Day 84: Finding my way by the footsteps of others…

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Muhammad Ali

 

 

I have spent a long couple of days and shed a few hundred tears as I listened to my Dad’s tapes. Yes, the Kleenex box has been my close friend and Jet, my faithful dog, is exhausted trying to figure out why it is that I have been so emotional.

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I have come to the realization that before I share my Dad’s story with the world, I need to do some in-depth research to try to fill in some holes that help bridge his story better.  And yet, when I think about the totality of all that will be shared, I come to the conclusion that his story deserves more than a blog mention.  No, his courageous life as a child soldier fighting against pure evil demands the respect of more than just a couple of days of this shy and sheltered girl’s attention.  The tapes alone have stories that made my heart sink and my great respect and admiration soar.  I can’t believe he kept these secrets to himself for his entire adult life.  So until I can do proper justice to my father’s incredible story, I want to share someone else’s story of courage and strength.

Similar to my Dad, Malala is just a child, wanting a simple life filled with joy and possibilities.  And then one day….

 

 

When I was younger, my father was adamant that his children, especially his girls, get the best education possible.  He insisted that we work tirelessly on writing, reading, and doing math…even during summer breaks…  I wondered so often what drove my Dad’s determination, bordering on obsession, for having his girls working so hard… Today, I understand why.

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There are evil people who do not believe that girls have the right to be the best they can be. There is true evil in this world, disguised and shrouded in a self-made theory that one sex is dominant over the other.  This limited thinking is ignorance that imprisons so many unfortunate children in this world.  Make no mistake; this short-sightedness is not bound to just one country or one culture.  There are many cultures that view women as second class citizens, who have limited rights, if any.

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I sat in my chair for just a moment and tried to place myself in a position in one such culture. Where freedom does not exist, opportunity for women is not spoken of, and the value of individual thought could never be contributed to family or society.  I gasped at the thought of being subjugated to such a life.  I would rather die than be imprisoned in such a way!  Yet, I am fortunate… I am lucky…. I am free!  I have free access to education, to speak my mind, to read whatever I choose, to wear whatever I want, to feel pleasure without criticism, to be who I want to be!

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Malala is on a mission to share with the world how invaluable education is, but more importantly that equality is what allows all of us to succeed. The blending of ideas can improve life around the world and increase respect so that we can have the experiences that we were meant to have.  Life is about living… it is about enjoying every opportunity that is presented… it is about reaching to be the best, to do the most, to contribute, to help others, to care for others… to be brave and say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done, without fear of losing one’s own life for the sake of honesty and the hope for improvement.

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Yes, there are times when discretion is the better part of valor, but when facing evil, only the truth will set you free!!!  Malala rightfully received the Nobel Peace Prize several weeks ago for having the strength, perseverance and bravery to face evil and say what needed to be said.  Human life is no less valuable whatever the sex, religion, race, culture or other defining factor happens to be.  We ALL deserve the right to a basic education, to live freely and be the best people we can be!  We have the right to question what we think is not right.  Engaging in discussion helps us grow in our thoughts and tolerance of the differing views we all hold.  Our perspective is acquired through our life experiences.  We value things differently according to the challenges that we face.  We have a responsibility to the generations that follow to leave a map of the trails that have been blazed and the battles that have been fought.  My father, and Malala, remind us that there is a price for liberty.  It is through bravery and courage that we remember the value of freedom… of opportunity… of our rights…

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My Dad was just a child when he met evil face-to-face. He was given a choice to flee or fight.  Malala is just a child who was given the choice to take a stand or submit to evil.  All she knew was that every human being regardless of gender deserves the right to an education so that they can have the opportunity to be successful.  Two children, generations apart, courage ingrained in their DNA, repressed by evil, but surviving by speaking the truth and standing up to oppression.

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If Malala had not survived, her efforts to change the world would have ceased and evil would have won.  The U.N. has declared  November 10th as “Malala Day”, a day reserved to spread awareness of girls rights to education.  Speak loudly, with your words on social media and other avenues.  We, in the U.S., have the right to say to other nations that each human must be treated equally.  Yet, it took a child being shot in the head for that message to resonate.  No, the inequality may not affect our lives directly, but this same branch of evil is part of the root system of hate that took our servicemen in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, Somalia, and the very sad days of 9/11, to mention just a few.  The group has morphed but the evil and intent to terrorize, harm and kill, still remains.  Free people have a right and responsibility to proclaim that freedom and liberty should be for everyone, in every country, culture and home across this great planet.

I will continue with my personal Quest because I need to grow and learn from others, I need to be stronger, braver and use my voice for a purpose much greater than myself.  What I continue to learn on this quest, I feel an obligation to share with others.  The lessons so far have been eye-opening… there are days when I can’t remember the person I use to be… And yet, every day I wake up with a sense of euphoria and wonder where the road will take me.

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Today, I was faced with a fork in the road. I could take the easy route and summarize my Dad’s amazing struggle and bravery in just a couple of posts… or take my time and pay him the tribute he very much deserves, not knowing how long that road might be or where it will take me.  So, I will continue my year-long Quest for courage and simultaneously work on composing the words that tell of the footsteps my Dad left behind.  I plan to present that composition at the end of my Quest to all those interested and curious about what real courage looks like.

With a great sense of gratitude for Malala and her difficult but highly regarded mission in life, having faced a fork in the road and choosing the more difficult route in an effort to say what needs to be said, feeling more focused than before and always appreciating the freedom to simply write, the freedom of which so many have given their lives for me to be able to do…. Wondering with great excitement what tomorrow will bring…

Day 83: A Voice from Beyond…

“My Dad gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person.  He believed in me.”

-Jim Valvano

  To move forward, I have to go back 75 years.

I have to admit, I have procrastinated with this Quest… not because I wanted to, but because it is the start of what this Quest is really about… Courage.   In the last 80 adventures, I have taken time to explore my life by doing things I have never done and felt compelled to experience.  All of these adventures, and there will be more, have allowed me to strengthen my spirit and find my voice. Yet, the real work with this quest is just beginning.

It was a Friday afternoon and it was time to do what I had been dreading for months. I went to my safe and slid the key inside the lock and ever-so-carefully turned the key.   With a heavy sigh, I opened the safe.  I retrieved the bag of tapes and the small tape recorder that was positioned in the middle of the space. I sat for just a moment and looked at the small cassette tapes labeled, “George”.  My brow was furrowed and I felt frozen with a bit of fear.  I closed my eyes and felt a shiver as I could almost hear my Dad’s voice emanating from these tiny little cases.  My Dad passed away not long ago and yet these tapes were made about 10 years ago. The tapes were made to record his life.  Until his words were recorded, my Dad revealed very few details about his life growing up.  His intention was to protect his family from the harsh stories he didn’t think his children should know about.  Through a little convincing, some compassion and a serious curiosity, my Dad agreed to reveal his story with the understanding that it would remain secret until his passing.

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The tapes were made and placed in storage for safe keeping. I gently held the tapes now as if they were some priceless piece of gold that I refused to part with.  I closed the safe and placed the key in its rightful place. I had the urge to take these tapes to a quiet place, one that would calm my emotion and allow me to feel however I would when I pressed that “play” button.  It was chilly at the lake, so I wore my jeans, a long-sleeve top and my black sweater.

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I left my hair down because my Dad would remark every now and again how pretty he thought I was when I didn’t have it tied up.  I packed a snack and a drink in my bag and I slipped on my flip-flops and made my way to my self-described outdoor office at the lake.

 

As often as I spend time at this blue gem in the mountains, this was the first time that I felt conflicted about going. I did not like the task at hand.  I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be hearing his voice. I missed him so much and this only made my emotions feel stronger.  As I drove up the mountain, I could see the sun peek through the golden aspen leaves. I was gifted with a rich and warm view, almost as if it were meant to take the worry away to focus on something simply stunning.

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Before I knew it, I had made my way to Carnelian Bay. In the distance sat a picnic table that I have declared to be my point of inspiration.  It sits nestled in a grove of aspen trees protected from the wind with a view that is always remarkable.

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The trees along the trail to the beach welcomed me with their warm glow.  I walked cautiously, methodically, and distracted with hesitation as I feared what was to come.  As I walked, the view of the water seemed to soothe my spirit as if to say, “No worries, this is a journey many never get to do…”  I thought about those words that my heart spoke… and yes, I get the opportunity to listen to my Dad speak again.  It may be difficult, but it is a privilege and one he chose only me to have.  I sat at the picnic table and fought back the tears of loss.  The breeze picked up and I could hear the last of the aspen leaves as they quaked in the wind.  I reached for the bag with the tapes and recorder and set them on the table as if to hope that they would play themselves.  I questioned myself, “Am I really ready to hear his voice again?  Can I handle this challenge?”  Deep sigh…  I suddenly felt this overwhelming feeling of not being alone.  I felt as if there was someone next to me perhaps even encouraging me…  I found myself in a trance-like state reaching for the first tape and robotically placing it in the tape recorder.  I hesitated for only a moment, afraid of what I would hear, and then carefully and with only one finger, I pressed “play”.

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Within just 20 seconds of pressing play, I felt a flood of emotion that I had a hard time fighting back…. I could hear the TV in the background as my Dad always had news channels playing… I could hear him joke as he so often did… I could hear that unmistakable voice with a thick Serbian accent, but his English as articulate as it could be…. I was confused as it felt as if he was sitting at the table with me and we were speaking to each other again.  I stopped the tape and had to reconcile all these emotions.

 

tp23He knew when these tapes were made that this day would eventually arrive. When these tapes were made, I didn’t think this day would ever come.  What juxtaposition.    This is the harsh lesson that our mortality teaches us, I suppose.  I kept thinking, “It doesn’t feel like he is gone… I feel like he is always with me… Why do I possess such sadness?”  And as if the wind had changed direction, the answer came to me in a flurry… He is with me on this Quest. It’s as much about him as it is about me.  And the realization that he might be gone as soon as this Quest ends had me suddenly feeling a real sense of loss and reality.  I had closure with my Dad before his passing, but I never did grieve like most would.  I know what it is to grieve; I did so when my Grandmother passed.  This time, I didn’t… I haven’t… I can’t… He is all around me… He is so much a part of this journey.  I am not sure if that is good or bad, but I know that there are moments I can’t rationally explain.  I have been taken down roads and had experiences that could not have happened by coincidence.

Before my Dad passed he knew I had dreams and goals to fulfill… He also knew that I needed to grow into the person he knew I was capable of being.  He knew that I derived my strength from him.  He knew there would come a day when this shy and sheltered girl would have to face her fears, find her strength and say and do what needed to be done.  He knew that his story and legacy would be the bridge to letting go and helping others.  He was a modest man and knew the only way this mission would be accomplished is with his spirit no longer here.

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I wiped away the tears and straightened my back, and thought about what it means to share his story. I drew strength, direction and courage from his story. I have been gifted with the responsibility to share his story with the world.  I am not a master with words.  I am not an acclaimed author.  I am not a motivational speaker.  I am not a religious leader.  I am not a writer for a magazine or newspaper.  No, I am a shy and sheltered girl who was trusted to hear the words of a brave man. I was meant to learn from the lessons he endured, and share his message so that we can all remember what it means to do and say what needs to be done.  Now, more than ever, we all need to learn from courageous stories like my Dad’s for the sake of everything that is just and right.

After reminding myself of the mission, a smile emerged just like when I was little girl and my Dad would try to make me smile when I was having a bad day… I shook my head because it just seemed so apropos!   I then took a deep breath.  With a sense of confidence and purpose, I reached with some excitement for the tape recorder.  Yes, this time I was eager to hear my Dad’s voice as if it were the only thing I needed to keep me smiling…

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There on the shores of Lake Tahoe, one sunny Friday afternoon, at a picnic bench shared with someone I couldn’t see but knew was there, this girl listened to the words her father once spoke. The words and the sound were as if they were recorded yesterday.  The glow of the aspens began to dim when the first tape had been finished.  The sun had disappeared behind the new clouds that had emerged and the winds had begun to pick up. The warmth of the day had faded and it was clear that the first part of this quest was done.  Two more tapes remained to be listened to and still some research needed to be done.  With that, I packed up my bag and as I walked away, I looked at the picnic bench as if I felt compelled to say “Goodbye”.  I lowered my head and made my way back up the path from the beach to my car.

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As I drove away and made my way down the mountain, my Dad’s voice was ever-present in my mind as if there was more that needed to be said. I openly said just in case he could hear, “I miss you Dad… more now than ever before.” And just as the last words escaped my soft lips, I saw an overlook quickly approaching and felt once again compelled to stop.

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There are usually many cars at this spot and I was shocked to see that I was the only one.  I grabbed my camera and stepped out of the car and walked to the cliff’s edge.  I looked out over Lake Tahoe, and I stood in awe at the view I was given.  The clouds were slowly dancing as if performing a delicate ballet. The sun began to peek through the clouds and highlight the north end of the lake where I had just left.  I clicked away to capture this heavenly ray, and then just stood to watch as the sun took cover in the clouds once again.  I waited to see if it would re-emerge. I quickly realized that I saw what needed to be seen.  I turned around and three cars just then pulled in… I softly whispered, “Thank you for that.”

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As I stepped into the car, I suddenly remembered a quote I had just come across, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in; their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

It was in that moment that I suddenly remembered that my Dad may be gone from this earth, but I am still here with a purpose, mission and responsibility to share an important message. If it hadn’t been for his passing, this girl would still be this shy and sheltered spirit… No, I have made the choice to accept this challenge.  With “All of my” strength, I will use the light from within to help others find their way to say and do what needs to be done, just as my Dad had chosen to do at the tender age of just 14.

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Having had the courage to listen to my Dad speak from beyond this world, appreciating the precious gift he left behind and now understanding that I will no longer have him to lend his power to help this girl accomplish her goals…. It is understood and accepted that I will use my own strength to share this important message.

Feeling empowered, stronger, and humbled that this is what I was chosen to do… I will do my best to carefully construct the words that tell your amazing story and message, Dad! Looking to the past and wondering what tomorrow will bring…

Publishing Pause

“Sometimes things aren’t clear right away. That’s where you need to be patient and persevere and see where things lead.”

Mary Pierce

 

 

I ask all those that read this blog to be patient with me as I am trying to form the words for the next part of this Quest.  In order for me to do so, I need to step back and listen to the wise words spoken by a courageous man who once walked hand-in-hand with me many years ago.  He no longer is with me physically, but his amazing story, in his own words, resides on tape… hearing his voice again after his passing not so long ago, will be a difficult Quest to take on.

Yes, this is where this shy and sheltered girl straightens her back, focuses her mind and does the very thing she is scared to do…. motivated by remembering his words of wisdom: to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done, to be courageous in the face of fear…

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Readying myself to listen to the words spoken from beyond the grave… Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

Day 82: Blazing trails…

“It’s the way you ride the trail that counts.”

-Dale Evans

 

 

I woke up bright and early and this time, I had no trouble escaping my warm little nest. I knew that the quicker I completed my work obligations I would be hitting the open road and embracing the change that nature was offering as a perfect transition to the new part of this quest!  Yes, Fall was beckoning me to blaze some trails, get lost out on the open road and let nature surprise me with an unplanned adventure.

I had a couple of cups of eye-opening java onboard and I was flying through my work. The sun had risen and my mind was beginning to wander to where it was that my heart was being called to explore.    It has been a difficult week challenging my spirit to transition to this new part of the Quest.  So much so, that the writing had stopped, the Quests had ceased and my compass seemed uncalibrated.  Several days have gotten away from me with not even a thought of how to re-center myself.  Several times I have opened my writing program to begin to write and all those times I have simply closed the program being left confounded and confused.  For the next step of this mission, it is vital that I get the message right.  It is about having the courage to say what needs to be said… but did I possess that level of bravery?

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Words are powerful tools… they can carry unintended emotion when simply read and not spoken. They can make you laugh, cry, smile, care, feel, sense, know, understand, feel angry, disagreeable, and yes, even make you feel misunderstood.  The meaning of the message can be lost in letters that are read in an entirely different way than they were ever intended.  POWERFUL, are the words written and spoken!

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With this understanding, I had to take a week away and think long and hard about the words I wanted to give myself permission to use for the messages I think need to be sent. It has been almost a week of not writing and I was able to look back through my pictures in the last Quest to see where I have been so I knew where I need to go.  And sometimes the path we want to go down is not the path we need to go down.  Sometimes we need to walk in the valley of darkness to find the light.  Yes, that is what this shy and sheltered girl needs to do for the next part of her quest.  It all seems quite vague right now, but I assure you there is a message that needs to be shared very carefully.

I looked out my window in my office and I could hear the Aspens speaking. They quaked as the wind came through and their golden leaves echoed a calling to let my spirit travel down a road that would show me it is okay to get lost every now and again, because I do have the power to find my way.  I sat for a minute as I knew what I needed to do.  I was being called to go on a Quest to blaze a new trail, center my spirit so that “hopefully” the words could flow again.  The decision was made, I grabbed a couple of snacks, some water, a light grey sweater, my camera, and asked that Siri lead the way to a place that I was told had amazing Fall color and the name was neither coincidence nor happenstance, “Hope Valley.”

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Siri led the way, at least until we reached the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains at which point I lost all cell and internet coverage. I had traveled this road once before on my way to Caples Lake for the adventure of the naked kind.  I had stopped along the way at a creek but that is all I remember as my mind was in other places that day for obvious reasons.

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Today, I was meant to take in every single tree, twist in the road, follow the sun and try to get lost and hopefully found.   As I began my way through the valley, I had tall mountains on both sides and the Carson River ran right next to the road. There, in the mid-day sun, were aspens completely ablaze with yellow emanating from every leaf.  The leaves that had fallen danced along the road as the cars drove by.  Every 200 ft I found myself pulling over to take pictures as the views were something I would only see in a book of Fall color.  Then, as if my camera had turned itself off intentionally, I stepped into my car and headed as far West as I possibly could with no idea where that would take me or even why.

 

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I drove past Caples Lake, past Silver lake on the old Kit Carson Trail on the edge of a mountain with no guard rail to console me and then through Amador county, the most desolate county in the state of California. I felt like Forest Gump, just driving as far as I could in search of something and not knowing exactly what that might be.  When suddenly, just as I was starting to question myself, I saw the sign for an overlook and I felt compelled to pull over and see what it was that was off in the distance.

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I stepped out of the car and it was a cool 64 degrees.  I pulled my sweater close to keep the chill of the wind away, and walked to the edge of the mountain and looked at an incredible view of forest and rock… forest and rock… forest and rock…  I stood and thought about this site, “What makes it a site?”  The fact that I was standing at the edge of an 8000 ft mountain with a +2000 ft drop?  Or was it that as far as the eye could see there was a vast and open forest with more trees and rocks than I could imagine?  Yes, I thought the vastness of this desolate forest was what needed to be appreciated, but the risk to enjoy the view was where courage needed to come from.  Kit Carson, who explored and discovered this route, never stopped to think about whether he and his envoy had the courage to cross this rugged terrain to get to the land they so desired.  No, they fought through the toughest conditions.  On their expedition they were stuck in a snowstorm that should have taken all of their lives, but Kit had intense and astounding survival skills that allowed them to survive and even their mule lived through the fierce conditions by “eating each others tails and the leather from the pack saddles”-(  http://www.answers.com/topic/kit-carson )They most likely stood at this very spot and maybe wondered quietly to themselves, “Could they continue?  Was it worth it?  Did they have the strength to follow their dreams?”  How many years ago this trail was blazed by Kit Carson with only a dream.   He had an idea of direction and with amazing determination, skill and courage he accomplished what many thought was impossible.  Yes… there it was… as bright as the aspens that led the way down a road to an unknown destination. It was as if I were being led by something greater than myself to the edge of a cliff with trees and rocks as far as the eye could see.  There in the distance was the story that spoke the words of inspiration and motivation.  It was a drive through Hope Valley that made me find what my spirit was in need of… a reason to continue where the words carry a message of meaning and purpose.

I closed my eyes as the wind picked up and felt my spirit now center… I softly spoke, “I see… “ Sometimes we need to get lost in order to be found.  Sometimes the place where we think we see the least is where we see the most.  Sometimes the words are better left unsaid for a little while.  Sometimes a step away gives new perspective.

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It was time to leave as the sun was beginning its nighttime ritual of slowly giving way to the night. I drove back down that lonely road and made my way to Caples Lake.  Yes, the place where I bared my skin to the cold and clear water not realizing that this place with breath-taking views would have me back again so soon.  I sat and watched as the setting sun highlighted the golden aspen grove that stood at attention at the beach’s edge.  The glow was unreal… as if the leaves spoke of glory perhaps confirming the message of inspiration that was lent to me by someone I couldn’t see or something that was more powerful than me.  It took but minutes for the bright orange glow to lessen and I bid the sun farewell as I couldn’t wait for the next day to begin again.

 

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I began my long dark drive home through Hope valley. And before my sleepy eyes did appear was the moon to light my way and take my fear.  I did stop several times to capture the view as the sky was a light lavender as the moon shared its radiance.  There in  Hope valley was a light brighter than the stars that perhaps Kit Carson used to blaze a trail fueled by hopes, dreams and determination.   It was this brilliance in the sky that reaffirmed that sometimes the journey has us go through a valley of darkness to see the light.

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Blazing trails through Hope Valley and beyond, getting lost and then found with the message of inspiration being spoken by words delivered in nature and sealed by the setting sun and celebrated by the moonlight that led me home…

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Feeling re-energized, re-centered, ready to say what needs to be said… Wondering what tomorrow will bring.