"The Journey is the Destination"—a Life Lived Out Loud

Our good friends Eva and Yoel Haller invited Rob and me to a special Santa Barbara International Film Festival luncheon last week to celebrate a new film about an extraordinary young man named Dan Eldon. "The Journey is the Destination" tells the compelling story of how Dan, in his brief lifetime, inspired people to work for peace and social justice in parts of the world where both are in short supply.

Dan was born in London in 1970, and the family moved to Kenya in 1977, where his British father headed the east Africa division of a European computer company and his American mother, Kathy Eldon, was a freelance journalist. He attended the International School of Kenya, where he met students from around the world and developed his insatiable appetite for travel and adventure. While Kenya remained his home, he traveled widely, and, following in his mother's footsteps, became a journalist.

From an early age, Dan worked to help others. When he was 14, he raised money to pay for open-heart surgery for a young Kenyan girl. At 15, he helped support a Maasai family by buying their hand-made jewelry and selling it to fellow students and friends.

After graduating high school in 1988, Dan attended college in California and Iowa, but ultimately returned to Africa to pursue a career as a freelance photographer. His work caught the attention of Reuters' editors, and Dan was hired as a staff photographer covering Somalia's terrible famine in the early 1990s. As the situation worsened, violence drew American intercession and the attention of the international community. Despite the danger, Dan continued to work in Mogadishu, hoping his images would bring attention to the unfolding tragedy in Somalia. In July 1993, American forces mistakenly bombed what they thought was a meeting of warlords, and many innocent civilians were killed. Dan and three of his Reuters colleagues were killed when a gathering mob turned on them. He was 23.

Dan's mom, Kathy, founded a nonprofit organization—Creative Visions—to honor Dan's legacy. "The Journey is the Destination" is the realization of Kathy's long-held dream of telling Dan's story. A book of the same name features the drawings and artwork he jotted in his journal.

We met Kathy at the luncheon last week, as well as Maria Bello, the actor who portrayed Kathy in the film. It is a deeply moving and ultimately uplifting film, which also screened at the Toronto Film Fest and opened the DC Independent Film Festival this week.

Creative Visions continues to honor Dan's memory, supporting individual artists working to effect positive social change. You can find out more about Creative Visions here, and read more about Dan's story here. Kathy has also written several books about her own journey, which is just as inspiring. See her story here.

Dan's extraordinary life reminds us that all of us, each of us, has the power to bring about positive change in our world. If you have a chance, see the film. And support Creative Visions.

A New Year's Reflection

Things I am grateful for:

·      my love

·      my friends and family, especially my precious daughter

·      writers who share their lives, loves and words

·      my work and the people who entrust me with their books and dreams

·      my sweet dog, Chevella, who turns 14 next summer

·      the ability to read and think and appreciate ideas

·      meaningful conversation with interesting people

·      the wonder and blessings of travel

·      my home and the ability to share it with clients and friends

·      the possibilities of the future

·      my own writing projects, which feed my soul

·      wise women friends who provide support and succor when I need it (and you know who you are!)

·      the opportunity to live in a beautiful corner of the world

·      walking on the beach with my dog

·      mentors who guide and encourage me

·      good health

·      deep, intimate relationships with people I love and care about

For these things and many more, I am profoundly grateful.

May your 2017 be filled with meaningful work and relationships, may you experience all good things, and may your loftiest dreams come true.

Happy New Year.

On Wonder

My friend Kathleen Barry and I write together every couple of weeks, and yesterday we both wrote about wonder. You can read her take on it here. Here's mine:

I love the concept of wonder. It conjures up the image of a child gazing at a colorful butterfly, or watching a bird's egg open, the tiny feathered creature inside emerging into the light.

I have been in that dreamy state of wonder, whether at some physical world delight, or in contemplating the metaphysical. Lyanda Lynn Haupt says wonder "is contingent on the habit of being that allows it to arise...." In other words, you have to be in a constant state of openness and wonderment for moments of wonder to find you.

How can we bring more wonder into our lives? Can you discover the wonder in an everyday cup of coffee? Or in the choosing of your clothes for the day? Or in washing the dishes after a meal? It's easy to see the wonder in a stunning sunset, less so in the drudgery of vacuuming the house.

If we are called to see the extraordinary in the ordinary (and I believe we are), then we learn over time to recognize the moments in our lives that God (or the Universe) asks us to appreciate, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

Where do you see wonder in your life? I see it in the purple bougainvillea outside the window, in the hummingbirds which flit among its petals, in the distant ocean and the tides that govern its movements.

Life is both fragile and fleeting—wonder is our opportunity to appreciate it in every moment: the touch of a friend's hand, beach sand between your toes, ice melting in your double scotch. Wonder abounds.

Season of Loss, Season of LIfe

A dear friend had a severe stroke over the weekend. She and her husband, who live near Fresno, had been out gardening in their yard early, to beat the heat. When they came in to get breakfast, she collapsed onto the floor. Her husband knew right away it was likely a stroke: the left side of her face sagged and she was paralyzed on her left side. At the hospital, doctors immediately tried a drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), which works by dissolving blood clots. In this case, though, it didn't work, and they rushed her into emergency surgery.

That night, after surgery, doctors told her husband they'd gotten the blockage at the top of her carotid artery, but couldn't get to the one near her frontal lobe. It has been touch and go. Monday she moved her left leg and arm, and she was alert and asking for her phone and glasses Tuesday morning. Yesterday the report wasn't so good. We'll know more about the extent of damage in coming days and weeks, but we are all hopeful. She faces many months—perhaps a year or more—of recovery.

I've known these friends for more than 25 years. They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, having married as youngsters on the eve of his going off to fight in Vietnam. He became a journalist and, later, a businessman. We met when we worked for the small daily newspaper in Redding, California, along with another friend. As couples, all six of us became close friends and have remained so to this day, though we all ended up in different cities far apart. We watched our kids grow up and vacationed together. We also supported each other when one of us was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago. Last fall, her cancer returned. Her husband, meanwhile, struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Earlier this year, my younger sister died unexpectedly, and another dear friend succumbed to ovarian cancer last month. Other friends are dealing with the sudden loss of his job; he is in his mid-60s.

This season of life for me has brought many joys—and, increasingly, illnesses, difficulties, sorrows, deaths. It is sometimes hard to remember that life is also death, and struggle. 

As I have gotten older, I find myself more introspective, seeking answers, looking for the reasons behind the events of our lives. I do not have the answers, but this I do know: None of us is immune from heartbreak or sorrow, and the only response to any hardship is trust, and gratitude for what is, and perseverance. And faith. I always come back to Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Lisa Lenard-Cook: An Extraordinary Writer and Teacher, an Extraordinary Woman

My friend Lisa Lenard-Cook died on May 22, at her home in Albuquerque with her husband, Bob, by her side. She had fought ovarian cancer for almost two years, and at one point we thought she had it beat. But it came back with a vengeance last fall, and she ended up spending 40 days in the hospital. She went home in January, but in March she sent her friends a note none of us wanted to read.

"I know it's been a while since you've heard from me, but there hadn't been much to report, except that I wasn't recovering as quickly as we'd hoped. Now we've learned that the abdominal discomfort I've been experiencing...is because of tumors run rampant....

"This morning I was admitted to Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho, but after talking with my doctors, & with hospice, we headed back home late this afternoon. As I am unable to eat, & have lost a great deal of weight already, this isn't going to drag out for long...

"I'm sorry the news isn't better. I knew what I was up against from the outset, & I know you all hoped for a better outcome. But I'm 63 years old, & have lived a good life, thanks, in part, to each of you.

"Thank you for your love, caring, prayers, & yes, cussing. Love you all. ~L"

Lisa posted something similar on Facebook that week, and one more post a week or so later.

I met Lisa when I was the owner of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I was looking for new workshop leaders to add to our faculty, and my friend and workshop leader Catherine Ryan Hyde suggested Lisa. We hit if off instantly. Not only was she an amazing novelist (her books include Dissonance and Coyote Morning), but she was one of those people who has a gift for teaching and inspiring others. She was an extraordinary instructor, and the writers she coached and edited absolutely adored her.

She continued with the conference until last June, when she was in remission and came to Santa Barbara wearing scarves and wigs, always exhibiting her sense of humor and resiliency. She had pushed back against the cancer and forced it into remission in barely nine months.

In the fall of 2014 I moved to Santa Fe, and spent a night with her and Bob in their lovely home in north Albuquerque. Last August, Rob and I had dinner with them on our way to Santa Fe, and toasted the apparent triumph over the cancer. Sadly, it was not to be.

I will miss her ready smile and generous spirit, her love of literature and words and her dogs and the New Mexico landscape, and her absolute commitment to the writers she shepherded over the years. Rest in peace, sweet friend.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. June 11 at their home in Albuquerque. If you want to attend, let Bob Cook know, at bob.d.cook@gmail.com.

And if you'd like to remember her in a special way, please consider donating to one of these wonderful organizations, which she loved:

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, Ramah, NM: https://wildspiritwolfsanctuary.org/index.php
Animal Humane NM, Albuquerque, NM:  http://animalhumanenm.org
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund: http://www.ocrf.org

Paris in February

The idea for our trip to France began almost a year ago, when Rob asked me what I wanted for my 60th birthday. Half jokingly, I said I wanted to go to Paris for Christmas.

I forgot about it when we made plans last fall to visit London and Ireland for three weeks. We had an amazing time, and I will post more pieces in coming weeks about that trip. But it was while we were in Ireland that Rob suggested we do the Paris trip at Christmas after all.

We talked about it off and on, but then Rob sold his office building in Pasadena and decided to move to Santa Barbara full time at the end of December. “Let’s go for Valentine’s Day instead,” he said.

That sounded good to me. But we didn’t anticipate the complexities of moving not only his office but his construction workshop with all his tools, and his belongings and furniture from his apartment in Old Town. It took most of December and all of January to do it. We were still awash in boxes when the Paris trip loomed on Feb. 10. Also, while going to France in February seemed like a good idea tourist-wise (no crowds), the weather was iffy. More than one person said to us, “You’re going to Paris in February? Are you crazy?”

Well, yes.

We packed raincoats and warm clothes and waterproof boots, and off we went.

While the trip was overshadowed by my sister’s sudden death, we had fairly good weather throughout. Paris was sunny for the most part, although chilly. The one exception was the day we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower, when it was about 35 degrees and raining sleet. We climbed up to the second level and spent the rest of the time in the restaurant sipping wine and gazing out on the freezing crowds standing in line below.

The next day bloomed sunny and a relatively warm 52 degrees. We strolled along the Champs Elysees and window shopped as we took in the Grand Palais and the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way we stopped for chocolat chaud (more on that in a minute) and met an older couple from London. He was Syrian, a businessman who had lived in London for many years and who had gone to school in Paris during the 1950s. They were visiting for the Valentine’s Day weekend.

He was talkative and friendly and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to politics—Donald Trump specifically (ugh!)—and President Obama, whom he said had been very weak on foreign affairs, especially with regard to the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. It was an interesting and different perspective, at least for me. Rob and I have diametrically opposed political views (makes for some very interesting discussions at our house), and on that point I think Rob agreed with our newfound friend.

Now, as to chocolat chaud (hot chocolate): my poet friend and AROHO sister Lisa Rizzo is no stranger to Paris, and she had given me lots of suggestions of things to see and places to visit. One of those was a link to an article about which places had the best chocolat chaud in Paris. Over five days, we tried three different places (not all of them were on the list Lisa sent). But here’s what I discovered: It is beyond delicious. They serve it to you in two little pitchers, one with the thickest, creamiest, richest hot chocolate you can imagine, and one containing warm, delectable cream. You mix the two to your own liking, and if you’re really a lush for sweetness, you can add sugar. I fell in love. If you’re adventurous, you can add different flavorings as well. But I liked mine straight. There’s hardly any way you can improve upon good chocolate, I think. I can’t wait to try to re-create it at home.

Rob has been to Paris several times, but this was my first trip, just as going to London and Ireland last fall was my first time in Europe. I have always wanted to travel, and had been to parts of Canada and Mexico, and I got to spend a month in Costa Rica several years ago. But other than that, I am a neophyte.

After five days in Paris, we took the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, “high-speed train”) to Ax-en-Provence in the south, then rented a car and headed for the Riviera.

(Next, the tiny coastal town of Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat…)