We had just made it onto the bus as the sky opened and started pouring rain. My Dad and I had spent the day exploring Montmartre, admiring the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur and admiring the talent of the many artists painting the landscapes of Paris under giant awnings.
When the clouds started to turn a dark grey we decided to take a bus back to our hotel. It was going to take us about 25 minutes or so to travel back to our rooms and freshen up before finding a place to eat, so we had jumped on the transit, found seats across from one another and made ourselves comfortable.
I had been in Tyumen, Siberia for two months that summer and decided that on my way home I would spend a couple of days in Paris as an ‘extended layover.’ During the time I had chosen to go to Paris, the movie ‘Taken’ had come out a couple years prior, but was still a fresh conversation piece in rural towns…like mine. Being that my parents were a little shaken by this movie at the time, dear sweet Father decided to meet me at the airport in Paris and spend that short vacation with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone.
Just a few weeks before I had left for Russia that summer of 2011 I had gone though my first official break-up. I will be incredibly honest, the relationship was not a healthy one by any means. It was with a person that I did truly care for, but that time spent with that individual was ultimately harmful and reckless. What I thought was considered normal was actually damaging to both parties. I left that relationship completely broken and very confused.
The opportunity to go to Russia and work at a cultural center had come at a perfectly destined time. I had flown there as an intern working with a group of Americans, teaching children English. So since that was the case I did travel with other people during my time in Siberia. But it would be my first time flying solo from Russia to France once the internship was over.
I was recounting the past year of my life up until that point on the bus ride when I felt a gentle nudge on my knee. “Hey, what’s wrong Mo?” My Dad was looking at me with a small but gentle concern on his face. I am very transparent so I’m sure my face was just dripping with despondency. And for the first time in 5 months I opened up to my father about everything I had been feeling. I had shared my hurts, my fears and my insecurities about a relationship that left me feeling stripped of my individualistic spirit and was replaced with a sense of powerlessness.
My Dad is one of the wisest men that I know, and what he had said next completely changed my outlook on life forever.
“Melissa…I am very sorry that had happened to you.” The sound of sympathy was honest. His face then turned hard and he looked at me with such seriousness I sat up straight. He leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees and interlaces his fingers. Then said:
“But listen to me…don’t you ever think that your power and independence has ever been stripped away from you. This world and the people in it are flawed. People hurt one another, whether it’s intentional or not. We are all trying to grow and find ourselves. We go through valleys, but that only means Zion will be that much greater if we choose to fight our way out of that terrain.
“You have many gifts & talents, and pair them with endless possibilities and exploration; I mean Mo, you could change the world. Never fall into the belief that anyone can steel your wings of freedom. Your greatest asset is your liberty and self-worth. It’s the pearl that is valued immensely as time goes on… and you are worth even more than 1 million put together.
“So finish traveling through Paris. Then go home and finish school. Work hard, save your money, and travel. Experience different countries, cities and people. Make friends with fellow travelers and locals alike. And most importantly serve them. Give as much kindness and love as you can. I feel the least selfish when I serve others.”
Then, my Dad sat back in his seat, took a deep breath, and looked out the window onto the dreary city of Paris.
As I’m sitting here, writing this blog and listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No.1, I can’t help myself but get a little choked up remembering that precious time in Paris with my Dad. Since that moment back in August 2011, I did finish school and graduated with a Bachelor degree in Business Administration from Colorado. And I did work hard. Very hard. I saved my money, and I backpacked parts of the world on and off for a years- some of the time with people and other times by myself. I met many people, and have made wonderful friendships along the way. And most importantly, I have taken my Dads words to heart and served. From teaching English and making meals for a poor Russian family I had met in Tyumen, to giving a smile to someone one a full plane who looked disheartened. I had served. And I will always continue to serve. Finding the joy in selflessness.
My travels have given me so many gifts as well. But the biggest triumph through the past six years was the fact that I had a power in myself that no one could take away unless I let them…
This blog post really hasn’t been easy for me to write. There’s quite a bit of vulnerability etched in this entry. And usually just as I submit my posts the first thing that pops into my head is “Wow…I just wrote all of that and threw it into the cyber abyss.”
But if someone does find themselves reading this, and maybe have had the same feelings (no matter what had been the cause) I wrote this just for you.
Know that everyone goes through their own kind of valley, but don’t wave the white flat and surrender. Fight through and know what NO ONE can take away your soul.