When people ask me where I’m from, I say, “Get out a map and throw a dart at it.” My father was a 30-year career Army doctor and by the age of 13, I had moved six times. I was born in Germany, and then lived in Maryland, California, Oregon, Colorado, the Panama Canal Zone and Virginia. Not only was I always the new kid on the block, my classmates usually didn’t know anything about the block I came from or even where it was. For a shy kid who desperately needed friends to escape an unhappy family life, the upheaval was pretty rough. Every one to three years I had to find of new group of people I cared about and who cared about me and gave me a sense of worth and belonging. The prospect of starting over always filled me with dread and to this day, moving boxes make me feel anxious.
Yet I did find those people everywhere I lived: Mrs. M, a neighbor lady in California, who invited me to sit down at her piano and shared her love for it, igniting my life-long passion for music; Anna in the Canal Zone, my first “best friend” whose family of seven often included me on Saturday water skiing trips to their island on Gatun Lake; Cathy and her family in Alexandria, Virginia. Her father, Hermilo, who helped pay for his education at Notre Dame playing Latin and Jazz piano gigs, showed his confidence in my piano playing by having me perform at least one piece before I joined the family for a delicious meal of home-made Mexican delicacies. All these people and many more became my adopted family, treating me like one of their own. Their warmth and generosity helped me adjust after each move, replacing my feelings of loneliness and isolation with friendship and love.
Although I’ve made a point of creating stability in my adult life for myself and my own children, I wouldn’t trade my dislocated childhood experiences for anything. As painful as it was every time I moved to leave the people who had become a very important part of my life, I am glad I chose to remain open to new friendships and experiences as I was growing up. I learned compassion for the odd person out, having been there so many times myself. I learned that although people are different in culture, age, gender, faith, race and sexuality, we all share a common humanity, and that it’s actually pretty easy to find common ground. I believe that no matter where I live, I will continue to find these good people. I am thankful to them for having enriched my life tremendously, as I hope I have enriched theirs.
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