. I played my whole “it’s burning, thanksgiving is ruined” game again for a while, and ended up with a beautiful turkey. I have no idea why I didn’t take a final pic of the turkey, but here’s the quarter turkey (a quarter of a very large bird) and the turkey carving.

Sixteen guests meant the party was not going to be a traditional sit down because my apartment is way too small. Instead we moved the party down riverside. It was perfect. The weather was beautiful, we set up on a picnic table, brought out eskys (coolers), and waited for the guests. Everyone really came together for the event, bringing a dish and drink to share. As is traditional, all guests were required to share a thing they were thankful for before the meal.

As cheesy as it was, we all shared some semblance of a statement about being thankful for each other. But you know, I hesitate to call that cheesy. In that moment, that’s all that came to mind. All week I had been so stressed about not being home and then about making this meal perfect and as I was standing there all I could think about was how thankful I was for that moment. For those people. For that day and memory.

So you see, in a lot of ways this Thanksgiving was nothing like the last 25. I am in Australia. I’m away from family. There wasn’t one giant turkey. I wasn’t seated around a huge table. I wasn’t home. But you know what? Nothing important changed.  I have been completely spoiled with love, memories and amazing food on thanksgiving for 26 years of my life.

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Nous Restons Unis (United We Stand)

There I was standing in solidarity amongst my French friends as we gathered together to mourn a tragedy. For me, it was an attack on Paris and on humanity, but for them it had the added element of being an attack on home. We all felt a sense of loss, but the drive, the history and the emotion behind it varied. No one’s emotions are ever less than another’s, but they are, by nature, inherently different. I was standing in the crowd. It was an almost out of body experience. I was part of the moment but a bystander as well. I glanced around. Thousands had gathered. A sea of voices surrounded me, but they were speaking a language I only know pieces of. Sometimes when I spend time with my French friends, I jokingly remind them to speak in english (side note-very rarely is this necessary…they are all incredibly thoughtful in this way, always opting for their second language so I can speak my first). This day, however, was not a day for them to make adjustments for me. It was a day for me to just be. I could pick up words here and there, but only a few. Someone sang a beautiful rendition of the French national anthem. People sang with her.I didn’t know the tune or the words. But somehow that was ok. I was just being. Being a part of a moment that was far bigger than any individual. Bigger than any country. It was a moment where the world was coming together, I thought. Coming together in response to an attack that was meant to tear us apart.

A year ago I think that moment would have been very different for me. A year ago I did not personally know anyone from France. Today I do. I know amazing, incredible women who, like me, have left their homes on a grand adventure to Australia. What brought us to Australia may be different, and we each have unique personalities, histories and stories, but it is these very differences, and the celebration of them that brings such a richness to every shared moment between us. Today I know people from France. I have friends who spent the day contacting everyone they could to see if their friends and family had survived. I can’t even begin to imagine what that felt like.

When I found out about the attacks, I suddenly felt homesick. Overwhelmingly homesick. I just wanted to be back with my family. Then came a pang of guilt. I’m wishing to return home to the safety of my country and family and yet I think about how my friends here must feel. Their home is not a place of safety at the moment. A rush of emotion takes me back to the feeling I had after 9/11. You can never truly compare two tragedies. They were entirely different. But then again, in their most basic sense, they are entirely the same in that they both compromised peoples’ sense of security. There was an immediate loss of safety following 9/11. That day, no American felt truly safe. We fought off fear, we stayed strong, and we persevered, but in that moment, home was not safe. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the feeling after November 13th is similar to me. The world was attacked, humanity was attacked, and for the French specifically, their home was attacked. Fear will be fought off, the people will stay strong, and they will persevere, but this day will never be forgotten- nor should it be.

While I say the moment would be different had I not known anyone from the country, I don’t think it would be any less impactful. I don’t think you have to be directly affected to experience the devastation of an event of this magnitude. This attack was coordinated. It was meticulously planned and expertly carried out. It was disastrous. And, sadly, it is not unique. Terrorism and terrorist attacks seem to be more and more commonplace. This attack was in Paris. There was another in Beirut. The attacks could be anywhere. It becomes less and less about the where, what and how and more about the who and why. No, not even who to blame…who are they attacking? And why?

Say what you will about the president of the United States, but this quote rang true to me:

“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

–Barack Obama

They aren’t just attacking France or Beirut, they are attacking the the values people hold most dear. The bombs and gunfire struck Paris, but the aftershock has hit the entire world. And the response from the world in the wake o this travesty was overwhelming. Around the globe, landmarks, buildings, media, and Facebook profiles lit up in support of France. In support of the people. In support of peace.

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So on Monday, November 16th, Melbourne organized a peaceful gathering for the French community and supporters. Federation square was set up, guards were in place (just in case) and the French community (as well as official representatives) came together to mourn for the lives lost, not just in France, but around the world. One by one speakers shared their thoughts on the tragedy. Some highlighted the loss of life, others detailed the events, but the all-encompassing message of the night was clear: We will not live our lives in fear. We are one world united.

 

After the speakers, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” played…and for a few minutes, we all just listened. For me, the lyrics rang truer than any other time I’ve heard them.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

As the official part of the program ended, one of the most poignant moments of the night began. The community joined hands forming a circle and slowly, one by one, people walked to the center and laid down tokens, flowers, candles, shirts and photos in remembrance of the lives lost.

image3Aside from the gentle music in the background, the only sound in the entirety of Federation Square (a city center spot normally abuzz with daily happenings) was the soft clapping as people laid down their offerings. For a moment, time stood still. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of.

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By the reactions of those walking through the circle, you knew who had lost a loved one. There was one man in particular who broke down completely. I don’t know his story (he was interviewed so maybe at some point it will be released) but in that moment, the details of his story didn’t matter. We all knew. We all felt it. And it was heart breaking.

The emotional crescendo of the evening was when a man walked into the center of the circle and lifted high a shirt with #notafraid written on it. I can’t remember if the symbol above the words was the Eiffel tower or the French flag, but in that moment the words spoke louder than any image. The crowd erupted in cheers. It was the loudest moment of the night, and a beautiful end to the evening.

Overall, to me, it was an experience that was respectful to the community, mournful of the loss felt by all, and yet it was permeated by this sense of strength and unity. In that moment, we were one people. Race, religion and country were all secondary to the one thing we all share: a sense of humanity.

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** Disclaimer– The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. I don’t pretend to know or explain how this event impacts anyone but myself. All pictures were shared with permission from my lovely French friends.**

 

 

 

Where Were You?

I can’t believe there are 13 year olds out there who have never seen a time when both twin towers stood. It’s hard to even fathom that a historical disaster like that stands so clear in my mind, and yet there are millions of people who have never known a world before it. There are children who grew up in the aftermath of 9/11 and were quite literally born into America’s War on Terror.

Meanwhile, in my generation this event was a defining moment in each of our lives. We are plagued by the question that so many who experienced that day can answer without a second’s hesistation: where were you on 9/11. No one actually asks this question anymore…and yet, there we all are answering it as if it’s an expectation or right of passage that we are old enough to remember that moment in history.

Sometimes I think it would be better to have been born after that fateful day in American history–to have not seen the live news feed as the second tower was hit. To some students that moment is like any other in their textbooks–history. Part of the past. Sure it happened in the more recent past, but it was before their time and hence it is not their past.

But it is my past. It has shaped the world I live in as well as the worldview I hold. My sense of country and pride took ahold of me that day. I was young. I was 12 years old. That was half a lifetime ago for me. I can’t say with confidence that in that moment I knew exactly what that day would mean in history as time passed, but I knew it would mean something. Everyone knew it meant something. What did it mean?

Looking back now I think that day represents different things to each person that experienced it. To some, it was a reminder of the fragility of life. Others, a realisation of the brutal world we live in. I remember a lot from the news that day and the years following. I remember names of attackers, death tolls, and haunting images that will be forever burned into my mind….but what I remember most clearly are the heroes. There were civilians in the offices leading coworkers out of the building, firefighters risking their lives to save victims from the rubble, passengers on the flight that was meant for DC. I remember bravery. So today rather than hating the people that caused it, questioning why it happened, and judging the politics around it, I will choose to remember the bravery of the country that came together to respond to great tragedy.

I was asleep in my bed at home. It was just another morning for me until my mom raced into my room and pulled me out of my bed. I reached the tv just as the second tower got struck. I remember watching closely as my Mom explained the gravity of what was unfolding. I was in my home watching the tv with my mom and sister. That’s where I was when the twin towers fell.

9/11 is a part of my past, and as much as it redefined security, flying, politics and foreign relations, for me, it also redefined the sense of country. America has so much further to go in terms of uniting as a people. As with all countries, we have our faults, flaws and shortcomings. But as terrible as 9/11 was…as much it brought our nation to its knees, it also brought us together.

Being in Australia on such a heavy day of American history was an interesting experience. The entire day passed by with only one conversation about 9/11. Granted, that conversation included the “where were you,” and it shocked me that even as far away as Australia is, even my friend remembered where he was at that moment. I actually didn’t even realize the date until about lunch time because here they report the date as day, month, year. So it didn’t click until midday that 11/9 was 9/11. I know as the US wakes up to their 9/11 day, my newsfeeds will be flooded with the stories and pictures forever burned in everyone’s memories. Sometimes this type of information overload can be a bit exhausting, but on days like today, I love it. I love watching my country, one that is so often plagued by divisions (of religion, education, race, etc), come together under one flag and simply remember. Remember a tragedy, remember a history, but most importantly remember the heroes and the day that America fell apart only to rise again as one.

(some of this post was written two years ago…but I’ve tweaked a few things and the words still ring as true to me now as they did then)

Where were you?

There’s this song called “Where were you when the world stopped turning,” and every time I hear it I choke up….

I can’t believe there are 11 year olds out there who have never seen a time when both twin towers stood. It’s hard to even fathom that a historical disaster like that stands so clear in my mind, and yet there are people in this world who have never known a world without it. There are children who grew up in the aftermath of 9/11 and were born into America’s War on Terror. Meanwhile, I look to all of my peers today as we all answer the unasked question of “where were you 9/11” No one is asking us that question…and yet, there we all are answering it as if it’s an expectation or right of passage that we are old enough to remember that moment in history.

I stand in the middle here trying to decide if I’m happy I remember or if I wish I never experienced it. Sometimes I think it would be better to be born after that fateful day in American history–to have not seen the live news feed as the second tower was hit. To some students today that moment is like any other in their textbooks–history. Part of the past. Sure it happened within the last two decades, but it was before their time and hence it is not their past.

But it is my past. It has shaped the world I live in as well as the worldview I hold. My sense of country, respect, honor, loyalty and pride in America, my country, took ahold of me that day. I was young. I was 12 years old. That was half a lifetime ago for me. I can’t say with confidence that in that moment I knew exactly what that day would mean in history as time passed, but I knew it would mean something. Everyone knew it meant something. What did it mean?

Looking back now I think that day represents different things to each person that experienced it. To some, it was a reminder of the fragility of life. Others, a reminder of the brutal world we live in. I remember a lot from the news that day and the years following. I remember names of attackers, death tolls, and images that will be forever burned into my mind….but what I remember most clearly are the heroes of that day. The civilians in the offices leading coworkers out of the building. The firefighters risking their lives to save people from the rubble. The soldiers fighting to protect us. The passengers on the flight that was meant for DC. I remember bravery. So today rather than hating the people that caused it, questioning God as to why it happened, and judging the politics around it, I will instead remember the bravery of the country that came together to respond to great tragedy.

I was asleep in my bed and awoken by my Mother after the first tower was hit. I remember watching the tv closely as my Mom explained the gravity of what was unfolding. I was in my home, watching TV with my mom and sister. That’s where I was when America fell only to rise back stronger than ever. And as I feel that sense of pride deep inside my heart and soul, I realize that this grave event is in my past, present and future. And you know what, I am very proud to be an American.