The Picture – Reflections of Ourselves to Ourselves

My first apartment was in downtown Denver. It was maybe 600 square feet in a 1920’s building with a shared thermostat and no dishwasher. It did have beautiful wood floors, intricate molding, a fireplace and a claw-foot tub. Just enough to give me all the ambiance I needed to inspire my new life. As a housewarming gift, my dear Auntie and cousin gave me a framed poster of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The iconic image of her standing in the store window, paper coffee cup and pastry in hand, sunglasses, tiara and hair piled high with the reflection of a glittering chandelier in front and New York street-scape behind. They knew me well… I’d immersed myself in the movie hundreds of times and whenever this scene appeared, I was awash with a sense of contemplative peace.  There was something in me at the time that related so wholly to Holly Golightly’s plight of self re-invention. I was in a big city for the first time, I could be anyone I dreamed of being, I was newly on my own with nothing but my grandfather’s table, a bed and the knowledge that only I knew who I used to be. I could be anyone, do anything. The world was mine!

The world, of course, had its own ideas. Things changed, but the picture was always there. I got married, had a baby and moved to Nashville and then San Antonio. I left my husband in San Antonio, along with everything I owned, including the picture. I took my daughter back to Denver, moved in with the same beloved Aunt that had given me the gift, found a job and a car, and life began again. Many of my belongings eventually made it back to me, but not the picture. It showed up again later in the form of a gift from a man I had dated. In an effort to reignite our relationship, he bought and gave me the picture, knowing how sad I was that it had been left behind. I stared at the uncovered corner of the picture, conscious of how much it had cost and that I couldn’t afford it on my own, knowing how much I wanted it back in my life… but not at the price it was being offered. I refused the picture and the man. And life moved on.

I got married again, to a wonderful man deserving of being a father to my daughter. We moved to San Francisco, had another baby and enjoyed the time in life of one new beginning after another. We decided to move to Fayetteville, Arkansas for my husband to attend the MBA program at the University and be closer to his family. During one of my first birthdays celebrated, and in a particular mentally transitional state of “what am I doing here?”, my mother and sister-in-law gave me a gift. Without having ever heard a word of the history or my deeply seeded love for the picture, they’d chosen to give me the poster of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s standing in the store window, paper coffee cup and pastry in hand, sunglasses, tiara and hair piled high with the reflection of a glittering chandelier in front and New York streetscape behind. “How did you know?” I asked. “We just saw it and thought it looked like you.” they said. The significance was not lost on me. My essence captured in the image of a wayward but strong, searching but steadfast woman with her wide-eyed gaze fixed on a place of glittering beauty and serenity while finding her way through the sometimes harsh and confusing chaos that is life. “Isn’t it wonderful? See what I mean, how nothing bad could happen to you in a place like this?”

The poster has since been framed and has been hanging in our dining room for years alongside other black and white photos of family members. It just seemed to fit in. When people see it, they say “That is very ‘you.’” And it has been. Until now. My daughter is turning 15 years old next week. For her birthday, we are redesigning her room. Her first request was a glittering chandelier. From there, she came up with a Hollywood-like color scheme. Hmmm… well, I’d been meaning to redesign the dining room anyway. I stood in front of the picture and looked at Audrey. She looked back at me. It was time. I was not wayward or searching anymore. I’d found my place of beauty and serenity inside of myself and no longer needed to gaze into jewelry store windows. My daughter’s  journey down Moon River, however, has just begun. I can think of nothing better to accompany her on her way than the picture.

Culture Shift

It will likely take me months to capture all of my thoughts about my journey to Pakistan, but I have to start somewhere. With that in mind, there is one thing that keeps coming to mind over and over – we’re all the same. It’s one thing to say “we’re all the same” but another to truly feel it, and still another to truly live it.

This journey started, as many do, in an airport. As we traveled from Tulsa, to Chicago, to Abu Dahbi, to Islamabad, the faces, languages, clothing and attitudes changed, a little at a time, from one place to to the next. Clothing worn and languages spoken started to take on the culture we were traveling toward. The only thing that never changed, whether standing in a currency exchange line, sitting on plane or waiting for baggage, was the children.

2013-08-30 12.58.09Kids are kids everywhere we go. No matter the country and its dominant religion, political structure, or problem of the day, children are the same. Laughing, running, kicking their sister, tattling on their brother, being kissed by their father, snuggled by their mother. I saw them busying themselves on planes, crying when they were tired or upset, and being doted on by relatives as they arrived at the gate. But mostly what I saw was, as the grown-ups sized one another up or ignored one another all together, children were oblivious to it all. They looked at everyone with bright, curious, open eyes, hearts and smiles. If only we were all so oblivious, so free, so non-judgmental.

I know I learned amazing lessons during my journey to Pakistan, but I think this will always be my most important. The lesson that if only we all carried our childhood spark of trust and hope, we would see past our differences and on to the simple fact that we are all simply humans, here, together. That we are, at our core and in our essence, all the same. I’m grateful to children, of which we all once were and should possibly try to be more like again, for this reminder and hope that I will not only say, but feel and live the lesson of “we’re all the same.”