Featured: Malala Yousafzai and her father, Ziauddin / Credit: John Russo, The Guardian
In the spirit of thankfulness, I wanted to share this letter I originally wrote a year ago to Malala Yousafzai in honor of her Nobel Peace Prize win and inspired by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai’s, 2014 TED Talk. Today, I dedicate this piece to my own father in honor of his birthday and his ever-adamant refusal to clip my wings:
Back in October 2012, my dad called shortly after the news broke of your attack and asked if I had heard about you. Annoyed, I said, “Papi, you know I don’t watch the news anymore.” At the time, I was on a serious spiritual development path, strictly limiting my intake of world events since the beginning of the year. My radical and desperate need to unplug and detoxify was brought on by years of severe addiction to every news media outlet. Frustrated, he responded: “How can you live in such a bubble? I can’t understand how you haven’t heard of Malala by now!” “Who is she?” “Look her up,” he answered.
When I learned your story, that you had survived and were recovering in England, my spirit soared. I couldn’t believe it. I cried out and cheered you on as you progressed over the following months. “What an incredible human being! She is here for a reason,” I often thought. I gingerly plugged myself back into the media stream but only to tune into your journey. Soon, you appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and recounted how after you learned of the Taliban’s threat on your life, you would think about what you would do or say if they really came after you:
I started thinking […] that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But, then I said, “If he comes, what would you do, Malala?” Then, I would reply to myself, “Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.” But, then, I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that […] harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education.” Then, I said, I will tell him how important education is, and that “I even want education for your children, as well.” And I will tell him, “That’s what I want to tell you. Now, do what you want.”
My jaw dropped with Jon and everyone listening to you that day. Since then, I have striven every day to find that same love and compassion for everyone I meet, as well.
Though our backgrounds are different, we actually have much in common, especially our fathers who championed our education. My father was raised by a single mother in poverty-stricken Mexico City in the early 40’s. He grew to understand the importance of education and raised my two younger sisters and I to be strong, educated, independent women. He also named me after his mother.
When your father took to the stage last year at TED 2014, he spoke of people asking what he did to make you so successful. He responded, “Don’t ask me what I did – ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.” I watched his speech with my father, and with tears streaming down our cheeks, he wrapped his arms around me, saying: “That’s exactly how I feel. No clipping of no wings! If anything, I wanted to give you extensions so you could fly faster.”
My hope is that this extraordinary measure can be replicated in every home and in every classroom. You are most certainly doing your part, and I vow to beat my wings right along with you. The flights of future generations of children and of our humanity most certainly depend on it.
Onward and skyward,
Featured: Amelia and her father, Roberto / Credit: Chaveli Torres
As many of you know, I gave a talk this past weekend in NYC about my travels this year. (It was dubbed a “smasheroo” – something I am so honored by and so grateful to everyone that attended and all of you who wished me luck beforehand.) I spoke about my roadtrip in South America, my roadtrip across the U.S., and my recent travels in Northwestern Europe. I spoke about bravery, about risk-taking, about dreams, goals, and about the courage it takes to carry on despite setbacks and the fears that threaten to paralyze us from moving forward.
I spoke Saturday night, barely 24 hours after the Paris attacks, and underneath my spoken words ran a deep tremble in my bones. How could I be standing in front of a crowd talking about my incredible, wonderful year of adventures when such a terrible tragedy had just taken place? Even though I dedicated my presentation to Paris and Beirut at the top of the hour, my spirit was not relieved.
I WAS JUST THERE, I thought. I was just THERE walking those SAME streets… Walking into those same cafes…
That could have been me.
Then, my mind reviewed all the other “could haves” that could have happened this year…
Missing my train from Germany back to Brussels, because of radical right-wingers protesting the influx of Syrian refugees.
Driving through Roseburg, Oregon, a month before the shootings at Umpqua Community College took place.
Leaving the Oakland apartment I was staying in two days before a drive-by took place.
Being at Harbin Hot Springs in California three weeks before it was completely devoured by a wildfire.
Surviving Pike’s Peak in Colorado after a near-death experience of terrifying altitude sickness.
Escaping an Argentinean policeman with rape in his eyes when he saw my friend and I with our hand-painted van trying to park next to a supermarket for the night.
Escaping another man who propositioned me at a gas station in Rock Springs, Wyoming, after seeing I was traveling alone.
Then, I had to stop, because the list could keep going. I HAD to stop, because when I looked at this list… I realized with great clarity: not once did I not keep going. I had to get on that next train. I had to get down from that mountain. I had to leave that gas station. I had to come to New York to do that presentation.
There was no other way.
A friend of mine once shared a passage Charlotte Delbo, an Auschwitz survivor, wrote. It went something along the lines of: “I implore you do something, anything to justify your existence. Learn a dance step, pick up a paint brush, anything at all…because it would be all too senseless for so many to have died while you live doing nothing with your life.”
So, go to Disney World! Drive to that audition! Write that message to that old high school lover you just found on Facebook! Have that baby! Go to the gym! Eat that cheesecake! Submit that book! Post that video! Talk to that cute guy at the coffee house! Buy that expensive couch! Give to that charity! Adopt that elephant! Say “I love you!” Climb that Great Wall! Call that person you haven’t spoken to in years!
STEP OUT OF YOUR FRONT DOOR.
Because fear and darkness lose every time you carry on.
It does not mean that we forget. It does not mean that we ignore. It simply means: honor life by living your own.
With kindness for all.
Last Thursday night, I had the honor of speaking at Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle. The theme was “Comfort Zone,” and to prepare for the event, I DID NOT PREPARE A DAMN THING. I got up to the mic without knowing what I was going to say, hoping divine inspiration would cut me a break and take pity on my blind willingness to challenge myself as a storyteller. As I gathered my nerves and opened my mouth, I could feel all the stories in my head lining up at my mind’s door, clamoring to be heard. This is the story that shoved its way out:
People have asked me, “What is the most surprising thing about your journey so far?” And, the truth is: I am amazed by the kindness of strangers, and perhaps by my own ability to trust them back, as well. No matter where I’ve stopped along the way, unfailingly, there are always people who are ready and willing to help out in any way that they can.
After I came back from South America in April of this year, I quickly realized Austin was no longer the right place for me — a feeling that totally jolted me. But, I trusted it, and within a few weeks, I sold all my things, and packed up my car and headed west. I made my way across west Texas, following the Rockies up through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Canada, then over to Seattle, and down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco and Los Angeles, before making my way back up to the Pacific Northwest, which is where I’ve been playing for the past few weeks.
When I reached Glacier National Park in Montana, I came upon a lake as clear and still as glass. As I took in the majesty of the place, I noticed some splashing and ripples on the other end. Curious, I followed the shoreline. A family of four was there: a mom, dad, and their two young daughters. They were skipping stones. I laughed and smiled, and asked if they could teach me. The girls said, “Sure!” and handed me a stone. “It’s all in the wrist,” they said, “And when you pick out a stone, make sure it is light and as smooth as possible. Then, just flick!”
I took a breath, feeling the weight of the stone in my hand and set up my wrist to flick like they instructed. Then, FLICK — *pat*pat* — my stone skipped twice before gliding underneath the surface. INCREDIBLE! I had never skipped a stone in my entire life! I picked up another. AGAIN! Another successful double skip.
Sharing in my delight, the mom asked me about my journey, and I relayed my story. Seemingly impressed, she asked if I had anywhere to stay that night. I told her no. I had been in the practice of just allowing the Universe to take care of me and steer me in whatever direction it felt I should go. “Something will show up,” I shrugged.
After a beat, she said, “Well, we’re staying at the KOA down the road, and we paid for a tent space, but we’re not using it, because we’re in our RV. You’re welcome to pitch your tent there. We’re also having tacos for dinner and a chocolate mousse cake I’ve been letting thaw out all day. You’re welcome to join us!”
I stared in disbelief. In the past, I probably would have declined such a grand invitation, not wanting to impose. But, before I knew it, I heard myself saying, “Yes, I would love that,” the words rolling out of my mouth freed from somewhere deep inside my being.
“Great!” she said, “We’ll be eating around 7:30. But, don’t have too high expectations on the tacos. We’re from Minnesota. ”
I laughed and thanked her, and told them I’d meet them there. I hung back after they headed back down the trail, watching the lake once more turned to glass. I left the park within the hour and made my way to the KOA, thanking my absolute lucky stars.
We ate dinner and played games. Apparently, one of the daughters was usually a quiet gal, but for whatever reason she really opened up around me and told me all about her love of mermaids. She even had a real mermaid tail attached to a slip-on spandex suit, which she promptly put on and demonstrated how to swim in it. I laughed until my belly ached. I hadn’t had that much fun in such a long time. I forgot how much I loved playing games and sharing in that young schoolgirl mindset.
As the night began to wind down, the dad asked me how big my tent was. I told him it was a small two-person tent. “Perfect,” he said. “That should fit just right outside in that gravelly area next to the RV.” I nodded, ready to make my way back to my car to start setting up. “You’re welcome to set it up out there,” he continued, “Or, if you’d like, you can stay inside with us.”
I stared again in disbelief, a smile spreading across my face. I thought of all the yes’s and no’s I had ever uttered in my life that led me to be so lucky in that moment. Where would I have been instead had I not said yes that night? Where would I have been had I not said yes to to Mechi and our South American roadtrip earlier this year?
Who knows. It didn’t matter.
“Yes,” I said at last, “I would absolutely love that.”
Photo credit: Amelia Isabel
The following is an extra special contributor post from my divine writer-friend, Elspeth Eckert. She constantly inspires me to befriend my inner goddess, and in this piece, she gives a fresh new spin to notion that “it’s what something is made of that really counts.” May the all “Ugly Pants” of the world find their perfect fit to love them just exactly as they are.
“In Praise of the Ugly Pants” by Elspeth Eckert
I bought a pair of ugly pants yesterday. They hung there forlorn, clearance tags thickly plastered from repeated failed attempts to entice customers. I looked at them in that way I sometimes do, trying to puzzle out if I liked them (the pattern is kind of fun, and I like the colors in theory) or if this garment was indeed truly hideous. Only one way to find out.
In the fitting room, the pants revealed themselves to be remarkably unflattering, more so than I could have anticipated. My rear seemed to balloon to elephantine proportions with every jiggle exaggerated. The banded legs seemed by turns either too short or too long to suit any style. The pattern didn’t line up, leaving the edges of those vibrant horizontal stripes warring along my pelvic girdle.
But there were roomy pockets at just the right height. And the fabric was soft.
I considered the pants and what it would say about me if I wore them. Would I be “letting myself go?” Opening myself to mocking judgements? Would I be one of THOSE women (and what does that even mean anyway)? I looked. I imagined and considered. I undressed carefully and returned the hopeful pants to their hanger a little straighter than I’d found them.
As I exited the dressing room, I experienced a transformative moment of clarity: I know who would wear these pants. People who don’t take themselves too seriously would wear them. And finally, at great long last, that kind of person was me. With a deep breath and not a shred of regret, I bought the ugly pants. And this simple gesture has made me ridiculously proud of the woman I’m becoming.
May I be reminded each time I slide into the comfy embrace of my ugly pants that life is not always so serious and taking myself less seriously can be the most liberating act of all.
Photo credit/Featured: Elspeth Eckert
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Syria, Syria, Syria,
my heart is aching,
for they know not what they do.
I am seeking ways to help.
For seconds, sharing your poetry:
For thirds, prayers, tears, and more writing.
For fourths, seeking help while I dream.
For fifths, seeking again when I wake.
I love you, my brothers, my sisters,
I am seeking ways to help.
Featured: Laith Majid, Syrian refugee father from Deir Ezzor crying tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to Europe.
Photo credit: Daniel Etter, The New York Times / Redux / eyevine
Poetry excerpt: “Home” by Warsan Shire
Do you have a friend that when you’re with you feel as if you can conquer the entire world together? That there is no limit? That any dream you can possibly dream really can come true? This woman is that for me.
Mechi is a FORCE. A supernova tsnuami. A machine gun of radical love and wisdom. I first met her in Brazil five years ago, where we lived and worked together in Salvador. It had been almost four years before she came flooding back into my life last summer and totally shot up my world, leaving a destruction of all my previous conceptions of love, friendship, and how navigate life in her wake.
“The world is magic!” She tells me. And I know this is true, because she helps me to see it. Over and over again.
She taught me how to trust in the Universe. To believe that we will always be taken care of. To let go of structure, of expectations, and just let it FLOOWWW. She inspired me to get my first tattoo, because I was there in Brazil when she got her’s. Earlier this year as we traveled South America together, she even gave me the honor of shaving her head after being inspired by my own buzz last year. (Yeah, lots of OMGICAN’TBELIEVEWEDIDIT happy tears!)
When I woke up this morning, this quote was in my inbox:
“What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.” — Paulo Coehlo, The Witch of Portobello
I have many friends that fit this description, but today, I dedicate this one to mi gorrrda mas boluudaa. 🙂 And to all women who know how to wield their artillery powers for good.
Featured: Mercedes Ponce de León in Rio de Janeiro
Photo credit: Amelia Isabel
Earlier this year I took a course on Death, Loss, and Meaning in Existential Psychology. I assure you, it was as intense as it sounds.
It was also one of the greatest, most inspiring courses I have ever taken in my entire academic career — easily coming into my Top 3 favorite classes of all time. We dug deep within ourselves and each other. We questioned religion and our own belief systems. We wrestled with the notion that the Universe could care less about us when we care so much about ourselves. We questioned what it means to be happy. We questioned the value of suffering. We questioned the meaning of life and whether or not one’s meaning is the same as one’s purpose. Does meaning have to be meaningful? What if my meaning of life is different from your meaning of life? What if my purpose is destined to be hard? What if my purpose is different from how I find meaning? What if it won’t be fun? Is it even worth it?
And above all: Why me?
Ah, the million-dollar Hero’s Journey question. I often wonder what Martin Luther King Jr.’s response was. Or Odysseus’s. Or Amelia Earhart’s. Or Gandhi’s. Or Malala Yousafzai’s.
Today, the answers aren’t any clearer. But, I find comfort in the fact that I am not the only one to question. Nor will I be the last. This project is dedicated to all of us who ask “What’s the point?” May these words give you strength, lift you up, and remind you that where human life still exists, so does hope.
Found an incredible spot to watch the sunset this evening, overlooking the mountainside of the San Ramon valley. Amber waves of grain rolled out before me. The bay clouds unfolded over the peaks like rich cumulus cotton. I even heard eagles cry.
Yes, I was living in an American anthem.
And I remembered a story Abraham once told about Jerry and Esther Hicks. They were on vacation somewhere – Mexico, probably – and Esther was in love with it. Overcome by the beauty of the place and the strong desire to stay there forever, she asked Jerry, “Can’t we just live here?” After a beat, Jerry responded, “But, we are. We are living here.”
I’ve thought about that story a lot over my travels. But, I still constantly question the journey: When will I settle down? When will I find my new nest? Where will I finally LIVE?!
And I realized as I sat on top of the windy hillside: I live here. I am LIVING here. In California! Amazing.
My address doesn’t matter.
Because in every moment, wherever I lay my head, wherever my car is parked, wherever I take a breath, I am living.
God has surely shed his grace on thee.
Photo credit: Amelia Isabel