Suppose you had never read a book, religious or psychological, and you had to find the meaning, the significance of life. How would you set about it? Suppose there were no Masters, no religious organizations, no Buddha, no Christ, and you had to begin from the beginning. How would you set about it? First, you would have to understand your process of thinking, would you not?-and not project yourself, your thoughts, into the future and create a God who pleases you; that would be too childish. So first you would have to understand the process of your thinking. That is the only way to discover anything new, is it not?When we say that learning or knowledge is an impediment, a hindrance, we are not including technical knowledge, how to drive a car, how to run machinery or the efficiency that such knowledge brings. We have in mind quite a different thing: that sense of creative happiness that no amount of knowledge or learning will bring. To be creative in the truest sense of that word is to be free of the past from moment to moment, because it is the past that is continually shadowing the present. Merely to cling to information, to the experiences of others, to what someone has said, however great, and try to approximate your action to that;all that is knowledge, is it not? But to discover anything new you must start on your own; you must start on a journey completely denuded, especially of knowledge, because it is very easy, through knowledge and belief, to have experiences; but these experiences are merely the products of self-projection and therefore utterly unreal, false. – J. Krishnamurti, The Book of Life
Nature is a most profound gift Spirit has given us. We have many opportunities in every single day to bathe our souls in this blessing. Make a point to watch clouds for at least fifteen minutes. How many forms and shapes can you come up with? Take yourself up on those fluffy white ones and roll all over the sky. Sit in a pile of autumn leaves and feel the texture next to your skin. Pick up a handful and notice the intricate leaf vein patterns. Run through barefooted and feel the marvelous sensations of crunch. Go to a park or into the forest and find “your” tree. Spend an afternoon next to your tree in quietude and listen to life pulsating through the bark and branches. Then hug your tree. And return to the tree sometimes, observe its changes. Does the tree look or feel different? Is your return time in the fall v.s. your first encounter in the early spring? Breathe in each of these moments. They are here to remind us of our connection with God and with life.
My employment ventures have evolved organically. I joke that my beginnings as an entrepreneur started at age eight with my seasonal lemonade business, which was actually quite successful! During high school and college, I took summer jobs at out-of-state resorts. This got me away from the Phoenix desert heat and my unhealthy home front of a raging, domineering father and a mother trying to cope by her daily consumption of alcohol.
I interrupted my college sophomore year in 1963 and took a year off, working as a clerk for the FBI in Washington, D.C., at the Justice Department. This trip also constituted my first airplane ride. I loved everything about D.C. The museums, monuments, open-air cafes, snow, cherry blossoms, brownstones, Georgetown district, the Capitol, and the White House all represented a completely different lifestyle and environment from those where I grew up in Phoenix. I also experienced history in the making — Martin Luther King’s first march on Washington, an attempt on Bobby Kennedy’s life at the Justice building, and being let out of work after John Kennedy’s assassination to watch the caisson take his body from the White House to the Capitol rotunda. I even rode down the elevator with J. Edgar Hoover on the way to my department’s softball game on the National Mall. Also, I had a date for one of the galas at the Annapolis Naval Academy.
My entrepreneurial bug resurfaced from 1974-1981 with my interior plantscaping business in Phoenix. This business also introduced me to speaking and writing professionally. It was novel at the time to have a woman running this type of business. Also, installing and maintaining tropical plants for businesses in a desert environment was unusual. Hence, radio, television and business/civic organizations invited me to speak on how to grow and care for tropicals. Initially, speaking was scary but a friend took me to Toastmasters as a guest and I decided to join. It became a two-year commitment, during which I learned how to get my butterflies in formation. In addition, I was approached by Rau Publishing to write my booklet, So You Want to Grow a Plant! This was followed by Phoenix Home and Garden magazine hiring me for a brief time to be their interior plant editor. So, I was now a writer.
My second husband, Samuel, introduced me to Science of Mind in 1975. I had become totally disenchanted with the Catholic Church and I liked what I heard at the Religious Science services. I didn’t know I was spiritually thirsty, but I was. So, I started taking ministerial classes and, without any conscious intention, I completed all of the Religious Science requirements for ministerial licensing. I decided to apply for a position as an assistant minister in the western part of the United States. The Huntington Beach Church of Religious Science hired me. I had sold my interior plantscaping business to a former employee, and I was free to leave for California.
This began my training in officiating weddings, memorial services and baptisms. After a year at the church, I found the politics and administrative duties too limiting and I left to do freelance marketing.
Still, I had discovered my love for ministerial work. Over the years, people still gravitated toward me to perform their weddings and other ministerial duties. I didn’t know this would be my new path for earning money after my brain injury.
I made several attempts to return to work soon after my accident in 1990. The first effort was as an assistant for a real estate broker. Taking everything my boss said literally, and then calling him on his ineffectiveness with his work habits, made this a short-lived endeavor. I lasted four weeks before being fired.
Next, I signed up at several temporary staffing agencies. Though I could initially do the administrative work assignments, my fatigue and slow information processing caused continual problems and made these jobs impossible over a longer period of time. I found I could only last on any collective assignment (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days in a row) for three weeks. I became more deeply depressed about these limitations. I desperately needed to work, as I had no insurance income and my SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) was only $485 a month. I qualified for food stamps, and gratefully accepted this resource. My medicines and doctor visits were being subsidized because of my low income. But I felt humiliated. I didn’t want handouts. This just wasn’t me. One of the frustrating things about the brain injury is I couldn’t “make” or push myself to do something. When my brain shut down – it shut down. The only remedy was to withdraw from any stimulation and rest.
Next, I attempted to work as a nanny, which included light household chores, laundry, picking up the girls from school and fixing dinner. This job seemed like it would be perfect. I loved the family and the girls. At ages seven and nine, they were precious. I had sold my car after the accident because I found I couldn’t process information quickly enough to safely drive. It was now two years after the injury. I didn’t think driving the family car to pick up the girls would be a problem. After a second close call with the girls in the car, I became really concerned. So, I gave my notice.
I hadn’t lost my desire or vision to work. I had been independent before the brain injury and that picture still remained. When I learned about mystery shopping, I found the work could be done in my own time and at my own pace. The two years I spent evaluating customer service for various businesses and filling in their required forms helped me regain my physical and mental strength and rebuild my self-confidence. It was tiring, but I was able to do it.
A girlfriend, Pam, was working for Grand Slam Tennis Tours, a company that booked and accompanied clients to many of the major tennis tournaments around the world. She told me her manager, Karen, was looking for temporary help with the upkeep of the company database. Karen also needed someone to copy, collate and assemble the 25-page tour guide that was given to each tournament attendee. This job became the gift that placed me back into the business world. Occasionally I would answer the phone, which gave me practice with communication skills. Grand Slam totally accommodated my inability to work long or consistent hours. It was a slow process over a four-year period, but I was definitely growing in stamina and aptitude in a business environment. I knew I had grown in ability and performance when Karen asked if I would “hold down the office” when all of the staff were needed for a large client tour to Wimbledon. In my heart I felt like I had graduated Basic Business Essentials 101.
During my time at Grand Slam, I decided to get a business license. I wanted to write my workbook, Thinking out of the Box – Strategies for Handling Change, and began to entertain the possibility of doing public speaking again. Grand Slam launched me into the world I had dreamed of re-entering. This world provided a vision that continually ignited the fire to fuel my passion.
Four hundred people milled around the parking lot at the Pikes Peak trailhead in Manitou Springs. Our bus was one of eight unloading participants. As I stepped off the bus, I felt charged with power and an intense sense of camaraderie ignited by the masses. Nobody seemed to mind that it was 6:30 a.m.
Various clusters of people stretched to warm up; others sipped hot coffee and ate bagels. I could feel an electrical current of excitement as I slowly made my way through the crowd. Several people waved my way and gave me the thumbs-up as I drew near my assigned group. My peers warmly greeted me and asked if I was ready. Without any hesitation I blurted, “Yes!”
“Pikes Peak Challenge” is an annual September fundraising event for the Brain Injury Association of Colorado. For me, this climb in 1999 symbolized my victory of a tumultuous journey over the previous nine years. During those years, I had survived an attempted rape; disposed of all my personal belongings, save for three pieces of luggage and spent five months in Europe on my own; experienced the deaths of my mother, father and two sisters during a three-year span; learned my only remaining sibling had AIDS; and sustained a brain injury in 1990.
For whatever reason, I was a survivor – and climbing this 14,110-foot mountain represented a new benchmark, and my ability to “keep on keepin’ on.”
I had rigorously trained for this moment. For two months a group of friends and I had met every other week and hiked the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In our initial hikes we became winded and exhausted after an hour of exertion. But, by the end of the two months, we were carrying 10 pounds on our backs, hiking four-hour segments, and breathing with less effort at 9,000 feet. The next three months of training became more focused on personal endurance. I went to the gym two times a week, alternating my hour-and–a-half workouts with lifting weights, jogging three miles on the treadmill, doing step aerobics or riding 10 miles on the life cycle. During our last month of training before “the ascent,” our group hiked weekly at elevations of more than 10,000 feet.
The loudspeaker directed participants to move to the starting point. I knew that some hikers entered “The Challenge” as a competition, and I could feel their RPMs of horsepower as the starting gun began the race. My buddy guide, who hiked beside me, reassured me that if I kept walking at my own pace I would be able to last longer and maintain my energy and stamina. After all, I was beginning a hike that would total 13.5 miles and ascend 7,400 vertical feet. I slowly and steadily moved along the trail.
￼It took me six hours to reach Barr Camp at 10,000-foot elevation. This was the group’s first designated stop. Here we had 30 minutes to rest, eat lunch and refill our personal water supply. Even though I had been hiking for six hours, and my body was feeling the exertion, I was so happy I had invested in all those previous months of training.
The next rest station was the A-frame, at 12,000 feet. I arrived at 4 p.m., greeted forcefully by howling wind and blowing snow. From here I could see the summit and a tiny string of hikers on the switchbacks. After taking a last pit stop, refilling my water, and putting on two additional layers of clothing from my backpack, I began the ascent to the summit.
My group by now was down to me and Lena – both of us brain injury survivors – and four buddy guides. In addition to being slow, I was now also feeling extremely sleepy, but our guides insisted we keep moving. Sundown was approaching, we still had another 500 feet to reach the “16 steps,” and the freezing snow and wind were getting stronger. The elements of nature and switchbacks made this the most grueling part of the climb. I was told taking antacids would help my breathing as the air continued to get thinner. However, when a guide offered me oxygen from a tank he carried, I gratefully accepted. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling of thick, expansive wonderful air going to my lungs and head.
Will, our trail leader, radioed for two more guides to join our group, as he was concerned for Lena’s and my well-being on this last leg of the climb. Will considered the possibility we might have to be carried to the top. It took another painstakingly demanding and exhausting hour to reach the summit. But I knew I would reach the top, because Pikes Peak represented my recent life journey. I just didn’t know it would take 12 hours!
Only a handful of people still remained when I entered the warming hut at the summit. But it was indeed awesome. I was cheered, congratulated and hugged. I was also given my own tray of triple-fudge brownies. After eating a few of the brownies to pump some needed energy into my bloodstream, I peeled my boots off. I then inched over to the picture window to see the last moments of the setting sun cast a shadow from the top of Pikes Peak to the middle of Kansas. I had made it!
The fact that I reached the summit Pikes Peak — even though it took 12 hours, I had a lot of help and I had to take oxygen — is a huge accomplishment. I still did it. It is up to me to say to myself, “job well done” and acknowledge my goals reached and accomplishments achieved.
It is never too late to have a new dream and choose different directions.
* March to my own beat and take one step at a time
* It’s hard to breathe at a high altitude or when I’m in the midst of a major change
* Experiences can become a metaphor for life
* Who we start out with is not necessarily who we end up with
* Help is always there
God has Its way in my life. Moment to moment everything is unfolding exactly as planned. Things only look like they happen by accident or coincidence or lucky break. My part is to stay centered in God – the rest takes care of itself.
“This snow storm is a national emergency,” stated Seattle newscasters about the December 1990 blizzard. Bridges and roads were practically impassable. Cars were parked and abandoned on the interstates. No flights were coming in or going out of Sea-Tac Airport. Seattle was closed down.
With the morning update of continued freezing temperatures, I dressed for the weather, wearing wool gloves, cap, scarf, fleece-lined boots and a heavy overcoat. As I left work, the temperatures hadn’t changed, so I decided to keep my car overnight in the underground-parking garage. “It will be safer to catch the bus home than trying to maneuver the icy, snow-packed streets,” I thought out loud.
I never made it to the bus. When I exited the office building, the sidewalk looked like a typical Seattle sidewalk – damp black from the continual mist of moisture in the air. This time was different. It was black ice. I was terrified as my feet went out from under me. My head broke the fall with a thud on the sidewalk. That instant my whole world and life changed.
In an effort to get some of me back, I could not reclaim the lost parts. Instead, I had to make a commitment to redesign a whole new me and not give up in the process. Though quitting on life wasn’t an option, I knew my belief in God would surely get me through this. My prayers at this time were something like, “I am so frightened God. I am asking for your love and guidance to show me the way.”
Besides my annual check-ups, I never had too much to do with doctors. Now, they became my way of life. Neurologist, neurological psychologist, chiropractor, medical doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, acupuncturist, cranial sacral therapist, speech pathologist and psychological social counselors. “Barbara, your test results are conclusive.” I had sustained a brain injury.
All that had been on automatic in my life was now a huge chore. I was continually fatigued, noise and stimulation cut through me like a razor blade, I couldn’t remember or retrieve short-term information, and my ability to have casual conversation with simple words and sequential thinking disappeared. For over two years I could only do one task a day. If it was a “doctor” day, then that was it. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.
Three years after the injury, I began to notice a slow increase in momentum. “Oh my gosh, I’m actually tracking this conversation with my doctor!” Everything was at such a snail’s pace, but I was doing a little more. I was definitely cognizant of improvement; however, I also found I couldn’t push myself by sheer will. That may have been possible in the past, but not now. When my brain had reached its limit, that was it. My brain turned off and shut down.
My poor balance, inability to process information quickly, and lack of problem-solving skills had been noted throughout my many neuropsychological evaluations. At the onset of rehabilitation, I was advised to avoid riding a bike or driving a car. However, when I reached the fifth anniversary of my injury, I was amazed and awed that I was slowly resuming these former skills. The ability to perform both of these tasks again served as definite mile-markers. “Maybe my life isn’t a dead-end after all,” I thought.
When my traumatic brain injury occurred, I received a one-time payment of $5,000 personal injury insurance, food stamps and a monthly State stipend of $356. This was my only income — I had no other financial support.
Employment was a challenge. I couldn’t multi-task, which eliminated many of my possibilities for working. Any noise disturbed my focus and concentration. Exerting continued concentration on the computer exhausted my brain. I couldn’t process verbal information for work duties. I needed to “see” the information physically or in writing. Then, I performed assignments slowly because I could only process information in brief intervals. This was all extremely frustrating. With my long-term memory still intact, I remembered being an effective entrepreneur — not this incompetent, blubbering fledgling.
Then a friend who knew of my struggles suggested I check into being a mystery shopper. “Companies nationwide pay people to secretly evaluate customer service. You can accept as few or many assignments as you want,” she said.
Mystery shopping provided me the opportunity to begin re-learning how to multi-task and organize. Through ongoing repetition of evaluating employees and reporting the data on detailed questionnaires, I was making advancements. The assignments also gave me the chance to begin re-learning how to pace myself and monitor my fatigue. The gifts of what was required to be a Mystery Shopper spilled over into many other aspects of my everyday living. Gratitude replaced despair as many of my daily routines became increasingly easier.
Some of the rough edges have definitely smoothed out. Each anniversary date of my injury is a landmark. I measure my progress by my ability to do a little more. I have learned that minuscule improvement creates a better quality of functionality in my world.
The biggest challenge has been letting the old me go. Who I was, no longer is. I am getting acquainted with a new me. This new person is on slower revolutions per minute, which I’m learning is an okay way to live. My life is not filled with quantity of doing, but with quality of being.
Perhaps my story will help others when they are confronted with their own life-altering and shattering changes. I have had times of total despair, of being angry with God, of questioning my life and purpose. But a force in me wouldn’t let me quit. I now recognize each moment is truly a precious gift. Slowly, I am growing in acceptance of a newly redesigned me.
Arriving at your own dark night means you have reached a place where Spirit wants to purify you – to bring you into a clean state where union with the Divine is possible.
This process is easy to recognize. Attempts at new directions or new beginnings fall apart. A sense of hopelessness and despair are present. Seminars offer no solace or answers. Meditation doesn’t quiet or renew the mind. The questions, “why am I here, what is going on, what is my purpose?” are constant plagues of the mind. Withdrawal, tears, anger, depression – all the emotions –wave in and out.
This is the time the soul looks at its imperfections. Spirit has beckoned, “I want you to come home.”
I arrived at my emotionally wrenching dark night going through the divorce from my son’s father. Everything I held sacred – religion, family, marriage, intimacy – was torn apart. I wondered what I had done wrong to cause this. I asked God why I was being punished. This was definitely the first step of my awakening – my learning about a different God. My anger led me to new horizons. The years that followed led me to the service of Spirit. I took classes, I fasted, and I meditated. I was actively involved in my church. I wanted to know Truth.
With new understandings also come new imperfections. The more classes I took, the more I thought I knew. I quoted passages from the Bible. I did a year’s study of the Kabbala. I meditated daily at a Buddhist monastery. I attended month-long, live-in spirituality classes. I gleaned and gasped spiritual ideas and concepts through my personal library of 250 spiritual books. These avenues appeased my thirst for Spirit and God.
I continually sought new spiritual practices, but hadn’t yet learned that I had to be content with the spirituality I had and to consistently put into practice what I knew. This became a reality after I suffered a brain injury in 1990 which left me unable to access what I knew. I could only function moment-to-moment.
Of course, reading books and going to seminars, was absolutely the correct path for my spiritual unfolding. It’s important to know the sweetness of spiritual waters. However, it takes the dark night for the purification to create an open heart to hear Spirit. When Spirit calls us home it’s not a mental process. Spirit chooses us and chooses when.
Divine Knowing sees we have grown a little. We have persevered in meditation and prayer. The love of things of the world no longer holds us and we have gained some degree of spiritual strength. But it’s only in the aridness and severity of the dark night that the soul’s imperfections can be purged. Every class I took and book I read indicated only that spirituality is supposed to be sweet and pleasurable. When I began my descent into the dark night I thought it was because I had failed in my learning—I was certain that I hadn’t done enough things right.
The truth is, spiritual purity is not necessarily spiritual sweetness. Only Spirit knows how to lead us home.
The dark night also brings sensual love under control. It will strengthen and purify the love that is according to Spirit and possessive love will be removed and ended if it doesn’t function from the higher level of Divine love and Divine detachment. These control steps occurred at different times in my life. I experienced marriages, marriages ending, miscarriages, the birth of my son, more miscarriages, becoming a minister, disappointment in the religious organization and politics, wanting healing and closeness with my family members, then my mother, father and two younger sisters all dying within a three-year span, and later the death of my brother, then losing my successful business after sustaining a brain injury. Capability and capacity all fell away.
The Divine was teaching me – showing me how to walk my own feet – from a non-material level. This felt very foreign because I was learning to orient my life around what was happening in the present moment. Again, I was a toddler learning to walk, but also being the only one to keep pulling me up when I fell down. The love, power and force of the Divine can only work for us by moving through us. This becomes the learning, at a very deep level, that nothing is outside of us.
Walking in the way of Spirit then becomes letting It have Its way – whether there is understanding or not. The dark night is the soul’s process of moving to the light, which becomes the ultimate surrender of achieving alignment with our own divinity and knowing and being “heaven on earth.”
Richard’s and my marital property had been divided, the divorce decree was final in May and I had moved from an interim apartment into my own condo.
I ached for something that represented antiquity and beauty. I felt a strong need to embrace something of substance and elegance that had endured through time. This is how I came to the decision to take a three-week trip to the resplendent heart of Europe – to have this serve as a restorative bath for my soul.
It took me two months to gather information and plan my itinerary from the Internet, France Vacations, and various travel books. I then assembled my own 4”x6” custom travel notebook. Friends joked I didn’t need to take the trip because my notebook was so detailed. However, I devised this notebook as a brain-injury compensatory tool. It would be my traveling memory and information center, removing unnecessary problem-solving stress. I had designated sections of emergency numbers, transportation, shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment for each place I was to visit. Also, carrying my large Rick Steve’s travel backpack eliminated the hassle of suitcases.
The magnificent city of light, Paris, was number one on my list. It had been 13 years since my first visit there, and this time I wanted to touch its essence on a deeper level. My 10 days in Paris gave me this opportunity. I visited Giverney and felt deeply moved by the gardens and water-lily ponds Monet had created for his paintings. A midnight ride in a packed elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower opened my mind and heart to the expansiveness of Paris against the night sky. It was enchanting to dine and then attend a comedic play at a 40-seat theater in the Latin district. I also joined a bike tour through the Marais – stopping for snacks at a famous French-Jewish bistro, continuing along the Seine River to Notre Dame Cathedral and back to the Bastille district.
During my time in Paris, I overindulged in museums, sidewalk cafes, wine, pastries, food, perfume, shopping, people watching and walking. It is easy to walk for hours in Paris, because each street offers its own art experience. Paris saturated my senses to overflowing. The first five days I stayed at a small boutique hotel in the Bastille District. The last five days I enjoyed a great opportunity to experience the life and world of a youth hostel.
On the eleventh day, feeling reinvigorated, I boarded the Euro Star to visit friends in Mickleton, England. It had been 13 years since I had seen them. My four-day visit was rich with enlivening conversation, a day trip to Stratford-on-Avon (Shakespeare’s home), and Chipping Camden (a lovely English village in the Cotswold’s). I still find the English countryside very comforting and peaceful, as if lulling me back to a quiet time of long ago and, at the same time, nurturing me in the present moment.
My next stop was Edinburgh, Scotland. This was my first visit. The city itself is magnificently beautiful and identified by the old part (Edinburgh Castle) and the new part, which still looked old to me. I enjoyed a day trip to Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands. Both places emit mystery and strength by the evidence of the large, black body of water and the continual rolling, vast hills. When I left, I felt aware of how authentic and in harmony with itself Scotland seems – and how robust its people are.
Although I spent only a couple of days in London, it was refreshing to step up the pace. Everything is busy in London. It was fun and fortuitous to attend the popular, new musical Mama Mia at a London theater before anyone in the United States had seen it. By taking a side trip to Bath, I had the opportunity to visit Jane Austin’s museum home and savor cream tea at the Roman baths. (Cream tea is tea taken with a combination of scones, clotted cream – similar to American whipping cream that is almost whipped to butter – and jam. Absolutely delicious!)
At the end of the three weeks, I felt tired but renewed. My Europe trip was life-enforcing, enabling me to absorb what I needed for regeneration.
Occasionally, when I glance through my Europe photo album, I get a fresh sense of pride that I orchestrated this trip all on my own. Everything about the three weeks is etched in my mind and heart. I did something loving in giving my spirit what it needed – honoring myself with gifts of beauty and antiquity.
What I Learned:
I enjoy my own company
Let the past go and move forward
I still don’t sleep well on airplanes
The travel notebook worked perfectly
Youth hostels also house “older people”
It is extremely important to revitalize my spirit
It was a good idea to bring 15 energy bars
Three weeks is long enough to carry a backpack
I am able to ski again thanks to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC).
On December 10, 1997, I was visiting Breckenridge, Colorado, and noticed fliers strategically placed around town, inviting participants with disabilities to join in the BOEC Ski Spectacular taking place at Peak 9. The flyers mentioned, “Your disability doesn’t have to be the reason for not skiing.”
This got my attention. My balance had definitely been improving since the brain injury in 1990. But ski? Could I truly – possibly – ski again? I was willing to make the $35 investment, which included ski equipment, a buddy/instructor, and a half day on the mountain.
After I signed and filled out forms, I was introduced to my buddy. Susan was from Vermont and this was her fourth year of volunteering for the event. Together, we proceeded to the ski equipment room to fit me with skis, boots, poles, and a helmet.
After I was outfitted, Susan and I made our way to the chairlift. What was I thinking? I was paralyzed with fear. My accident had happened because of a slip and fall on ice. But Susan was wonderful. She kept praising me for my willingness to risk doing this despite the terror I was feeling.
So, there I was, with my buddy, sitting on a chairlift. In an instant the fear was being replaced by the overwhelming beauty that surrounded me. I knew this person sitting next to me had made her own investment in my success.
Susan was so encouraging and I was so amazed I was able to successfully get off the chairlift. Her physical support enabled me to keep my balance and I was actually skiing (sort of) on my first run in 15 years. The point is, I did it.
Back at the mountain condo after a long, three-hour wind-down from my accomplishment, I flashed back to 1977 when I volunteered for Special Olympics at Arizona SnowBowl and helped Delbert learn to ski.
Back then, I belonged to the Phoenix Ski Club, and Special Olympics was the club’s outreach program. When the winter Olympics volunteer sign-up sheet was posted, I decided to help with the upcoming ski day.
Upon arriving at the Snow Bowl ski lodge, I was given the name of my athlete and shown where I could find him. Delbert, my charge, a 12-year-old Native-American boy, was shy and withdrawn. His small, unsteady frame was accented by long, jet-black hair. As we were introduced he lowered his eyes and dropped his head. I sensed his uneasiness, but Delbert’s accompanying custodial grandfather assured me he was excited about learning to ski. Grandfather also alerted me to Delbert’s right-side semi-paralysis, poor balance and inaudible speech.
It took nine attempts to help Delbert ski. Another volunteer & myself maneuvered Delbert and the T-bar ski tow, with both of us supporting him on either side. All the way down, he exuberantly and clearly screamed, “I did it! I did it!”
Two months after Delbert’s momentous day, I received a certificate from Grandfather on behalf of the Indian Nation. It said, “The Great Spirit Will Always Watch Over You For What You Gave To Delbert.”
In Breckenridge, 20 years later, as the memory of Delbert washed over me, my tears began flowing. I realized that I was an active participant in the amazing thread of life. Because on this day, at Ski Spectacular, BOEC had provided me a volunteer so I could learn to ski again.
During the 2005–2006 ski season, I volunteered for BOEC as a “block.” The main function of this job is shielding skiers with various disabilities, while on the mountain, from fast or out-of-control boarders or skiers.
Being able to ski again is empowering. Beyond any of my expectations. And even though I am called a very controlled skier, I don’t care. Amazingly, I am even now skiing many blue runs!
WHAT I LEARNED
Persistence leads to victory
Being in nature does renew the spirit
Volunteering is actually giving to myself
Blessings come from unexpected sources
Honor and acknowledge all achievements
Volunteering opens the heart to a fuller sense of self
To give (volunteer) and receive is the same – both are needed
It’s truly beautiful from the top of a mountain – whatever the size
Physical limitations aren’t a reason not to try or to achieve anything