Defining Moments

Right now I’m in the Vienna airport on a layover. I’m coming from a weekend in Macedonia doing volunteer work for the World Federation of Hemophilia. It’s been a great experience. Since this is my first trip to Europe, I’m full of enthusiasm and awe. Up until today, things have gone really smoothly. Just before our 4:30 AM flight, however, my traveling companion, a fellow volunteer from Arizona, lost his passport on our way to the airport. 

Because of some confusion and a new airport opening, we didn’t have time to find it before the flight left. He told me to go ahead on the flight, but I didn’t want to leave him alone, in the dark, in a foreign country (this was his first trip out of the US also).  But, I did.

I realize that his difficulties have been, and still are, much greater than mine. He’s called the embassy, been back to the hotel, and is trying to reach the airline to reschedule his flight.

But in the midst of a stressful emergency, I did what was best for me. I feel really terrible about leaving him there, but I know that it was probably the only thing I could have done. It would be more work, perhaps impossible to get us both rescheduled on another set of flights.

But in the moment where he leaves the airport worried sick about being stuck in a foreign country, alone, I feel like I failed a huge test (seeing life this way is admittedly troublesome). It’s the golden rule. The same one I remind my kids about every day. I would not have wanted to be left behind, so I shouldn’t have left him behind.

Perhaps it’s my lack of sleep, perhaps it’s the fact that I’m still in the middle of this mess, but I can’t help but thinking that I could have, or should have acted differently in a way that would have helped us both.

Just last night, as I was trying to fall asleep on this rock of a hotel mattress, I started thinking about how much I already love the people of Macedonia. They tell me their stories, the man in the wheelchair, the medication that the government orders but the doctors won’t give them, their children who have a brighter future because of preventative care, and my heart just opens wide.

I want so desperately to help these people, and I know that they already feel our support. We have plans to help them learn how to organize and manage a patient organization, but the connections between people are what really matter.

The message I keep feeling is that when you help someone, you love them. It’s not new, of course, it’s what Jesus and many others have taught forever. But, in this moment when I’m disconnected from my regular life of laundry, dishes, and managing a home, when I’m here in Vienna, worried about a friend stranded in Skopje, it feels more real, more urgent.

I’m seeing that my choices to help a community or to stay with a fellow traveler in need are turning my heart inward.

And yet, as I’m typing I’ve been passing important phone numbers along to my friend (who doesn’t have wireless access). Now he has is passport and is rescheduling flights back home. Perhaps I’ve been more helpful to him now than I would have been if I’d stayed.

In the meantime, I will continue to wish us both a safe trip home and look forward to building stronger ties with the good people of Macedonia.



Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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7 Responses

  1. KayG says:

    You did the right thing, Jessica, and I’m glad it is working out for your friend. What a tremendous experience you have been able to squeeze into a short few days. You are an example of turning the lemons of life into lemonade not only for your family, but to sweeten the experience of others at home (Arizona) and abroad.

  2. Kmillecam says:

    I think you did the right thing too Jessawhy, but that definitely doesn’t mean that it was easy. And I think the reflections you have been experiencing since then are the gift in the middle of that difficult situation. I’m glad your friend is finding his way home, and that you gave your support in the ways that you could.

  3. Rachel says:

    Do you think if it had been a woman you might have stayed? It was something I thought about-both in terms of women needing help (helpless) and also in terms of women maybe being at greater risk?
    Just curious. I’m thinking I might have stayed if it had been a woman. Or that I would have more seriously considered it.

    • April says:

      I’m a woman and I have been alone in a foreign country before. And I was fine. If I had been in this situation, I also would have told my traveling companion to go ahead. It makes the most sense to me, logistically.

  4. Starfoxy says:

    I think there is some validity to the point about how helping someone in a way that takes you out of your comfort zone makes the love you feel for them feel more urgent, and somehow fresher. I had an experience like that yesterday.

    Along the lines of what Rachel brought up- I’m not sure how applicable the golden rule always is. Certainly if it were you, you would not want to be left behind, but you also aren’t him. You aren’t a man, you don’t have his life and experiences. While there may be similarities, and the golden rule is certainly a good place to start, at some point you have to trust what people tell you. If he told you that you should get on the flight then that is what he wanted.

    Now if people are telling you they want things that they really don’t want then that is another problem altogether. If you’re going to lie to me, don’t be all offended when I believe what you say.

  5. Bobman says:

    The golden rule doesn’t cover all circumstances. Should I pay a contractor 200% what the job’s worth because I’d want to be payed that spectacularly? Should I give a splendid dessert to a dieting friend because I (not on a diet) like gifted desserts? Sometimes nuance shows the situation isn’t the same when reversed.

    It sounds like your friend is quite capable and not afraid of being stranded like perhaps you would be. So, it sounds like you made the choice that allowed you to help the most and may have eased the pains of changing travel plans. Moral support is great, but I’d rather have no moral support and get through an ordeal quickly, than a load of moral support and get through the ordeal slowly.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    I do think it turned out to be the right thing, but in the moment that I was writing, I just felt really bad about my decision (not to mention I was running low on sleep and not thinking clearly).

    It’s hard to know if I would have made a different decision if my traveling companion was a woman.

    I meant to post this in the original post, but Alisa wrote a great post a while back on the Platinum Rule, do unto others that which they would want you to do unto them.

    In the end, calling the travel emergency number on our itinerary was what really came in handy. The lesson I take away from this experience is always have travel insurance 🙂

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