“This doesn’t look like the picture on the website,” I said to myself when I pulled into the hostel, my heart sinking. The nondescript, white frame house needed paint and renovation. What will it be like here, I wondered and thought of the next three days.
From the exterior, this hostel was less impressive than the ones I’d stayed in on Martha’s Vineyard and the San Juan Islands. Doubt was creeping in. Then, that still small voice of counsel came to me, “Don’t compare. Just accept this place for what it has to offer.”
Wonder what you’ll teach me here, God, I thought.
I followed the manager on her tour of the facility. There were guests in the living area with huge backpacks, folks who were taking a break from the Appalachian Trail that was close by.
Outside, there were two men and a woman– probably in their late twenties, dressed in bathing suits, packing inner tubes into the back of their SUV. Must be heading for the river, I thought, since the Shenandoah and Potomac converged in Harper’s Ferry. That evening, I met one of the men in the hostel kitchen. He sat at the table while I stood nearby at the counter and prepared my dinner. He was friendly and told me he and the other two traveling companions lived in the New York City area.
“I’m actually a Youth Pastor, and those kids were getting to me,” he said. He wore a tank top and his upper arm was covered in tattoos– crosses and scripture.
“Yeah, working with teenagers is very challenging,” I responded. “I’m a middle school nurse and I definitely have times of feeling burned out.”
He told me about taking them on a retreat and one pulling a stupid prank that sent them to the ER.
“Sounds typical,” I responded. “Kids that age look up to you. I’m sure you’re making a difference in their lives.”
The next day, I rode my bike along the C & O Canal Tow Path and visited a train museum. The volunteer, a retired railroad worker, explained the exhibit with such passion. Later our conversation moved to dealing with dementia– his wife and my mother.
That night at the hostel, I saw the Youth Pastor who smiled and said he’d had a relaxing day on the river—the water refreshing him.
A family with three young children came in with sushi and a birthday cake to celebrate the youngest child turning six. The mother’s head was shaved. I felt like I’d been ‘gut-punched,’ immediately assuming she had cancer, recalling my shock when I was told I had cancer.
Later, when we talked, she explained that she took her three kids out of New York City each summer to section hike the Appalachian Trail. Her husband met them along the way. She’d shaved her head to make it easier.
“I think you’re very brave to hike with your children,” I told her. “Especially being the only parent. ”
She asked me how I started taking my journeys. When I responded they had followed a toxic job and breast cancer, she looked concerned.
“I have a friend with breast cancer. And I’m so afraid I’ll have it,” she told me. “How did you handle it?”
We talked for a while and I told her about my treatment and how much I’d depended on God, and how it had eventually made me stronger. When we ended our conversation, she took my hand and said, “You are very brave.”
When I left the hostel, I remembered how I’d initially judged it by it’s exterior. But after three days, I saw that the interior of it was a mansion, with rich conversations and colorful people that weren’t in need of fixing up.
What about You?
Have you had an experience where your initial impression was totally changed by what you later discovered?
How did that alter how you approach new situations?