“Death is my redemption,” she whispered…
~ Dianna Hardy
Today, celebrity chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain was found dead … suicide. Three days ago, designer Kate Spade. Robin Williams. Ernest Hemingway. Diane Arbus. Dana Plato. George Reeves. Junior Seau. Jeanne-Paule Deckers (The Singing Nun). Many others. We sometimes forget that these stars and superstars were more than celebrities, more than a face on a television set or a competitor on an athletic field, or a reclusive artist, designer, singer … they were people. People who played as children, laughed when tickled, wept when their first lover broke their heart, and learned to drive at the hands of a nervous teacher. They got good grades and they failed some courses, too. They teased their friends, they talked back to their parents. They danced to their favorite music, probably ate dozens of ice cream cones and skinned their knees. They grew up to love others and to find a way to express their soul. But did we pay any attention to that? Or did we only see the facade, the mask of celebrity-dom?
Today many on social media are expressing sadness at the self-inflected death of Mr. Bourdain … someone who seemed to “have it all”. What I find more tragic – not only about his death, but about all of the other thousands of people who choose to end their life every year – is that we often fail to find the time, or make the effort, to see behind the mask, the smiles, or the laughs. Do we know the meaning of the tattoos they proudly wear, or why they wandered into the world of drugs or alcohol? Do we know why they chose the profession they did, or why they moved across the country, or the world? Do we know of the darkness or the tears; the fear, the pain? Do we care for anything beyond the persona we see on a 52″ screen or a concert stage … or past the idle “hey, howareya” we unthinkingly ask as we pass a friend on the street?
Many are posting the National Suicide Hotline number (1-800-273-8255), and while it may help some, few will reach out and call in that moment of desperation and blackness. I have walked that tightrope twice in my life, and it is a space – a blackhole – like no other. It is not a place of rationality.
The truth of the matter is that it is up to us, individually and as a collective, to help … to connect more, and more often. To connect deeper and with real meaning. To take the time. To make the the time. Just because someone seems to be widely admired or “loved”, “have it all” or supposedly has thousands of “friends”, it does not make them any less human; it does not mean they are not hurting inside, or worried, frightened, or lonely. We need to look past ourselves, to look past our own tiny little world, and into the hearts of others … before it is too late. Before they get to that moment in time from where they can never return.
Reach out … every day … to someone. To your friends, to your family. Talk … and listen. Listen to their stories, their heartbreaks, their loves and losses. Listen and learn about their moments of joy, their accomplishments, their proudest hour. Ask questions, learn about them. Connect. Stuff is just stuff, and it can all disappear in a heartbeat, or with a match. Things can be rebuilt, re-bought, re-made. A living soul cannot. Reach out. Now. Please….
An addendum to the “Addendum”: I realize this may seem to have nothing to do with “The Ride”, but I recently wrote to the question of why I do what I do. And this connection is exactly why … it is the point of why I ride.
“Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.”
~ Khalil Gibran
Why do I Ride? Why yet another “Ride” now? There is far more to these crazy meanders of mine than simple wanderlust, a gypsy soul, or a desire to see new places – although I admit, that is beautiful bi-product of why I do it. The reasons, the goals, the hope is indeed, far deeper than that….
It has become pretty obvious to most of us that we have become an increasingly disjointed and separated society, especially here in America. We chat online, we message, we text. We watch ‘reality’ shows … shows about other people’s lives and documentaries about lands and cultures far away … all well accomplished at keeping real reality at arm’s length and gobbling up our time. Time that could be spent connecting with new friends or learning about the changes in the lives of old friends and family. Time that could be spent reaching out to another human being with love … real love, not televised, artificial, scripted “love.” We all-too-often have so little idea of the silent tears people weep, the faceless dreams they have, the voiceless sadness they live … even those close to us. We turn to booze, food, thrill-seeking, and even church, in the desire for something more … in a desire to FEEL something. Something to crack us wide open … and to share something.
So I travel and I stay with people I’ve only known though social media – those corridors of the hallway of separation – until the moment I knock on their door. Then we sit together, we walk together, we talk. We break bread and share stories of our lives. We hug, we laugh. Sometimes we cry. I hear their tales, and they hear mine. We connect in real time. Ears to eyes, heart to soul. We are all human … we are not an image on a screen, or character in a book (or kindle, as the case may be), or a roll in a video game. The teller at the bank, the kid collecting grocery carts at the store, the cable guy, the teacher at school, the nurse in the doctor’s office … they all have stories, they all have loved and lost. And so I travel to remind us all – myself, included – that we are all a part of one whole living, breathing, moving, thing. Life. We are all connected, like it or not. And when the dominos begin to fall, one-by-one, we all do. We need each other, and we need to remember that.
The second of these two reasons: My early life – actually most of my life – has not been easy. I’ve faced many challenges … mentally disturbed and abusive parents, no college education, an emotionally derisive (ex) husband, no family, no children, no money. I’ve worked all of my life for less than what many would ever consider to be a good wage. I’ve lost a house to foreclosure, been homeless, hungry, beaten, raped, and on the verge of suicide … twice. I’ve been challenged all my life with what they now label as “learning disabilities.” And at 63, I have little savings, making-do on a small SS payment and occasional part-time work. I live in a small, inexpensive apartment, and my “new” car is an ’06 with 160,000 miles on it and a few dents. BUT….. I have also made so many of my dreams come true! I overcame those seemingly overwhelming hardships, and sought out and studied enough that most people assume I have a university degree. I’ve insisted on living with an open heart, and I’ve managed to travel across this amazing country (now soon to be twice!), seeing and visiting places that were once only pictures in a wish-book I had. I’ve met amazing people of all races, nationalities, religions, orientations and cultures; from the very poor to the rather wealthy. My point, and one of the reasons I do these “Rides,” is to show – to hopefully inspire and to teach – how dreams CAN come true. That you CAN do it. You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to come from the “right” family, you don’t have to be young. I often speak to the fact that Life is a gift … a beautifully wrapped package, all sparkly and perfectly tied with an elegant bow … a gift of abilities and desires and dreams and hopes that are given to us on our birth-day. Given to us by whatever it is you believe in … God, Creator, Energy, Infinity, the Heavens, the Universe … it doesn’t matter the name, the gift is the same. And it is given freely and with absolute delight to us – all those things that you desire and that you CAN do … all given to us at the moment of conception to enjoy and make happen.
This is why I ride, and this is why I write. My hope, as time moves forward, is to begin a new journey: A journey of speaking to audiences and share the way to recognize YOUR dreams and how to begin to make them happen … how to make them come true. It requires both head and heart, but it IS possible … I am living proof … and every one of us CAN do it. It is my hope that we can begin – together – to make your dreams … our dreams … come true. And by doing so, pay it forward and help encourage the world to be a better, healthier, and happier place. And it all begins now, with all of us connecting, helping each other to build and realize each of our dreams.
See you all down the road…
“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding. Find out what you already know and you will see the way to fly.” ~ Richard Bach
On Facebook, they call this day of the week “Throwback Thursday” and people generally post photos of themselves when they were young. But today – in the wake of my preparations for another Ride, another journey – there could not be a more perfect one for this particular Thursday to have fallen on. Two years ago on this day – on May 17th – I stood, feet planted in the icy cold wetness of the Pacific Ocean, foamy bubbles and black sand swirling around me, cobalt skies above, deep blue sea rhythmically pulsing for as far as the eyes could see. I was dancing with the Sea and the Earth. And I had done it … I’d done what so many thought was impossible or non-sensical. I’d meandered my way from one side of this country to the other … from one ocean to another. I’d touched the salty waters of both sides of this continent.
It was a journey that included over 50 stops, meeting and breaking bread with dozens of new – until then never-before-met – friends, laughing and crying and sharing stories; sleeping on beds and cots, in tents, trailers, apartments and mansions. It was a journey of new people, new cultures, new vistas and new loves. 26,000 miles of highway and dirt of every color worked their way onto the old ‘Silver Backpack’ … and I could have asked for no better traveling companion than that old Forester. RIP, sweetheart, you did well and deserve your rest.
I’ve now got a new-to-me vehicle, and I’ll be leaving NY on June 30th to set out on a new Ride, another meandering journey. I don’t know yet if I’ll make it to the Pacific again on this one, as I’m still putting together the agenda (though I do hope to do so at least one more time before my days here end), but that moment – that photo – will always bring a smile to my face as long as I live … and I’m looking forward to the dozens of smiling more moments to come in the months ahead. Life is such a wonderfully amazing and beautiful gift … one given to us to open and enjoy to the fullest. We CAN make our dreams come true, and we have those dreams for a reason. Simply, to fulfill. Like Nike used to say, just “Do it.”
Keep on riding everyone, and enjoy YOUR own, personal, amazingly beautiful ride…
“We are born of love;
Love is our mother.”
Something a little different today; something not necessarily pertaining to “The Ride,” but rather, a story of love from me to you, on this Mother’s Day.
This is my mother. It is my only photo of her; it’s not the best, as it’s from a newspaper article written around 1989. But it’s all I have. She was an artist, a singer, a writer, and wrestled all of her life with many demons: Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and alcoholism, among others. We had a rather brief and very challenging relationship – she never wanted children and I was seen as nonessential … and moreover, as the wretched roadblock between my father and her. She left us immediately after I was born, only to reappear in our lives a decade – and several husbands – later when I was 10. The following six years were incredibly difficult, and I could easily fill this blog with many stories of her abuse and hatred toward me. Our last stormy encounter was in 1973, and she passed away in 2003, having never spoken another word between us in those 30 years.
So, why do I write this now, on Mother’s Day? Seems odd, right? But, you see, there is much more to this story … especially for those who understand and believe that lifespirit, and love and forgiveness, are never-ending. Keep reading….
In the summer of 2012, I was sitting in my apartment reading, late one afternoon. I felt an ‘odd’ sensation, and looking up from my book … I saw her standing there. Or rather, her lifespirit. She was young and beautiful and healthy; and had a peaceful, loving expression on her face … an expression that I’d never seen on her before. I was stunned and silent – I’d not given my mother a thought in decades – but at that moment, and without a single word exchanged between us, I knew that beneath all of the disease and broken chromosomes and chemical imbalances she waded through all her life … she, her Spirit – the true essence of her life beyond what we know and understand in this world – did indeed love and care for me. In the passage of a nano-second, forgiveness and joy reigned. I understood completely and fully that none of the abuse was “her” fault, but rather were the manifestations of the delicate balance of our physical nature … a broken or missing gene/chromosome here and there, the learned patterns of generations prior, the on-again off-again nature of the drugs meant to “control” what we deem as mental illness. It was not she who did not love or care for me … not the Spirit or Soul of this woman who was my mother … but rather her humanness, her mortal-ness, and it was beyond her control. When that is fully realized, forgiveness comes oh-so very easily. And it did. I smiled … deeply, completely. Compassionately. She smiled in return, as she slowly faded from view.
Yes, it would have been nice to have had a different, “better,” mother … my life certainly would have been easier, and my standing joke is “Next time around, I’d like to know what a normal life is!” …. but, this lovely, emotionally challenged woman also gave me gifts I never would have had, had I not known her: Strength, resilience, intelligence, an artistic bend, a love of words, theater, art, education; and a desire to live Life fully to its last beautiful breath.
Happy Mother’s Day, one and all.