This is one of the most important subjects to me, so don’t be surprised if it comes up again (and again, and again…). What started as a soapbox posting, turned into something much more candid.
I have just finished the wonderful book Three Cups of Tea. Thanks to the recent rain I was actually able to stay inside and finish it.
So the good news first; If you’re feeling down about the state of the world, this is the right medicine. If you, like myself, are feeling overwhelmed by the recent stupidity and greed that seems to plague the most vocal (and often influential) citizens, politicians, and groups that make America what it is, pick up and read.
Literature has oft influenced my life, but this book is the most influential I have read to date. For the past few months, and even years, I’ve wandered about wondering what to do with my life. I’ve climbed some pretty big mountains in my life, which I will tell you about another day.
Like Greg from the story, the greatest and most life changing event for me has been failure. In TC of T. Greg fails and attempt at K2, where he chances upon a village with a great need: education. The rest of the novel talks about how that failure turned Greg into one of the greatest humanitarians of our time. I once felt like the protagonist, able to reach the most difficult peaks in the world.
After High School, I went on a mission where I learned that I wasn’t as religious as my upbringing had lead me to believe. When I left home for my two years in California, the bishop (leader of the local churches) asked me to rate my faith on a scale of one to ten. I responded, “9.5. We could always stand to get a little better, right.” When I returned, thankfully he didn’t ask me that same question. For, if he did the number would have been the opposite.
After my mission, I went to college, where I learned that I’m not as intelligent as High School had made me out to believe. I first started at BYU (which may be your first clue that I’m not so intelligent). While there, I did very poorly. I worked three jobs, went to school full-time, and struggled with my dwindling faith. From there, I went to the U (that’s University of Utah for those of you who don’t habla Utahteco (Utahteco is … figure it out)). I felt myself fatigued and running of steam, but I was so close to the peak. As my world crumbled away, so did my desire to graduate. Against a rock and a hard place, I took the path of least resistance, and it was still a very close call.
For the next two years, I would fail at almost every relationship I had. I had my first romantic relationship at the age of 21. Why so late you ask? Well, to love the one your heart chooses rather than society requires a lot of courage. The best decision I ever made was to love. So, back to my dating history. The first was brief, but had a lasting impact. I followed with a string of bad romances (did anyone else think of Lady Gaga), each one getting longer in duration, but worse in compatibility. Finally, giving up on love altogether.
By now, I was feeling slightly liberated and empowered, but my family and friends had a ways to catch up. After all, it took me 21 years to come out to myself, and everyone I knew had to do the same. It was hard, most people stopped talking to me. One day they knew exactly who I was and how to talk to me. Then the next, they saw me as a stranger, and didn’t know how to communicate with my type. Needless to say, it was difficult for all of us.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, were the economics. I left home with no money, no job, and no where to go. I ended up staying with friends, or in my car. Eventually I found a great paying job, and a room to rent. Shortly after I moved in, the position I had was terminated. The whole ordeal was at least shady, and at best misunderstood. So I pounded the pavement all day everyday. After a few weeks, hundreds of resumes, and few interviews. I became desperate and took a job as a server. I was horrible at it. I dropped two trays full of alcohol, and never mastered more than five tables in the four months I was there. More often than not, at the end of the day, I left with less than minimum. It was a difficult time for me.
With only a few weeks left until I graduated, I sincerely questioned if I would make it. I began to see graduation more and more as the answer to my problems. I had enough money to choose between school supplies and books, food, or gas for my car. Most days I scoured the campus for any sort of party, or open house that advertised free food. I think I even joined the Feminist Club for a free slice of pizza. Towards the middle of the month, I usually ended up parking my car where ever the gas light came on. From November to March was particularly hard as I usually walked in snow, slush, and cold. The majority of my days began at 5 or 6 when I would get up to walk to the nearest public transit. I spent a full day at school before taking public transit to work. During the slow times, I did my homework. usually finishing after midnight. Sometimes I was lucky enough to make the last train, but more often than not, I walked the almost five miles through commercial areas and under freeways to get home. Several times, I was followed, propositioned, and once even threatened. I questioned if it was even worth it, and began to wonder if I could make it to my graduation in the spring.
That was the lowest point of my life.
I did graduate, but it didn’t solve my problems. Things got better slowly. I moved from job to job, until I did something I liked, and almost made a liveable wage.
I lived in some pretty horrible places, but I also lived in one of the best. My landlord was one of the most understanding and loving people that has ever come into my life. She accepted me when no one else did, even when I didn’t have a rent check to give. When it felt like I had lost everyone, I found my most dear, and first lifelong friend.
With time and experience, relationships with both friends and family have improved. Sometimes that is time is what it takes, even for the people we love.
I am currently dating the most wonderful man. I’ll keep you posted about us.
While graduating did solve my problems the way I wished it had, it has provided me a world of opportunities. While still incognito, I studied abroad in Spain. While there, I learned what it was like to be free, and I flourished for short time. Even with the little I had, I was able to travel. Through grants, scholarships, and choosing miles over meals, I traveled to Bolivia where, like Greg, I helped build a school, went to San Diego, San Francisco, and Denver where I worked with immigrants, the homeless, and people of every type. In school I studied the difficult intersections of poverty, discrimination, and privilege. In life, I learned about, well, life.
So, here I am, sitting overlooking the Mediterranean on a particularly beautiful day. I came here to escape, but instead have found myself. Mortenson’s tale has reignited something within myself. In my travels I have seen what he describes. There is so much need throughout the world. I’ve begun to think of traveling in a new way.
Imagine traveling not to see a place, but to help make it better. What if people booked causes instead of cruises? That is my proposition. I hope my family trip to see the Grand Canyon includes bringing school supplies to the Havasupi. And, when we go to Disneyland (if we go, Yikes!) we help sort food at the Orange County Co-op.
See the world, and make it better. No one has to go through what I did, or worse (I personally know a lot of people who had it much worse than I) to know that people need help. My personal struggles have made me form a commitment to alleviating pain and suffering at home and abroad. If you’re reading this help spread the message that things get better. Even when they seem so bad you can barely stand it, know that there is so much more out there. Know that failures whether of your own merit, a societies, or otherwise, know that you can change it. But, we have to make a change.
Care about yourself first. Care about those you know. But, also care for those that you don’t.
Travel like you care.