What I Want You to Know is a series of
reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their
personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the
unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to
this series,
click here. Today’s guest posts is by Vesna.

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I was nine when a war broke out in my
country. For those first nine years of my life, my childhood was your
middle-class picture-perfect: my parents had good jobs, I played with my
friends, I had piano lessons and dance classes, was spoiled with Barbie
dolls, we took long walks with our dog, we travelled for vacations etc.
However, when the political issues in our country turned into an armed
conflict, even though our city was spared of the fighting, our lives
still turned upside down.

You see, we were the only branch of our
extended family who lived in that safe city, and soon family members and
my parents’ old friends started escaping their homes in more dangerous
areas and looking for shelter. Our guests mostly didn’t stay long, they
were applying to refugee associations, moving to other countries, just
waiting for visas. Over three and a half years, approximately 70 people
came and went through our home. You may not believe it, but even though
the circumstances were abhorrent, and many of these people had
experienced horrible things, our living situation was actually pleasant,
with everyone pulling together and living as some sort of commune.

There
was one person who stayed longest and made the most lasting impression
on my life – a girl, Sally, only four months younger than I am. Her
parents, good friends with mine, sent Sally to stay with us as soon as
things got dicey and since their home town was soon besieged, they were
not able to leave themselves. By the time they managed to escape and get
their visas for a new life, Sally had stayed with me and my parents for
two and a half years.

Sally is also an only child and having two
prepubescent girls suddenly learning to share a room, toys, friends and
everything else must not have been easy for my parents. As life does not
just stop when things get difficult, our ordinary lives were
continuing. My parents were still working, Sally and I were going to
school, chores needed to be done and dogs needed to be walked. My
parents treated Sally as part of the family – with all the perks and
obligations. By their example, so did I, and we were soon truly living
as sisters. At her desire, Sally also attended piano lessons and dance
classes, we shared the responsibility of cleaning our room, we played
together (and soon the playtime was replaced by daydreaming about our
first crushes), we were cuddled and hugged, and expected to always
finish our homework (my parents had always placed great importance on
knowledge and learning).

When Sally left and her family started a new
life in a far away country, we still maintained a strong bond (and she
still refers to me as her “sister-friend”). Eleven years later, when she
finished her master’s degree, she came to visit us. My father smiled
broadly and with tears in his eyes raised a toast to the first of their
children with a master’s degree. And then she showed us that her thesis
had been selected for publication and she dedicated it to my parents, to
“the home where learning came first”.

What I took from all this is
that you never know what life is going to throw at you. The way my
parents handled this, with extreme kindness, compassion and grace, is an
example of character I can only strive to achieve. Moreover, in their
role as my parents, they did all this while still ensuring that my
childhood memories are maybe different than other people’s, but still
mostly wonderful – and as she tells me, the same goes for Sally. This is
what I learned – if I’m ever in a difficult situation (hopefully
nothing this extreme!), the way I handle it will completely affect the
way my children handle it. Since my parents kept up the routine, the
normality and all our values throughout this chaos, I think this just
strengthened my hold on the world, instead of pulling the rug out from
under me. And this is why my parents are also my heroes.