I have sleep walked through most of my life. It wasn’t until after finishing graduate school, when I truly asked myself, “What do you want to do with your life?” As I asked this question, I became very afraid. Up to that point, I was an incredibly successful follower. All of a sudden, I ran out of people to follow. I decided to figure it out by seeing the world but Europe was all I could afford. My intentions in traveling were typical but what I actually discovered was much more than expected.
On a sunny day in Paris, a thief reached into my bag on the Metro and stole a wallet containing all of my money, my only credit card, my passport and an un-refundable return plane ticket. When I discovered this, I realized that I may end up homeless in France where I could barely speak the language. I grew up in New York so I have seen many panhandlers. In all the times that I walked past them without even a glance, I never dreamed that their fate could be my fate. After the initial shock, my knees buckled so I slumped down under a large chestnut tree and began to cry. I fumbled through my pockets for anything that can save me. The only things I found were a phone card, some change, a piece of gum and some lint. I used the card to make a phone call to my parents’ house. No one answered and the answering machine was broken. My next call was to a credit card customer service representative, who told me (after putting me on hold for seemingly an hours as the value on my phone card ticked away) that it would take a week for me to receive a new credit card and there is nothing more she can do to help me. We were then cut off because my minutes ran out. I had only enough money to make one final local call. My mind raced as I thought about whom I should try to contact. I suddenly recalled that several Christmases ago, my brother brought home his college roommate who told me that he was applying for a graduate school in Paris. His name was Porter. I took the phone book attached to a chain and my finger ran down the list of names starting with “P”… Pelletier, Petit, Pollard…Porter! There was only one Porter in all of Paris. Could it be him? I called the number and after several rings a woman answered. I asked, “May I speak to Mr. J_ Porter please?” The woman hesitated and then handed the phone to her husband. He was the right Porter! Praise the Lord! After I explained my situation, he told me to remain where I was and that he was coming to get me. I was saved. I spent about a month with Mr. and Mrs. Porter. During that time, my new credit card arrived, I bought a new plane ticket and I received a new passport from the U.S. consulate. Later, I went on to see Amsterdam and London before returning home. I discovered that I was always capable of being my own leader; that the misfortune of losing everything can happen to any one at any time (so it is important to empathize with others who are less fortunate); and that I can recover from loss with help from friends. I also learned from both the credit card representative and Mr. Porter that it is possible to be someone’s lifeline and not even know it; our every day actions can mean a world of difference to someone in need. I have since returned to Europe many times with business class plane tickets and a corporate expense account. But I will never forget the lessons I learned as a young wanderer, with not much more than a backpack, on the streets of Paris.