"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man—then you are ready for a walk." THOREAU
It was roughly 10 years ago on Memorial Day weekend 2008 that I met my future nieces Chloe and Halee for the first time. Since that point, much has changed in both of their lives. Chloe went from our flower girl to going hiking with me at Glen Onoko waterfalls world to spending this summer, the summer between 11th and 12th grade in her northern Ohio life, as an intern in a veterinary clinic in Georgia. Halee went from a smiley gymnast to James Madison University in Virginia, where she discovered her passion of helping other people and participating in more extreme outdoor pursuits. In September, she truly leaves her Ohio roots and her standardized future for the world of Cameroon in Africa, to work with the Peace Corps for 27 months.
As a middle-aged uncle, I couldn’t be more proud of these young women seizing the bull by the horns to live life full on.
In life, I have encountered many young gals who took their opportunities and chose to be great. I think of my student Ashley, who spent a decade doing missionary / medical work in Guatemala. I think of another gal I taught last semester who worked selling merchandise with the Ice Capades. While that doesn’t sound exotic, think about it like this. She got to travel North American to experience a continent and meet new people. Pretty cool for a “routine” job, methinks.
Additionally, I knew many professional young women who went into the Air Force, completed basic training, and went on to be leaders in their fields. They took the opportunity to be great, and they ran with it for Air Force success. There are too many of these women to name only a few.
Then there were others who found the Air Force wasn’t for them. After it was over, they went on to do other things. I think of my friend “Jude,” whose multicultural background of being from multinational parents (English and American) opened her perspective up to be who she was meant to be. Now, she travels here, there, and everywhere for her job. Too cool!
Maybe they had concerns and fears, but they put them aside to be something more. Much of their success was in different locations far from their birthplace. Some of them had a birthplace, but were military “brats.” They went where they were meant to be. Here, I think of Nicki and Sky, who I met in a pediatrics clinic outside Woodbridge, England. At this point, their parents’ lives exist in post-Air Force days, but for Nicki, her opportunities are changing as her own family moves from Alaska to the southwest so she can change her career. Sky is now a professional in Montana, a place that looks nothing like Ipswich, England.
Other young girls have grown to be strong role models as women. My wife is 2 weeks away from starting a new job in education’s support world. Twelve years ago, she moved 8 hours to Pennsylvania to start a new life here. Today, we have been married almost 9 years, and her strength as the hardest-working woman I know (and best caregiver) has allowed her to be stronger than she ever knew she could be in tough situations. My mom and sister also grew with their life’s opportunities and challenges (as did my other family). Heather’s sisters grew with their challenges as well. Additionally, opportunities and moves and desire made them who they are. Heather’s sister Stephanie, for instance, recently moved from Toledo to Elkins, Georgia, to raise her daughters after her husband Steve retired there. New places can be scary, as can being away from family, but through it all, she continues to fulfill her life’s goal of making sure her kids can be in the right place to fulfill their talents.
The point is that life seems to offer people the standard. Granted, there is nothing wrong with staying in the same location all of our lives, but what if we have the chance to do more, why not?
Additionally, heroes are generally sports stars or entertainers. When they’re historic figures, we usually look for the extreme, like Malala taking headshots for fighting for a woman’s right to be educated.
But it doesn’t have to be that way (though she's a next-level awesome person to follow).
In my life, I went into the Air Force looking to be stationed at bases no further than about 5 hours from home. I wanted to be close to old friends. I got Dover, Delaware. Then, a gal asked me to trade it for Bentwaters, England. She wanted to be with her husband. I told her I’d think about it. I had no overseas bases on my list. I had no clue where it was. One hour later, I took the opportunity.
I never looked back.
Had I not taken it, I would have never met a lot of great people I still stay in touch with. Here, I think of Will and Heidi, whose Florida family is pretty much my extended family. Here, I also think of Trudy, who I shared a life with before and after the Air Force. Her family, my British family, opened their lives to me, both during and after our time together. Had it not been for our time together at the “College of Bury St. Edmunds,” I wouldn’t have come back to America to teach. I wouldn’t have grown into a better person (eventually), so I could get it right with my wife, which is where I was always meant to end up. I’m sure Trudy finds that our time made her life with her husband and sons possible, too. After all, that's where she was always meant to be.
The point is that opportunities come for everyone, regardless of gender. I watch movies like A Walk in the Woods and think about how Bill Bryson’s late life crisis is to walk the Appalachian Trail. He sets out and tries. He doesn’t make it, but he can. In 2013, I set out to do the Standing Stone Trail. I did about 20 of the about 75 miles of the trail before I went out on blisters. I tried, and I learned. That opportunity meant a lot.
Opportunities can mean something to everyone. Gals can and do kick butt on the Appalachian Trail. They can and do compete in all fields. It just comes back to finding heroines and support in what they do, no matter what that is. We need to be that support.
Right now, I encounter a lot of great women leading extraordinary lives in all that they do, especially helping people with Parkinson’s or other disabilities. We need more caring and compassionate people in these fields since there's a lot of us out here waiting for the cure (LIKE ME!) or simply to obtain palliative care.
Imagine if only men were encouraged to go out and do something beyond the standard!
Nevertheless, going back to where we began, I see Halee and Chloe beginning to be the kind of people who will end up in Amy Poehler’s MIGHTY GIRL world.
Rock on, ladies! You got this.
And guys… take your opportunities to grow, too. Stagnation is the enemy. Next year, Liam (pictured below) will get his shot to be the post high school him. He needs inspiration from your success (not that he won't find it on his own, but he still could use some trail builders showing him what's out there).
Remember, at some point, your opportunities might stop. What will your story be then? In the same manner, for those who took the opportunities, share the knowledge you gained. Here, I’m so glad I drove cross country several times. I feel everyone should have this opportunity to see what's out there in the world. After all, it's your oyster. That's why I write this and other essays.
Here’s to an awesome future to all of you.
One last note...
At some point in the life of this post, I will have my 100,000th visit to my blog. On September 27th, I was given 90% odds of having Parkinson's. The next morning, I chose to take a journey into education and advocating if that diagnosis proved true.
It did, and I did. I haven't looked back. I have nothing to lose. Parkinson's is already in the house, and we know what happens when a vampire gets "invited" in. My goal is still educating, advocating, finding a cure, and staying me, all while taking my opportunities to live life.
If you'd like to be a part of that, I'm looking for people to state the following quote ("I am here to live out loud") in some special place, where they can record it on video. Last night, I gave the first at Independence Hall in Philly. My wife gave the second at the Chinese Lantern Festival. Please private message me for more information on this opportunity. Also, please note that it will be for the World Parkinson Congress video contest.
No matter whether you contribute footage or not, I appreciate you making this journey a reality. I am very humbled by your support.