A few days ago while at work, a friendly young man came to set up a printer.  This was James’ second visit.  The previous afternoon he analyzed the problem: “the thing’s busted,” he tells me, his arms crossing his chest in apology.  Eager to please, James actually installed the new printer without my knowing it.  He strode into the conference room where I sat helping a colleague fold campaign pamphlets for a large mailing. “You’re good to go Nancy,” he announces with puckish pride.

Because the simplest technology intimidates me, I decided to head back to my office with James to test the printer myself.  Sure enough, it stalled.  As he began to tinker with the settings, I felt I should make polite conversation. “Where are you from?” I asked, curious about his accent.

“Scotland,” he answers. I tried to picture him in a plaid kilt but couldn’t.

A relative newcomer to Denver, I wanted to know what brought him here.  “A woman,” he says heavily, his eyes darting down at the floor.  Obviously, James had “a story” and he told it to me quickly.  “My family disowned me because I left our small village of Ardrossan.  It’s a cardinal sin to leave a place like that but I wanted more. I met a woman here in the U.S. and we were married for eight years before she dumped me on my 40thbirthday.”

Gulp!

“Are you sure your parents have disowned you?” I asked in a soft voice. It seemed incredulous to me.

“I called my mum to tell her we separated and she said, I told you so.”

Hmmm.  Not your everyday corporate chatter.

I looked at James and felt a rush of sorrow for this young man who left his family and homeland to make a new life here in Colorado.  Things didn’t work according to his plan (it happens, we all know), so he now stands alone. I cannot begin to understand parents turning their backs on children who want to claim a different life.  What if my parents shunned me after I left the East Coast for Denver three years ago? The answer would unleash a whole lot of “I wouldn’t have’s”…starting with I wouldn’t have met my husband and found a life partner whom I love and adore and who loves and adores me and my young children. I can’t imagine not living near these gorgeous mountains any easier than I can visualize staying stuck in New York, which is the way it felt.

Here’s what I really think: with all the random, awful things that can and will crop up in life, why allow space for misunderstandings to divide those that we love?  Every family has its darkness and no doubt, some situations shouldn’t be trespassed upon. But for the most part, I think choosing differently frees us.

“James, you be the big one here,” I encouraged him in motherly fashion.  “Life is too short to waste living regretfully.”

He’s thinking about making a surprise visit to see his family over Christmas. He hasn’t seen them in 10 years.   “If my mum sees me in person, she’ll have a harder time turning me away,” says James.

I hope he makes the trip.

Regardless, I’m glad he gave me his direct line for technical support. I’ll need it.

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