It’s a red-flag kind of day

Today is one of those days that puts Coloradans on edge. It will be first of many this year.

It’s not our first Red Flag Warning (high fire danger) day, though I think it’s the second day with humidity <5%. One thing is for sure: the gusts have whipped up tonight. And my lips feel like paper.

While we’re adjusting quickly to the drier weather – following a wet winter, even – this early need to water everything has got us scratching our heads, licking our lips and crossing our fingers.

In fact, this fire just flared up today, one county west of here (in a rural mountain town). Thankfully, evacuations have lifted, though containment data is unknown (containment means the firefighters have been able to hold a line of the fire at least 24 hours).

I find myself praying for the right moisture at the right time and that we (residents and our many visitors) will be wise enough to:

  • Completely put out campfires in public parks and forests (if they’re even allowed);
  • Properly and responsibly dispose of cigarette butts; and
  • Refrain from burning leaves or trash on windy days, etc.

Sounds like common sense, but every year, we are amazed. We can’t be careful enough.

Most lives spared, but not their homes
640px-Waldo_fire_approaching_Mountain_Shadows_2

The west side of Colorado Springs. “Waldo fire approaching Mountain Shadows 2” by ttcosprings. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thankfully, casualties were minimal in the last two Colorado fires, but nearly 1000 families were displaced for at least a year, if not longer. Some still are figuring out how to rebuild.

The Waldo Canyon Fire scar stares drivers in the face as we sit, facing west at traffic lights. The Black Forest Fire scar, across the highway to the northeast, is Waldo’s quiet counterpart.

And both are part of us now.

The obstacle is the path
I love the Zen proverb quoted by fellow #YourTurnChallenge blogger Patrick Smith, that the obstacle is the path. Challenge, adversity, any kind of obstacle, really – they not only build character in us; they build beauty and identity.

The weather the last few years has been crazy nearly everywhere. I guess it’s our turn to brace ourselves for the season ahead, pray for the best and prepare for the worst – including the resulting beauty.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.

Hunger is hunger, wherever you are

Yesterday I attended a wonderful fundraiser for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. I call them the food bank to the food banks across much of our state.

In an exceptional move in 2012, Care and Share arranged direct distribution of food to families affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. I was unemployed at the time and volunteered with them over several months following the fire to organize food distribution to hundreds of families and local food banks .

The heat was unprecedented that summer — nearly 2 weeks of 100+ temperatures strung together, punctuated only by the frighteningly persistent sound of fire trucks, up and down the Front Range.

Everything was brittle. Temperatures, foliage, patience, tempers. So many had lost so much.

care-and-shareIt was during this season I gained a whole new respect for Care and Share’s work, their work ethic and their vision for tackling hunger in Colorado. This focused food distribution was one of the most compassionate things I’d seen done in a major, local crisis.

It’s not uncommon with major disasters like typhoons or earthquakes to gather goods of all kinds to distribute, but I’d never seen anything like this  on a local level. What vision and leadership.

It truly gave affected families one less thing to worry about and one less encounter each week that would require them to explain “how they were doing” after they’d just lost everything.

Fast forward
At yesterday’s luncheon, we heard stories from individuals who’d benefited from Care and Share’s extensive services to food banks around our state:

  • One young mom who’d quit her job to get a college education so she could make a better future for her family. In the process, she found herself and her family in need of basic food and nutrition;
  • One poet who, though she didn’t “look the part” of the person suffering from hunger, she went through college married, with a family, and without food at least a couple of days a week; and
  • A very successful, young businesswoman, who had grown up “off the grid” in Colorado and – very long story, short – ended up getting many meals from dumpsters.

While the last story was the most dramatic of the three, hearing all their accounts reminded me of one thing:

Hunger is hunger, wherever you are.

When you’re hungry, you can’t focus on the task at hand. If you’re in school, it’s hard to learn when your body is focused on its most basic needs – not to mention your brain doesn’t fire on all cylinders without the proper fuel.

If you’re trying to work a job but can’t make ends meet enough to put food on the table, chances are good you’re missing things at work and you aren’t able to perform at your best.

When you suffer from food insecurity, the odds are stacked wildly against you and your dreams.

Third-world vs. First-world hunger?
I’ve witnessed first-hand hunger in circumstances of extreme poverty, where people have next to nothing and food is yet another thing they lack, among other essentials like clean water or access to medical care. Sadly, hunger usually comes with the territory.

But looking at someone who may be hungry and knowing I might see right through them because they look or act just like me is a much tougher concept to grasp. It takes attention and focus.

My lesson: More often these days, it is hard to know that people around us may need food, shelter or even a job. My hope is that we will respect our common bond of humanity enough to be sensitive to each others’ needs. Today I needed this reminder.

Imagine the other side

other-side-2

Sometimes I look back through my social media posts to see what they tell me about where my heart and mind have been the last few months.

It looks like lately, I’ve mentioned – a lot – the longer days, starting with Dec. 22, the day after winter solstice. I used not to care a lot about winter (or summer) solstice – the shortest and longest days of the year, respectively.

These days, I care a whole lot about them. I guess it’s because they have everything to do with getting to the other side: the other side of winter, short days, cold. Or, the other side of tennis season – a break for my body and muscles, a time to slow down with the seasons.

I won’t lie – I love winter solstice most. Because on the other side of that is spring, summer, my garden, new life, fresh perspective for a new year.

Missing the other side

There was a time, for about five years, when I spent a lot of time on airplanes, trying to get to the other side of the world and back again.

Most of those trips lasted 10-15 days each. A few were longer. One thing I learned then was this mind-blowing fact about myself: I’m a home body. I love to be home.

Good thing my name comes from Latin “nido,” meaning “nest.” Because I took my nest with me wherever I went, settling into my aisle seats with music, pillow, book, travel wallet, journal and favorite writing pens.

I would set up for the long haul – literally – and miss home every minute I was away. Never mind the wonderful relationships on the outbound side. Nothing ever can replace those. I just like to be home, that’s all.

Envision the other side

So I had to devise a strategy for keeping myself “up” for the duration of each trip, whether I was there for training, story-gathering, meetings or whatever. I prayed for health and strength and presence for what I went there to do.

What I came up with was this very simple formula: Imagine myself on the other side of my trip. Imagine what I’d do when I first got home, besides eat a cheeseburger. That didn’t count. Enjoy friendships, spend time with my hubby, get groceries, talk to my mom every day. Simple things.

So on every trip, each day I would tell myself: In 9 days, I’ll be home in my own bed, or In 3 days, I head back on the midnight flight.

Knowing I was working in my strengths – bringing clarity to issues around children in poverty and equipping others for the same – gave me assurance I was in the right place at the right time. That helped a lot.

But when I missed home, I just imagined myself back with my family, and that peace carried me from that moment all the way through the rest of the trip.

That was how I got to the other side: by imagining it.

Writing about what hurts

Writing about what hurtsI recently reloaded content from a very old, long-running blog and just finished scanning it to see the type of stuff I wrote about. This is what I learned:

  1. I wrote some pretty good headlines back then.
  2. My topics were all over the place, like a journal.
  3. I never, ever wrote about my work.

That last one kind of stings.

Considering that time in my life changed my life completely, I sure managed to suppress how much poverty had taught me – how much I’d learned, how much I had let go of.

Still, in the words of Heather B. Armstrong, one of the first professional bloggers to monetize her blog before monetizing was cool:

“BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.”

So I journaled (privately) a lot about work. I’m sure many people do. Maybe it’s what keeps us from breaking the law.

Anyway, I also had long hauls of multi-hour flights, with plenty of time to write about everything from:

  • eating in-flight, off-hours meals with my arms practically crossed (thank you, United);
  • miraculously getting from Jakarta to Singapore with absolutely no itinerary (I later learned); and
  • my “lost,” luggage somehow following me from Entebbe, Uganda, to London Heathrow with absolutely no tags on it.

That was the light stuff.

In fact, what I’d never blogged about is what weighed (then and now) heavily on my heart. It’s also the third – and so far, missing – leg on this blog’s intended three-legged stool: culture, communications and cause.

I’m not sure exactly how the topic of cause – of poverty – will unfold, but it’s feeling more and more like it’s time to let it happen. I’m praying for the courage to go there next.