Home > FTIAT, Guest blogger > FTIAT: Two ships

FTIAT: Two ships

Renee (Life in the Boomer Lane) writes mirthful, subversive critiques of the media that make me wish she were responsible for all news, everywhere. I said as much the first time I read her blog, and wish it even more strongly now.

I was anxious when I invited her to guest post. I didn’t dare dream she’d actually say “yes,” but rejoiced when she did.

Beneath her wit runs compassion that is so much more than words. I am thankful she uses her words in all the ways she does: to speak out against injustice, to poke good-hearted fun, to encourage. It was at Renee’s urging that I wrote about my experiences testifying in court as a child; through that writing, I not only learned but increased my strength. For this I am and will ever be thankful to Renee.

Recommended postThe Day I Shook Hands with the Dalai Lama

Two ships

In the midst of the riches that surround me, of family and friends and health and purpose, I am thankful for two moments in time that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my life.

Years before I was born, two children, one in Poland and one in Russia, each stepped onto a different ship.  One was a girl, eight years old.  The other a boy, thirteen.  The eight year old was alone.  There was no family to hold her hand.  There was no family to stand at the dock and wish her well as she departed.  She probably had a card either pinned to her clothing, or hung on a cord or rope from her neck.  The card would have had her name and little else.  She would have been surrounded by other children, all duly identified. She wouldn’t have known where she was going, and she wouldn’t have known what would happen to her after she arrived.

The uncertainty of where she was going or what would happen when she arrived might not have been unexpected.  In her short life, she was used to uncertainty and to the knowledge that the security of family was a gift given to others and not to her.  From birth, her understanding of parents or family was limited to the people in her village, almost all of whom could point to others and say “To these people I am connected.  To this family I belong.” In a place where people spoke of “my grandfather” and “my grandfather’s grandfather” and defined themselves solely in this way, she was connected only to herself.

That her mother died in childbirth was a fact she had been told, just as she was told the sun rose in the morning and set at night.  It is difficult to experience an absence when one has never experienced the presence. That her father abandoned her shortly after the birth may or may not have been told to her.  The name on the cardboard she wore was that of a wealthy man in her village.  It was a name given to her perhaps to ensure good luck.  It wasn’t a name that a parent had given.

The thirteen year old was luckier.  He was traveling with his mother, a woman who birthed him late in life and who was now a widow.  Her other children, all grown, had families of their own.  Years before, two sisters and a brother had made the same journey the boy was about to make.  For that reason, he knew there would be family waiting when he and his mother arrived at their destination.  But he would have been too young to have remembered them very well.  His mother was all he knew.

He also knew that he was expected to step into his father’s shoes and become the breadwinner.  The thought of being an adult didn’t scare him.  The events he had witnessed and the people he had lost in his young life had meant an end to his innocence at a very early age.  He might have thought that the price of instant adulthood was a small one to pay.  He might have hoped that where he was going, young adults wouldn’t be lined up in one of the town squares and shot.  He might have hoped that small children wouldn’t have to hide when soldiers went on their all-too-predictable killing sprees.  Or, it is possible he may have wondered if where he was going could be even worse.

Over and over, I replay in my head the two moments in time when the first of each of their feet, the boy and the girl, stepped onto the worn, oiled wood of the gangplank.  When, in that one moment, while the other foot was still on the ground, they existed in two worlds, one known and the other unknown.  It is into that space that my thoughts keep returning.  But I will never know their thoughts.

The girl might have hoped against hope that a loving father would be waiting, and that a family would be there that would become her family.  The boy might have hoped against hope that his new life of a grown man’s responsibility might also include the possibility of an education that had been denied to him.  Each of them, the boy and the girl, whatever hopes and fears entwined like battling lovers taking hold of their hearts, would still place that next foot on the gangplank and in so doing, walk into the rest of their lives.

It was that initial moment that led to all the others that followed.  That a girl who was unloved would grow into a woman whose love for her daughter was fierce and abundant.   That a boy who was never able to get past his own fear would grow into a man who would allow his daughter to take brave steps to get past her own. That each of them, the boy and the girl, would, from insecurity and from loss, together build a life of security and of love for their daughter.

For this I am thankful.

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Categories: FTIAT, Guest blogger
  1. February 17, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Good God, Renee, this is powerful. It takes my breath away. For this writing, for this story, for you, I am also thankful!

  2. February 17, 2012 at 5:46 am

    I don’t even know where to start. Usually when I enter something with such high expectations, there’s only one way to go – down. Not with your writing, Renee! Never!

    I wish I was still reading this. I absolutely love your creative (and of course, heartfelt) approach to the FTIAT theme.

  3. February 17, 2012 at 6:39 am

    The daughter certainly cherishes the miracle of their meeting. This is wonderful.

    • February 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

      Wow, thanks, Jules!

    • February 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      So funny. I have clicked “Reply” in the wrong places. This is funny because the post I’ll be putting up tonight is about my problem with direction! Anyway, thanks, Georgette!

  4. February 17, 2012 at 6:41 am


    I loved this..really made me think about life and how we got to where we are.
    I look forward to reading more from you..Kathleen 🙂

  5. Mands
    February 17, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Thank-you Renee for sharing such a wonderful family story …a rich heritage that I am sure will also become your legacy for yours. It’s so awesome.

    • February 17, 2012 at 8:34 am

      Thanks, Kathleen. We have all been given such gifts by the generations that paved the way for us.

  6. February 17, 2012 at 7:13 am

    So, so lovely and moving. What a blessing that these travelers nurtured someone sensitive enough to appreciate them, and talented enough to express that appreciation in a way that resonates with such clarity.

  7. February 17, 2012 at 7:18 am

    This is such a heartfelt post that I wish I had known the little girl and the young teenage boy. I am thankful they eventually found each other and found love to share with their own little girl. Wonderful post, Renee. If this becomes a book please let me know–I will be first in line to buy it!

    • February 17, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Thanks, Peg. We who write have been given such a gift, to be able to express in a way that some cannot or are too fearful to do so. Yet one more thing I’m grateful for!

      • February 17, 2012 at 8:38 am

        Whoops, this was supposed to be a reply to Peg! Thanks, Sylvia. I did incorporate a bit of my mom’s journey in my never-to-be-published novel!

  8. Elly Lou
    February 17, 2012 at 7:46 am

    *swoon* After that first sentence, I knew this would be so delicious it should be savored. I handed Paul to Rocco and hunkered down to sink into the swirls….and I’m still swimming.

    • February 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

      “and hunkered down to sink in the swirls.” Damn, comments, even your comments should be published. I am honored by your words.

  9. Angelika
    February 17, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Renee, Wow what a powerful story. Makes me think of all that happened before I was born.
    Thank you for reminding me.

    • February 17, 2012 at 11:18 am

      Thanks, Angelika. The people who came before us had such courage. I never forget that.

  10. February 17, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Damn girl, you got it going on. Great story, beautifully told.

  11. February 17, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Beautifully written, but why do you say “never-to-be-published novel?” You have a number of readers waiting for the book right here! Please say you will re-consider the NEVER part!

    • February 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

      I’ve written three novels. One, after my divorce, was a thinly disguised session on the therapist’s couch. I published my second via print-on-demand, never marketed it, and was surprised to have received tiny royalty checks for about 10 years. The third was about 90% complete when I totally lost interest. I’ve never regained it. I’m finding that at this time of my life, I’m more excited about much shorter pieces.

  12. February 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Gah! Beautiful. Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. I… This… This is not a mere blog post. This is … something else. You’re confusing me. Stop that.

    To reiterate what Jules said, I wish I was still reading this. I want to bathe in it. It left me with a much more visceral response than most things I read. Thank you.

    • February 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

      I thank you for these comments. As you can see, the subject matter comes from the deepest part of me. I am happy that it resonates with others.

  13. February 17, 2012 at 10:36 am

    This really allowed me to forget where I was sitting, and feel myself inside those two kids minds…the fear, the sadnes, the anticipation of something brighter, which I hope is inside everyone, naturally. It is hard for me to imagine being a child, alone in the world without family backup, which yes, I took for granted. This makes us rethink all of that.

    • February 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

      To be that young, that alone, and to be facing such monumental upheaval, is more than I can wrap my mind around. And I am well aware that there are childen in places around the planet who are in similar situations right now.

  14. February 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

    This is such a lovely post Renee. I am thankful for your power with words, and for being allowed to witness part of your story.


    • February 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Thanks, Lisa. As I said on my blog to you, we are the lucky ones. We have the words.

  15. February 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Beautiful post, Renee. Very powerful images and thoughts.

  16. Elyssa
    February 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    This story is amazing and incredibly powerful. It’s so easy to forget how we came to exist at this moment in time, as a person and a society. “I am thankful for two moments in time that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my life.” You captured them beautifully.

    • February 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks, Elyssa. I am grateful to be able to express myself and equally grateful that Deb inspired me to do so.

  17. February 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Renee, if you could see the heinously snotty pyrotechnics of tears that I’m performing right now you would… well, you’d probably be grossed out. But at least you’d know your writing was working, right? Beautiful post!

    • February 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks, Tori. You can tell how much this topic touches my heart. Your “pyrotechnics of tears” reaches me in the same place.

  18. February 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    A beautiful story. How fortunate you are to have a happy ending! Excellent, your story pulled me right in!

  19. February 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    This story and your words took my breath away, Renee. Any comment I leave here won’t do justice for how much this moved me today. Thank you for sharing it!

    • February 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      Thank you. As I’ve said to others, we who word with words can express our deepest feelings in a way that some others can’t. For that also, I am grateful.

  20. February 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Courage and compassion bred courage and compassion.
    Renee… Thank you for the blessing of sharing yourself with us.

  21. February 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you. Lots. Beautiful and moving.

  22. February 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I am in awe of such bravery.

    • February 18, 2012 at 5:38 am

      We all have people in our families who have endured what we can’t even imagine.

  23. February 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Love your post. I too researched my family tree and was surprised that what I found was somewhat different than the passed-down stories in both sides of my family. Talk about mixed-up! Ah well, I enjoyed it nonetheless and I enjoyed your story of your family’s tale.

    Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Cheers! Dawne

    • February 18, 2012 at 5:39 am

      Thanks, Dawn. Yes, the stories and information are often confusing or simply not true. But the search, itself, as frustrating as it is, can be fascinating.

  24. February 18, 2012 at 3:20 am

    this really made me think, and? i needed that…it hit home in a strange kind of way. it helps me understand why i can be so pensive & conflicted. thanks. i just love it. thanks.

    • February 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks, and thanks for reading. What we read about others does, indeed, call things forth in ourselves. That’s the power of the written word.

  25. February 18, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Absolutely a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

    • February 18, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      And that you for reading. I am really honored that my parents’ journeys can impact on others.

  26. February 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

    (Standing and clapping madly) Bravo! Encore! More !! I found myself almost holding my breath while I read and most certainly you left me wanting more.

    • February 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you Carrie. Because my parents are now gone, and because they never spoke about their journeys, it’s up to me to imagine what they experienced. There is one more piece of my mom’s journey that I will turn into a blog post soon.

  27. tm
    February 18, 2012 at 10:58 am

    wow. the image of that girl, alone. heartbreaking. beautiful.

    • February 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you. I don’t know who that girl is, but I do imagine that looked very much like her.

  28. February 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Wait a minute! Does this kind of writing count as a blog? How could you get so much meaning into such a short space? And how can you do it with such moving language and descriptions? And how can you get so many people roaring their approval, bawling their tears and longing for more?

    Whatever it is, please don’t stop.


    • February 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks, Ronnie. I’m overwhelmed by the response. And I won’t stop. My writing tends to be all over the place. Mostly humor over the absurdity of life, punctuated now and then with serious pieces close to my heart.

  29. February 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Fantastic!!! My great grandfather was a British Home Child and I can well imagine his thoughts might have been something like this. Beautiful.

    • February 19, 2012 at 4:15 am

      Thanks so much for this comment. Yes, so many children were displaced as a result of the war. It was so heartbreaking, and it took such courage.

  30. February 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    I’ve been debating whether or not to buy tickets to visit friends by myself next month. It was only after I’d posted about that struggle with “mommy guilt” earlier this evening that I thought of it in light of the post preceding–your post, this one. Thinking about the two posts together made it so much easier for me to see that I’m lucky to have the choice to step away for a few days, knowing where (and to whom) I am returning. That is a great blessing.

    • February 19, 2012 at 4:22 am

      Oh Deborah, I am so happy the posts impacted on you. The whole notion of guilt is one that narrows our world, rather than expands it. Hurray for you!

  31. February 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for the humor and wisdom Renee! 🙂

  32. April 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    so lovely…

  1. February 17, 2012 at 6:26 am
  2. March 2, 2012 at 5:45 am
  3. August 20, 2012 at 9:38 pm
  4. November 30, 2012 at 6:17 am

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