Earlier this month I was back in the Netherlands, my passport – oh, wait, scratch that – my former passport country before I became Swiss. It was for the third time in four months, which admittedly is more than usual, but I am keeping all my ticket stubs. Just in case. You’ll be able to find them in my ‘give me back my first nationality, please’ file.
Returning back to Holland three times in four months couldn’t have been for better occasions: a few days seeing family before a trip to Suriname in December, then FIGT 2016 (Families in Global Transition), and finally a wedding in the family. As an only child, I am fortunate to be very close with my cousins and felt enormously lucky to spend the whole weekend with almost all of them.
One of them, graciously allowed me to use his room while he slept in my uncle’s study. As I was getting my wedding outfit ready the evening before, I was looking through the glass cupboard door, admiring a collection of frames with beautiful painted landscapes. Then my eye fell on this framed beauty:
I carefully took the frame out and looked at it closer to read the scribbled handwriting. It was dedicated to my cousin and signed by Jon Bon Jovi himself (and the rest of the crew)! Pangs of jealousy and admiration shot through me.
Memories of attending his concert at 16 with a friend came flooding back. My friend was from New Jersey and had made a profound effort to get Jon Bon Jovi’s attention. After we had pushed ourselves to the front, we held up her banner saying something about New Jersey. Jon is also from there so she hoped that in Lausanne, Switzerland, this banner would not go unnoticed by our idol.
We are both ‘vertically challenged’, so she asked me if she could sit on my shoulders while wearing her self-made t-shirt stating ‘I am the morning’ (this very clever girl was referring to the line in one of his songs: ‘And then I French-kissed the morning’) and holding up her big New Jersey banner.
Mission accomplished. Apparently, the shirt did not go unnoticed and Jon winked at her. Unfortunately, the t-shirt fell over my head and I missed the whole song AND the wink.
Lessons learned. Always be the person sitting on shoulders, don’t offer yours when you’re only 5’2’’. And the older I get, pay the extra buck and get a good seat.
I should add that my friend is one of the most persistent people I ever met. We lost touch but years later, I watched her interview Jon Bon Jovi on television and she admitted to him she always had wanted to kiss him. And then they kissed — a real kiss — on air. You go, girl!
Anyway, over the years my Bon Jovi CDs collected dust, and I couldn’t convince my husband of the quality of his music. Clearly, I must have still gushed about him on just a few occasions, because for my 36th birthday, my husband graciously bought me tickets for the two of us for a Bon Jovi concert in Zürich. The actual concert was on my husband’s birthday. And he got us excellent seats. This is love.
Back to the wedding weekend. The next morning, at breakfast I told my aunt about my amazing find. Turns out, she met them while working as a flight attendant. She got a signed copy for my cousin (who at that point in life probably didn’t even know who they were yet). Somehow that made me even more jealous of my aunt than I had been of my cousin.
Then the other day, I was describing Ruth Van Reken and the words ‘my rock star’ came to mind. Not sure if she will appreciate being up there with Jon in terms of rock star status, but hopefully she will understand that it is only because she really has spoken to so many of us like a rock star speaks to a teenage soul.
That moment when you listen to a song, and believe it was written with solely you in mind, that this person understands EXACTLY how you feel. That is how I felt when I read Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.
When I wrote ‘my hero’ underneath a picture on Facebook of Ruth and me at FIGT 2015 someone else replied ‘everybody’s hero’. This year, people posted pictures of her all again over social media, calling her a hero and living legend.
FIGT 2016 – my hero
She definitely has acquired rock star status. And I got to meet her. Three times now and twice she gave me a hug and let me take pictures with her! Marilyn Gardner understands (and I added link so you can check out this amazing storyteller’s fabulous blog).
The week before this wedding, the last sister ‘standing’ from my grandfather’s generation (and from all of my grandparents) passed away. At the age of 96, Great Aunt Lilly, one of the kindest souls I met, died after complications from a fall. She fell while dancing. If you have to leave this life at 96 that would seem like the right way to go. Although I didn’t have a chance to see her often, I am glad we did last December. Her death brought me right back to Ruth’s keynote this year.
My mother and her brothers and must have felt a little like what Ruth Van Reken described on the second day of FIGT. To attend that funeral when you realize there are no more people, in age, to go before you.
When my mother returned from the funeral, she came back with stories. Stories about Lilly but also about so many other family members. And she came back with pictures. Pictures that each have their own story. And I thought to myself, I better listen carefully. My mom, aunts, and uncles are now the generation that holds the key to our family’s vault of stories.
Four generations of stories: Aunt Lilly, my mom, myself and our eldest on my lap
As Ruth said, it is the stories that shape us. We must keep telling them. We must keep listening. Through our stories we connect, we understand each other, we can bring empathy to the table.
Ruth told us her story of creating FIGT around her famous kitchen table. She asked us how we can expand the tent to help other CCKs, to take care of families and individuals and to make a difference.
FIGT allows us to network across all the sectors so that we can each contribute in our own way. With our own story. Ruth told us that “If you don’t know how to do everything, do the one thing that you can do”. I’d like to translate this into if you don’t know how to tell a story one way, communicate your story in whichever way you can. Write it. Sing it. Draw it. Show it. Dance it. Whatever works.
To start with, keep making the stories. Then keep telling the stories and keep showing the pictures. Sort your pictures and add the stories. Let the next generation know where they are from. I’ll keep telling mine in Dutch to our girls (another great find during FIGT 2016 was the book Bringing Up a Bilingual child). And thank you, Ruth, for allowing us all to join your kitchen table as we enlarge the tent together and find ways to keep telling our stories.