Tag Archives: inspiration

on the eve of a big decision

I rushed around the house this morning, packing at the last minute, trying not to forget anything I needed for my trip to Toronto, trying to get to the airport on time, trying to calm down about, well, everything. In my haste, I dropped a stack of papers. They all landed perfectly in order, except one. My photo of me and Don Bowling slid across the floor. I picked it up and paused for a minute to think about Don.don

Eight hours from now I’ll be making a big decision about what’s next in my life. I’m honestly not sure yet what the outcome will be, so you’ll have to wait for the details.

I sat down for a second and thought about what Don, my “adopted grandfather” (his words, my delight) would have told me to do. I remembered his stories, his many different paths, major changes, setbacks and adventures.

I thought he must be somewhere out there, finding a way to encourage me…telling me that I just have to remember to write, and to not let anything get in my way or distract me. I lost track of him over the years – we exchanged letters, Christmas and birthday cards for a couple of years but eventually they stopped. As soon as I got a moment to myself today, I looked him up. I learned that he passed away two months ago. April 11, 2016 was 7 years to the day after I sat with him on the square in Florence discussing life, love, and writing.

After I reluctantly left him in Florence, I bought a journal and started scribbling furiously. I vowed to adjust my attitude, take some action, and change my situation. It wasn’t in as dramatic a fashion I had pictured that day on the train, but I did change my situation. That spark of passion led me to Toronto, where my life did indeed get better.

Today I am back in Toronto, which feels like Home. Getting here was pretty special too.

I was settled into my seat, journal in hand, ready for the seven-hour flight to Toronto. I had a premium seat and the one next to me was empty, always nice. After everyone was settled and the flight attendants were closing bins and checking seatbelts, a little old lady made her way to the seat next to me, clearly flustered.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I’m very upset. They forgot me and I almost missed my flight.” The gate agents were supposed to bring her in a wheelchair but lost track of her because there were about 5 others on the flight. Her hands shook so much she couldn’t zip her purse so I gently took it from her, zipped it and placed it under the seat. I poured her some water and asked if she feels better now that she’s sitting down. She did. I got out a ginger cookie and saw her eyeing it. She asked where I got it, I gave it to her and she inhaled it. She asked if she could keep the other one for later.

She told me about her home renovation, paint colours, floor choices, her daughter that she likes and the daughter that she…well…doesn’t. I dug her headphones out of her purse and untangled them. I read her nine different movie descriptions and helped her choose one about a dress maker, then reset the system each time she accidentally pushed stop instead of the volume. She thinks marriage is overrated, and she loves Italy. I pulled her coat off for her, then put it back on. I helped her open the individually wrapped pieces of our meal, read the customs form to her, and learned about her grandsons who don’t visit and don’t even like surfing.

I had been reviewing my notes for tomorrow, rehearsing what I’m going to say. She said,
“You don’t need notes honey. You don’t need to explain anything. All you need to say is that you’ve decided what you want to do and you’re going to do it.” I laughed because it really is that simple.

She asked me earnestly, “what if they forget me again?” I told her it doesn’t matter because I can drive a wheelchair. I said I wouldn’t leave her until we saw her daughter, and she grabbed my hand and held on.

The gate agent didn’t forget her this time. He kept telling me he’d take her from here – confused as to why I wasn’t leaving. As promised, I stayed with her until we met her daughter to whom she said, “this is my friend Lauren. She stayed with me the whole time.”

Don and Noreen came into my life during times of uncertainty and fear. They gave me a few hours of their time, and some sweet and simple words of advice that left me feeling energised and confident about what to do next.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do next. But it occurs to me that if I can learn to be as open and receptive when I’m feeling strong, as I am when I’m feeling scared, it could be anything.

I think of you often, Don Bowling.

An excerpt from my travel journal, one year ago on Easter Sunday in Florence, Italy.  Reflecting on the goals I set and the progress I’ve made (not much) is more than a little depressing. I haven’t kept my promise to myself and Don (yet) but I’m not giving up.

Easter 2009

I have just met the man who changed my life. I pray I do not lose the passion and optimism I feel in this moment.  I pray.  Last night I prayed in a church.  After sitting for hours in a piazza, taking in the beauty of Italy, of Florence, I wandered into a church.  A tiny church on a tiny street, I now regret I do not remember the name.  I sat and prayed that I find what it is I am looking for, and to the extent I believe in prayers, they were answered.  I’ll never know whether it was God or fate, but I am at peace with not knowing.

Don found me as I purchased postcards on my way out of the most beautiful city I’ve ever known.  He asked me about the day’s events at the Duomo, it is Easter Sunday and there is a parade.  We connected over shared ties to San Francisco and a mutual love of Florence.  My first of what shall be many visits to the city and his return after saying “goodbye” to his sweetheart, Ethel.  Don is 79, and despite his daughter’s protest he has returned to finish writing the book they started together.  He is writing about travel for elderly and handicapped people and has just begun his 3 month visit.  He lives in a studio apartment overlooking a piazza.
donIn what is likely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, I asked him to join me for coffee.  As a crowd gathered at the Duomo behind us, we chatted over lattes (and a croissant for him) about life and love.  In the hours that we sat, I saw the most beautiful soul I’ve ever had the great fortune of knowing.  He wore a beret and proudly told me the story of how he became a writer.

After the Korean war, he and his wife attended UCLA on the GI Bill.  He became a history teacher and later a school principle.  He realized he was a writer when he wrote scripts for a television broadcast at a school for the developmentally disabled in Sacramento.  He wrote them word for word, but always ad libbed his lectures – they were slightly different but better.  His wife was a speech pathologist who wrote a book about the first 6 words a person says.  You can tell almost everything you need to know about a person by their introduction: “Hi, my name is…”  You have a sense of where they’re from, their level of education, their confidence, and their personality.

She came across a publisher who had overcome a stutter, and he agreed to publish the book.  Don became her agent and set out to promote the book.  Not wanting to seem biased, he created the name “Steven Dash” for his correspondence related to the book.  Once, he forgot the name he’d created and though this caused suspicion a radio host in Salt Lake City agreed to a live interview.  Don was afraid it wouldn’t sound good, but was pleasantly surprised that a phone call from Sacramento sounded like she was sitting right there in the Utah studio.  His wife was always great at interviews.

She passed away when Don was 68.   A gay buddhist counselor from San Francisco helped him through the grief, and his belief in reincarnation gave Don hope.  Three years ago he was blessed to have found love again, “the luckiest man alive, to have two great loves in one short lifetime.”

Don thanks “the gays” for the introduction of the domestic partnership.  He could share his benefits with Ethel and neither would lose their social security.  More importantly, Ethel refused to marry him.  She had spent most of her life married to an alcoholic and had grown to despise the idea of marriage.  For Don, this was a blessing because it meant he could spend every day of their lives together trying to win her over, to convince her to keep him around for one more precious day.  Knowing she could kick him to the curb motivated him to be the best partner he could be every single day.

Ethel died of colon cancer with Don by her side, she left him as soon as he told her it was okay to go.  He sees her every once in a while around Florence, sometimes Venice.  He wears her ashes in a cross around his neck, the rest are hidden in a secret place until he scatters them throughout Italy.  Don believes she got cancer from pesticides, having grown up on a farm.

Don feels blessed to have had the opportunity to take care of these women and help them go.  His “Mormon tax guy” believes they chose him because they needed him.  And now another woman’s life has been changed by this man, likely one of many knowing how much love he has to share.

He excitedly told me of getting published through Amazon.com.  It is very scary though.  Somehow you have to send thousands of words and pictures through a tiny little telephone wire.  Who knows where they go or how they get there? For all he knows, all of his hard work is being beamed up into space.  But somehow an editor in South Carolina was able to get his book out of the telephone wire and mail it back to him as a good old fashioned book.  He just received his first royalty check in the amount of $52, we drank to that.

Don’s advice to me before we parted ways was:

1. Write every single day, at least 300 good words.

2. Your biological clock will start ticking, don’t let some jerk take advantage of that.  You’ve got plenty of time and if it runs out, the world has too many children that need to be adopted.

3. You don’t find love, it finds you.

I’ve decided to become a writer, for Don.


Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is by far the best book I’ve ever read.  With over 900 pages it’s heavier than most books I travel with but because I was so mesmerized by the first few chapters it accompanied me on a 10 day trip to Spain.  In Madrid I skipped the Plaza de Oriente and Teatro Real in favour of an afternoon in Retiro Park with Roberts’s melodic voice and fascinating characters.  I pored over his words like a university student cramming for a test.  I underlined passages and folded corners, scribbled notes in the margins.
shantaramHis website offers a seemingly feigned caveat that Shantaram is a novel.  I don’t buy it.  His accounts of the events are too lyrical, too vivid to be fiction.  Suppose I’m wrong…the artist who inspires me most is even more a hero.  Roberts has flaws, a past and a sense of adventure.  He’s not an academically trained writer or philosopher.  He is a man with a story.  I wonder how many will share their stories for having read his – I know of at least one.

The reader grows to love all aspects of his characters’ humanity.  We come to understand Lin through his relationships and adventures – quickly realizing his modesty and humility.  To hear Roberts speak is to confirm the impression that he is a man of true character and pure heart.

In daydreams I plan a trip to Mumbai and an afternoon at Leopold’s before meeting Prabu for a ride around the city, perhaps a stroll through the slums.  These people are real and I want to know them.  I cried (sobbed actually) as I read and again in November of 2008 when terrorists attacked the café, killing at least 10 people.

Someone from my past, perhaps the only person I’d spared from excited and prolonged raving about the book gave me a copy for my birthday.  I was so touched by his thoughtfulness that I began to fantasize about the possibility of soulmates.  Soulmates we most definitely were not.  But in this lifetime the book again strengthened a connection when Mr. bought and read it just so we could talk about it together.

Shantaram has touched me, ignited passion.  Roberts has inspired me as a writer and a traveler and a person.  Please, please read this book.