Transition – Building a RAFT

RAFT Reconciliation  •  Affirmation  •  Farewell  •  Think Destination

In their landmark book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, the authors Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have a chapter devoted to transition and dealing with leaving one place and starting in a new one. The chapter is a constructive and practical look at leaving well, at closure, at saying our goodbyes in peace. While transitions are never easy there are concrete steps we can take to make them as smooth as possible, always bearing in mind that no matter how well we prepare some situations will arise that are completely out of our control. The authors suggest four steps that make up the acronym RAFT. They are these:  reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination. 

Reconciliation is the first step in building a RAFT. I’ve written before that I believe it is important to leave in peace, that when we leave in peace we can begin in peace. By contrast when we leave with unresolved conflict we carry that with us to the next place we go to. That’s exactly what reconciliation is — it means leaving in peace as far as is possible. When we’ve struggled mightily in a place this is difficult. I remember leaving Massachusetts and the small town on the North Shore of Boston where we lived. We loved our house and throughout our time there we had laughed hard, cried some, partied much, and grown in extraordinary ways. But we struggled with choking provincialism of the area and felt good eyes upon us, criticizing at every turn. It was not easy to leave that town in peace, and so I didn’t. Thanks to some beloved friends in a nearby town we were able to return and create new memories, but I still wish I had been able to leave with greater peace. It’s this move I think about when I think about the advice to have the first log of the raft be reconciliation. It’s an obvious first step — if we are able to do that well then we can better move on to the other three logs.

Affirmation moves us into acknowledging and letting those we love, those who have become our dear friends know how much we love them, how much we will miss them. Affirmation is about talking to a teacher and saying “Thank you! Thank you for your role in my kid’s development.” Affirmation is about saying thank you to coffee shop baristas and favorite bakery vendors, people who worked in church nurseries and pastoral staff. It’s about affirming the time we had in a place and the people who knowingly or unknowingly helped us create a home.

Farewells – Honor the goodbye. Those goodbyes are critically important. As I wrote last week “We grieve as we say goodbye because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.”

Think Destination is the last log that the authors recommend. This can be either tremendously difficult or really easy. When our family left Cairo we thought our hearts would break, the collective grief in our family was palpable and as long as we live I don’t think any of us will forget our last night in that city of 18 million people.  A last meal eaten with laughter and joy; saying goodbye to dear friends Jenny, Len, Yasmine, Neelam, and Tariq as they sang to us a hymn of blessing; hugging tight, not knowing when or if we would ever see each other again – these friend who knew our lives in Pakistan and Egypt; and then finally walking down the road toward our home just steps from the Nile River with the smell of jasmine in the air. How could we think destination? How could we think ahead when we were leaving so much? And yet we did. We thought destination as we sorted and packed and began reestablishing connections back in our passport country. We thought destination as we sent out emails asking people advice on housing, schools, churches. We thought destination as we prayed and planned, even while tears formed at every thought and our hearts began to bleed in anticipation of that final goodbye when we would look out the plane window and feel grief too deep for words, too heavy for tears. At the time I didn’t know the acronym RAFT. The first edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds was not released until three years later. The research was still being conducted, interviews with third culture kids and adult third culture kids were not yet complete. A few years later when we left Massachusetts for Phoenix this last step ‘thinking destination’ was easy – I could not wait to exchange ice and snow, the dog days of New England winters for the desert sun and vast blue sky. During that move other logs on the RAFT were more difficult.

Each move we make varies. Intuitively I think many of us know this RAFT, we know that this RAFT is critical to take us over the sometimes calm, sometimes rocky, always unpredictable thing called ‘transition’. But to see it in print, validated and researched, gives many of us a life line to draw from, a method to keep us afloat.

How about you? Are you familiar with the acronym RAFT? How have you used it in the past? Are you in the middle of a move? How has it helped you transition? Join the conversation through the comments! 

Blogger’s Note: If you’ve not yet read the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds I highly recommend it. Full of practical information and both qualitative and quantitative research it is a tremendous resource for the transnational family.

“On Good Friday – A View from Above” at A Life Overseas

Today in the Christian Faith is a day we set aside. I recognize that many readers do not share the same truth claims and I am so grateful that you still come by and read! But today I am at A Life Overseas where I stop and reflect on some of what this means to me. I hope you’ll stop by! 

Bab ZuweilaTwin minarets

In the city of Cairo twin minarets stand tall, their silhouettes marked against a clear blue sky. They stand distinguishable from the thousand other minarets because of their fame as a city landmark. The minarets frame a gate still standing since the 11th century, the gate of Bab Zuweila. The minaret towers are so high that they were used to look out for enemy troops coming up to attack the city. Now, centuries later, the minarets of Bab Zuweila provide an unparalleled view of the old city of Cairo.

Climbing up the minarets is a journey. Around ancient steps you walk – farther and farther up, dizzy from the spiral and half frightened from the dark staircase. You make it to the first area where you go out and stand looking over the vast city of 18 million people. But you’re compelled to go farther. So on you go. And it gets more rickety and frightening, the centuries-old steps become even narrower and darker. You can see nothing and you are grasping on to the steps in front of you for fear of falling. But you keep going.

You arrive at the second level. And it’s even more magnificent than the first. To your right you see Al Azhar Park, significant for its large and beautiful green space in a city that has so little. In this 360 degree view you see vast numbers of minarets, you hear the call to prayer going off at split-second intervals across the city – a cacophony echoing around you. You see thousands of people, tiny as they go from bazaar to mosque to bus. You see the tent makers bazaar, making out the beautiful colors even from this distance.

It’s the view from above. And it is glorious, breath-taking and conversation stopping. But you can go even farther…..READ THE REST HERE! 

Bab Zuweila

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Finding My Niche in Development by Fred Perry

Today’s “Finding Your Niche” segment comes from a great friend and someone I admire deeply. Fred Perry was in high school in Cairo, Egypt when I first met him. He was attending Cairo American College and we first became friends with his parents. Fast forward several years and we ended up sitting at his house in Phoenix, a place where Fred and his wife temporarily set up a home, talking about our mutual love for the Middle East. We’ve been in and out of touch with Fred through the years but whether near or far we love watching two things continue to grow: his love for the world and his faith. Today he talks about how he came to the place where he works and lives today.

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How did I end up here? Doing this?

I am writing this blog entry on my fourteen-hour flight from Washington, D.C.  to Seoul, South Korea. After a two-hour layover I will continue to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma) for the fifth time this year and as part of the first academic partnerships between an American and Myanmar university in fifty years. Myanmar is part of a larger travel portfolio that I cover with my job at the Indiana University Institute for International Business, a center within the Kelley School of Business.

The journey has been anything but dull, full of twists and turns and unexpected opportunities. Currently I live in Bloomington, Indiana with my wife of fifteen years and two great kids (12 and 10). I am a child of global nomads who travelled the world and lived abroad before and after I came into the world. By the time I was twelve I had lived in six countries across four continents. After graduating from high school I was convinced my future included lifelong residence outside my passport country. Living and working in the US was never on my radar. I moved to the US for College in 1993 and the plan was to get my degree and head back to what I was familiar with, which could have been anywhere in the world other than the States.

The last seven years of my teen hood was spent in Cairo, Egypt, which very quickly became the place I identified as home.

I fell in love with Arab culture and people and had every intention of moving back long-term. However, meeting and falling in love with Angie, my wife-to-be was the beginning of an adventure that would take me back to the Middle East twice with a three-year layover in Phoenix, Arizona before we landed in Indiana almost eight years ago. Four continental moves, nine apartments and a couple of kids later, we were back where it all started for us. To complicate my third culture kid hangover, Angie was the first in her family to leave the US and while we loved our adventures as a young family abroad, she was drawn to life back in the US and I was drawn to the expat life. Every time we moved one of us felt pulled in the opposite direction and stretched in the environment we were in. All of it was preparing us for what was coming later.

We were living in Beirut, Lebanon when things really started to make sense for both of us. For a long time I did not feel like the skill sets I had acquired while living abroad and my love for the Arab world would ever be transferrable to the US. There were a number of influencers that both drew me closer to the Middle East and planted a seed for moving to back to Indiana where I thought I could share the insights I had gained on this complicated but beautiful region of the world. Shortly after we moved to Beirut in 2004, what had been mostly a fourteen-year calm came to an end with political assassinations, the Cedar Revolution and random bombings meant to incite division among the Lebanese. Having lived through the Iranian revolution, periods of unrest in the Egypt of the ‘80s and the tense transition from Hafez to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, there was something about living this history with the people of the Middle East that drew me in.

At the same time that my heart was being drawn into the Lebanese zeal for life in the midst of conflict, both Angie and I began to feel a peace about moving back to the US. I could not explain it and was not sure where it was going to lead.

With two young kids, my family still in Egypt and Angie’s in Indiana we felt it was time to be closer to her parents, to establish some roots and possibly for me to move in a different career direction after teaching for seven years. While I loved teaching internationally I had decided that if we returned to the US I would take advantage of the opportunity to get my Masters Degree in Middle East Studies and pursue a career that placed me in the midst of the people and culture that I loved. After two amazing years in Beirut we said goodbye to our new friends and community there and started our journey back to Indiana. Neither Angie nor I had a job waiting for us in Bloomington, but we experienced an incredible peace about moving back and had enough savings to hold us over for at least a few months.

Since moving to Indiana almost eight years ago a series of opportunities have led me to a place that I never imagined . . . living in a multicultural college town, close to family with a job that takes me all over the world working on exciting, value-added development projects promoting entrepreneurship and job creation. If you would have told me eight years ago that my pursuit of a Master’s degree at Indiana University and the experiences of my life abroad would prepare the way for me to work at a business school developing relationships and programs around the world, I would have said you were crazy.

Over the last four years in my job, I have been able to travel to eleven countries (many of them multiple times) and develop programs in seven of these with a team of colleagues who are passionate about making a positive impact in the developing world. While I often miss living abroad and wish that my family could be with me on the road more often, we have come to a place where we are settled to raise our family while I get to work in a place that keeps me connected to the world.

More about the author: Fred Perry joined the Kelley School of Business staff in 2009. As Associate Director for the Institute forInternational Business (IIB) he has been tasked with developing new and exciting internationalpartnerships for the Kelley School and managing their implementation. Having lived in eight countries, Fred is a third culture professional who has spent the majority of his life living abroad or working in aninternational field. In his current position, Fred travels extensively exploring ways to promote global entrepreneurship and economic development by leveraging the capacity of the Kelley School and IndianaUniversity. With regional expertise in the Middle East and North Africa, he brings a unique internationalperspective. His love and interest in other cultures has driven him to look for innovative ways to help bridge cultures and enrich the global character and involvement of the Kelley School of Business. You can check out his LinkedIn profile here.

 

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Guest Post – On Being a TCK

Today I get to introduce you to Becca Garber. The similarities between her life and mine are astounding (other than that she’s much younger than me and wiser than I was at her age!)  Becca and I met in Cambridge but quickly realized that we had both Pakistan and Egypt in common. We reconnected through blogging. Her post today is a great encouragement on how our lives as children prepare us for some of the things we face as adults. You can read more about Becca at the end of the post and head over to her blog where she will give you a glimpse into her life in Sicily and you will never want to leave! 

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The call came at 4:00 am on January 29th, 2011. I was sleeping in a tiny apartment in Washington, D.C., seven months pregnant with our first child.

Instantly awake, I picked up the phone.

“Becca! It’s me.”

My husband’s voice on the line flooded me with relief. “I just got a seat on the last commercial flight out of Cairo before they shut everything down. I’m coming home! There was only one seat left, and it was first class, so I’m coming home in style.”

That night—three years ago now—Elliott and I were in the middle of one long year apart because of his work as a veterinarian for the U.S. Army. He had been stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, but he was on his way back to the States for a conference when the Arab Spring burst from the cobblestones of Tahrir Square. He was at the airport in Cairo when the revolution kicked up a notch, and within a few hours the government cut all internet service in the city.

Although I will forever remember that night of nail-biting intensity, I realized now that I was uniquely prepared for it. As a third culture kid (TCK), the political uprising, the plane flight cancellations, and even the sudden lack of communication were not surprises to me. I could even picture where Elliott was sitting in the Cairo airport. I knew that airport well after visiting him a few months before, touring the city with my family a few years earlier, and even traveling in and out of the same airport as an infant.

Yes, my life as a TCK started early. I was born in Egypt while my dad was a student at the American University of Cairo. After grad school, he went on to work for an oil company that promised him international assignments. Thus continued my childhood overseas, a life I shared with brave parents, three siblings, and a spunky dog named Sona who went with us everywhere.

What parts of this childhood prepared me for challenging events in my adult life?

When Elliott was stuck in Cairo, no one really knew what was going on, where violence might erupt, and who could be caught in the groundswell. As a young child, I had a small taste of that same uncertainty while living in Pakistan in the mid-90s, just before Benazir Bhutto was overthrown.

One afternoon in particular stands out in my memory. My mom, siblings, and I were in Islamabad purchasing furniture for our new home. When we arrived at the final store we planned to visit that day, we had to slow down. Broken glass, branches, and rocks were scattered all over the road. Yet the scene was eerily quiet. As we drove through the wreckage, our eyes began to sting. Tear gas! We realized we’d missed a riot by about 10 minutes.

Flexibility is another skill that every TCK learns. I needed flexibility that night in D.C. as I pleaded on the phone with Delta to change my husband’s ticket, anticipated missing our wedding anniversary in two days, and finally fell asleep around 2am. All my plans were exhausted and all power out of my hands.

I acquired that flexibility and trust  in my childhood one summer when we were told we could never go home. I was about 12 years old, and we were visiting the States on vacation. We had lived in Islamabad for two years by then, and we loved it. However, the political situation had continued to simmer despite Benazir Bhutto’s ousting, and in the end my father’s company decided we could not go back. Instead, my mom and the four of us kids flew to Singapore to start a new life.

My dad returned briefly to our home and walked through the bedrooms, weeping at both the goodness of God to give us that life and at the prospect of leaving it behind. He gathered some belongings and took our dog back with him on a plane to Singapore. We would not see the rest of our physical possessions until we arrived at our new home in India a year and a half later.

One final lesson my childhood as a TCK taught me was to love other cultures. It has helped me to avoid approaching life with an “us vs. them” mentality. In the midst of the Arab Spring, even though I worried about my husband’s safety, I was still thrilled at the boldness at the Egyptian people. I cheered them on to victory, peace, and prosperity, despite the miles between us.

My brief experiences in Egypt—as a baby, a child, and an adult—all left me with a love for the country and the people. I had tasted the waters of the Nile, as they say, and I would always come back. I feel the same ties to every country I’ve lived in, from America to Australia, Italy to India, Poland to Pakistan. I’ve eaten the food, drunk the water, walked the streets, feasted on the sights, and suffered through the summers alongside the people of these diverse nations. Their stories are part of my story.

As I write this, all is quiet in our house in Sicily. Our two children are sleeping, and the first member of our inevitable menagerie, a Maine Coon named Siena, purrs nearby. In six months our assignment in Italy will end, and we’re beginning to look ahead to our next adventure.  What sights, streets, and summers await us there? With a little flexibility and a lot of love, I’m ready to find out.

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Read more on Becca’s blog, where she writes about living in the shadow of a Sicilian medieval castle with her husband (a veterinarian in the military) and two young children. Becca loves living in Italy, reading with her children, blood oranges, bluegrass concerts, ICU nursing, knitting, and that all-too-brief period of time every night between her kids’ bedtime and her own.   One day she hopes to write a novel, live on a farm, work as a nurse in another culture, and maybe – if she’s really brave – have more kids.

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Remembering “The Square”

On Friday night we watched the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Square (Al Midan). This movie captures what happened in Egypt from a few weeks before the momentous ousting of Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011 through this past summer.

“Let me tell you how this story began….It began with a group of brave, young Egyptians battling injustice, corruption, poverty.” Ahmed Hassan

Tahrir Square, in the center of Cairo is the place that became the epicenter for all the events leading up to Mubarak’s downfall. It represents to the world the fight for freedom and democracy as hoped and fought for by the Egyptian people. The title of the movie is fitting as nothing captures the spirit of this time more than Tahrir Square.

The movie follows Ahmed – the 20 year old who has known the streets of Cairo since he sold lemons as a little boy and realistically represents the youth of Egypt; Magdy – a family man who identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood and goes to Tahrir Square day after day to watch change happen; and Khalid – a movie star who has been living in England but comes back to Cairo to participate in the change he knows is coming. Initially the movie shows a people united at the ousting of Mubarak, ready for a new day in Egypt. But the story moves forward and divisions arise, an army the people trusted turns on them, hope turns to despair. But Ahmed, Magdy, and Khalid continue coming to Tahrir Square – their differences obvious, their desire to see change united.

The documentary vividly captures the crowds, the masses of people — men, women, and children shouting “Al-Horreya!’ (Freedom!), the tension between the people and the army, talking heads on state-sponsored television. Throughout the film we were immersed in crowds and chaos, anger and joy, hope and despair.

But for us, watching the movie was personal.

Tahrir is a familiar place for all of us from the seven years we lived in Egypt, but it is even more familiar for our daughter. For three years, from September 2009 through September 2012 she lived in Cairo. She was in graduate school at the American University in Cairo and lived just two blocks from Tahrir Square. She has friends and acquaintances featured in the movie and this was her world. It was this I couldn’t get out of my mind on Friday night. These were her friends, this was her neighborhood, whatever was happening on any given day affected her going out, affected where she ate, who she was with. She lived, breathed, slept what I only briefly experienced while visiting her and then watched in a movie. It was a powerful and difficult film to watch.

It has now been three years, and Egypt still faces massive challenges. As we remember this day, 3 years ago, I ask you to read these words of an Egyptian friend from a news email written on January 9:

As we begin 2014 the biggest concern of most Egyptians is whether or not they, individually and as a nation, can afford the price of the new “democracy” which was achieved by our “Revolution”!

In January 2011, when Egyptians in large numbers toppled the government by protesting against the autocratic rule of the Mubarak regime, there was hope that the country would become truly democratic. We dreamed of a nation where everyone could freely express his or her perspectives and opinions and yet also work together in harmonious tolerance.

This dream was quickly crushed when the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) took over the government and imposed what increasingly resembled religious theocracy. When that regime was ousted by popular demand last summer, there was new hope that the dreams we’d had during the Revolution would finally be realized.

Unfortunately, since the dispersal of the MB’s 48 day sit-ins on August 14, 2013, disruption of daily life and violence on the streets has become a normal part of Egyptian life.  We often hear of people wounded or killed in clashes between MB supporters and the police, the army or angry civilians who want to live a normal life. In an attempt to restore peace on the street, the government’s aggressive response to continued MB disruptions sadly seems to create more violence rather than less.

As we prepare for a national referendum on a new Constitution, the violence continues in an attempt to intimidate the general population and scare them from going to the polls on January 14 and 15.

Having just celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, Christians in Egypt yearn for that elusive peace in their hearts and in the country as a whole.” from Ramez Atallah 

Tomorrow marks the 3 year anniversary of events that happened on January 25th when the people of Egypt came together to demand more. I’ll end the post with more words from Ramez: “Pray with us to know creative ways to better reflect what the Prince of Peace would say to Egypt.”

I highly recommend the documentary. To watch a preview click on this link: The Square

All photos were taken on our trip to Egypt in December 2011. Gas MaskCairo, Egypt, Islam, MinaretTahrir SquareMore graffitisunset from the roofFriday Tahrir 2Boys with peace signWe three kingsGas mask graffiti 3eyepatch graffiti 2January 25th Revolution

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On Sun-Drenched Elsewheres

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“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
Isabelle Eberhardt

I wake early on the off chance that there will be a snow day and the ‘non-essential’ personnel can stay home. I look out the window and my answer is there in the small amount of snow that has accumulated overnight. Hot coffee in hand, I sit in the couch by the window, a warm blanket tucked around me.

And I dream of my sun-drenched elsewheres. 

I’m sitting on the verandah at the Holland Bungalow, that big, old building designed for visiting medical staff to come for months at a time while they set up eye camps in Shikarpur and other nearby villages. It’s late afternoon in the winter and the sun is making shadows through the dusty screen. I am a teenager and am plucking out mournful songs on my guitar. The three chords I know are used over and over (and over) again. What I lack in guitar-playing skill I make up for with my voice, which is better than average. I am utterly content in that moment on that verandah. Soon we will have strong, sweet, tea in the garden, dipping sugar-covered Nice Biscuits into the steaming hot drink.

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Fast forward and I am on Marty’s balcony in Cairo. It’s early spring in Cairo and Jacaranda trees are blooming everywhere. The weather is perfect covering up the fact that this is a city with pollution problems. I’m waiting on the balcony while Marty makes coffee. We meet regularly on her balcony — it is the safe space for me and many others. Marty has that ability to ask questions and get to the heart of what is going on. I love this city and I love this balcony. I love that the sun beats down and warmth envelopes my body.

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Several years later I am in Phoenix, Arizona. Our beautiful yard faces the desert and the patio is perfect for resting and dreaming. The bright, blue water of our pool reflects sunlight and all is calm. I see a bunny running across the yard to hide in the Bougainvillea bushes. My children will be home from school soon but I have this moment of sun-drenched peace and contentment. I love my yard and I love the sun.

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It is this past summer and I am walking toward the ocean. The rocky coast is in front of me, and a sunset that defies description lights up the sky. The whole world is bathed in golden color. Ahead of me a sheet hung on a clothesline to dry waves in the breeze, a perfect picture of nostalgia, better still saudade – that poignant longing for what no longer exists.

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I give in to the deep longing I feel for just a moment, allowing myself the space to remember. Because there can be strength in remembering. 

Time to leave this dreaming of mine. The clock is ticking and my bus comes soon.

As I pull on sturdy boots over my thick socks I recognize that I’m not discontent, and I don’t dread the day.  But taking the trip back in time to sun-drenched elsewheres was a gift for me this day.

Where are your sun-drenched elsewheres? Do you allow yourself to have moments of longing or do you push them away for fear they will paralyze you? 

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Books and My Moral Dilemma

English: All 24 John Griham novels as of June ...

I remember the first time I did it. You do it once and you can never go back.

It was a John Grisham novel – The Firm. We were living in Cairo and my husband was traveling. I had little kids — four at the time. I had bathed, storied, and kissed them and as I passed bedrooms I could hear their soft, rhythmic, innocent breathing.

This was My time.

I lay in bed and picked up the book. The only reason I hadn’t read during the day was time. And now I had time.

I began reading. And I read, and I read, and I read some more. I was deeper and deeper into the novel. I knew it was late but I avoided the clock. When I finally looked, it was already 2 in the morning. I knew I had to go to sleep. But I also had to know the end. I had to. I couldn’t stay up reading — I was single parenting, making sure four children were where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there. But I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t know what happened. Would the lawyer and his wife make it?

It was a moral dilemma. I knew that ‘real book lovers’ don’t read the end of books. I knew it was a moral code that could mark me for a long time.

So I did the unthinkable – I skipped to the end. I read the end of the book.

Even now I feel the shame of it, the magnitude of that one act, that one time. Because I knew if I could do it once – I’d do it again. And maybe again. And then maybe I’d do it one more time…..

I would be whispered about and bear the shame and humiliation of being one of ‘those’ people, one who reads the end of books. “Who does that? Who reads the end of books?” would be the conversation and I would shake my head and say “I don’t know! Who does that?” While inside I would hang my head and pray they never found out.

What about you? Have you ever skipped to the end of a book? Did you break the unspoken law of book reading? Tell all through the comments.

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Readers – Today Communicating Across Boundaries celebrates 1000 posts! You helped this milestone happen by reading, contributing guest posts, and interacting with pieces that you read, posts that resonated in your heart and soul. Thank you! Here’s to 1000 more! (If blogging even continues as a ‘thing’, right?!)

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