Thursday, January 7, 2010

Epilogue (New Orleans, LA)

103: Me with the Bopp Family in Kenner, LA on Thursday night. Roll Tide!

102: Me with Broderick & Tanya in the Upper Ninth Ward, New Orleans on Wednesday

A special thanks to my two final hosts - Tanya Huang on Wednesday and the Bopp Family on Thursday. Their graciousness allowed me to stay and enjoy New Orleans a couple more days after my walk was over. And it allowed me to stay long enough to watch Alabama win the National Championship. I was cheering in spirit with all the many Crimson Tide fans who had hosted me on my journey through Alabama.

Now it is time to go home ....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Journey's End (Jackson Square)

"Garth Comes Marching In"
Being serenaded by New Orleans brass band in Jackson Square

Me, Simon & Lucy Barnes in the in the French Quarter on Tuesday night

I arrived in the center of Jackson Square at 3pm on the dot, my legs still strong, my feet in decent shape, and my spirit buoyed by the satisfaction of completing a journey I at one time did not think possible. My friends Simon and Lucy Barnes were there to congratulate me. They draped finish line beads around my neck and a three man New Orleans brass band serenaded us with a rendition of when the Saints Come Marching In.

The eight miles I walked from the Mennonite Disaster Service Headquarters to the foot of Andrew Jackson's imposing statue flew by. Sometimes the last miles of a journey feel like the hardest. Not these. Truth is, there was nothing too hard about walking a few (or 20) miles a day when each night I got to refresh myself by the welcome of friends and strangers - to be fed, offered a warm shower and given a comfortable place to sleep. The challenge for me was keeping a steady, focused perseverance over 120 straight days in spite of the inevitable ebbs in energy level, frustrations with trying to find places to stay and mental fatigue. It gives me a great deal of inner satisfaction to have accomplished that.

This trip was about moving from belief to experience. Years ago I read some of Joseph Campbell's work and one quote particularly stood out. It said, "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls." That connected with something deep inside of me. I believed it to be true, but for a long, long time I was hesitant to give myself the experience because there was part of me that doubted. That doubt was routed in fear - fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of the financial insecurity of leaving a job and a home to set out on an uncharted journey with no promise that things will turn out as hoped.

Well, I finally did it. I listened to that inner voice which had for years been telling me that I wanted to walk across the country relying only on the willingness of people to welcome me into their homes each night to dine together and give me a place to rest. Sure enough, I found doors, not walls. One hundred and four doors to be exact, opened wide. As I sit here at the journey's end, I can attest that I have more joy, more friends, and more belief in myself than ever before. As for that fear of financial insecurity? Somehow, someway, I even have more money in the bank now than when I left on August 29th. Go figure.

I no longer have to say I believe it to be true. I can confidently state that it is my lived experience that when I follow my bliss the universe opens doors where there were only walls." My intention is to always live in that abundance.

Note to Readers: Thanks for being a part of this journey. There won't be any more updates on this site until I redesign it with images, a video and a number of essays based on my life which have been inspired by my journey. That will likely take a number of months. If you would like to be notified when the revamped website is ready, please send me your email address.

Simply Grateful (Eastern New Orleans, LA)

Mike, me & Leonard at the Mennonite Disaster Service building in East New Orleans on Monday night

Before I walk my final 8 miles along the edge of Lake Pontchartrain and then south along Elysian Fields into the French Quarter, I want to say nothing more profound than thank you. Thank you to every single one of you who opened your doors, shared dinner with me, gave me a place to stay, and offered me your friendship. Thanks to those who bought me lunch. To those who followed along with this blog and commented with words of encouragement or emailed me directly to share their thoughts and cheer me on. Thanks to those I met at other people's houses or at churches or restaurants and - without exception - greeted me and my journey with enthusiasm and delight. Thanks to ALL of you for making this trip what it was. Without you I would have been walking across America with nowhere to stay and no one to share my joy with. Because of you this trip was a rich tapestry of fun, learning, adventure and, most of all, the shared experience of human kindness.

Last night I stayed at the Mennonite Disaster Service headquarters in Eastern New Orleans where Mike and Leonard took me in on a cold day and reinvigorated me with the warmth of their friendship and their humor. MDS has been in New Orleans since right after Katrina, providing invaluable assistance to families trying to rebuild their homes by offering free labor to those in need. This house hosts groups of volunteers week after week who willingly put their lives on hold for a time to come here and give of themselves for a greater communal good. As such, this was a fitting place for me to spend my last night before arriving in Jackson Square. It represents the transition I will now gradually begin to make. After more than four months being the vulnerable traveler, the one in need of warmth, food and friendship, I can go back to my own community and start being the one who provides those very same things to people who come past my doorstep, both literally and figuratively.

As I walk early this afternoon I will go through my mental rolodex and picture every single home I have stayed in. I will say the name of my friends who welcomed me there and spend a moment in gratitude for that specific night ... that unique experience. By the time I get to my 101st exercise in gratitude, I will likely be most of my way to Jackson Square. I can't think of any better way to get there than overflowing with thanks.

I'll have a final post in a few days and then this phase of my writing will be done. A longer, more reflective period will pass before I have an opportunity to revamp the design of this website more professionally and create a final telling of the story I want to share - with video, new essays, images and a few of my favorite blog posts reproduced and re-edited. That will take a number of months.

For now, I am simply going to enjoy my last day. Poorman walking, in gratitude.

Note: The Mennonite Disaster Service is a very, very worthy group fueled by the spirit of compassion and thousands of volunteers. If you are considering donating to a charity this season, please visit their website and see if you feel called to support their work. I can tell you from my experience that they are truly doing amazing work. Here is their website: Mennonite Disaster Services.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Song For Me (Route 90 into New Orleans)

I've been so many places in my life and time
I've sung a lot of songs I've made some bad rhyme
I've acted out my love in stages
With ten thousand people watching
But we're alone now and I'm singing this song for you
-Donny Hathaway, A Song For You

My parents gave me gift cards for my birthday and that credit has been staring at me from the upper right hand corner of my iTunes store since September. In honor of my last full day of walking (tomorrow is just a few hours) and my longest trek to date (26 miles) I splurged and bought about 50 songs. Together with songs I already had I fashioned together a 6-hour, 82-song play list to listen to as I walk my marathon into East New Orleans . Trust me when I say it could have easily been double or triple that. I made two rules to keep the number reasonable:

1. Only one song per artist, unless your name is Whitney Houston, in which case you get three.
2. The song can't just be a favorite, it has to evoke have a specific memory from a certain time and place in my life.

For example, A Song For You by Donny Hathaway. When I lived in Los Angeles I got my first chance to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It was November of 2001. I remember sitting in the mezzanine toward the end of the show, waiting for the final Revelations dance that I had heard so much about. Before that finale, however, there was another newer dance whose name I didn't recognize. The stage was empty. The crowd was hushed. Then a single dancer glided on stage as a familiar song began to play. "I've been so many places in my life and times ...". From that instant until the moment the dance ended I was so amazingly present in my enjoyment of that performance that I almost felt sad when it was over. I had loved that song before, but coupled with the movement of the Alvin Ailey dancers it truly became transcedent. For that reason, it makes my list.

As for the rest of these ... all I can say is that I'm all alone today ... and I'm singing these songs for me...

Childhood - The West Hebron Years
Rocky Road - Peter, Paul & Mary
Stained Glass - Keith Green
Kiss on My List - Hall & Oates
Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) - Christopher Cross
Another One Bites the Dust - Queen
Surrender - Cheap Trick
Take the Long Way Home - Supertramp
Eye of the Tiger - Survivor
Take It On the Run - REO Speedwagon

Adolescence - The Zimbabwe Years
Buffalo Soldier - Bob Marley
Weekend Special - Brenda Fassie
Jump - Van Halen
One More Night - Phil Collins
Rhythm of the Night - Debarge
Dancing on the Ceiling - Lionel Ritchie
Beat Street - Grandmaster Flash
Jam On It - Newcleus
Secret Lovers - Atlantic Starr

8th - 12th grade - Ardmore & Phoenixville
I'll Be Over You - Toto
Piano Man - Billy Joel
Greatest Love of All - Whitney Houston
Shake You Down - Gregory Abbott
There's Nothing Better Than Love - Luther Vandross
Paradise City - Guns N' Roses
Vision of Love - Mariah Carey
Superwoman - Karyn White
My Perogative - Bobby Brown
Man In the Mirror - Michael Jackson
Love Makes Things Happen - Pebble & Babyface
Better Days - Diane Reeves
Two Occasions - The Deele
My, My, My - Johnny Gill
One Moment In Time - Whitney Houston
Rush, Rush - Paula Abdul
End of the Road - Boyz II Men

The College Years - Lehigh
Enter Standman - Metallica
The Joker - Steve Miller Band
Will You Still Love Me - Chicago
Black - Pearl Jam
Come & Talk to Me - Jodeci
Lithium - Nirvana
Son of a Preacherman - Dusty Springfield

Out West - The LA Years
The Mountains Win Again - Blues Traveler
A Long December - Counting Crows
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) - Green Day
How Do You Want It - Tupac
Have You Ever - Brandy
Sometimes - Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Light - Common
Astronomy - Black Star
A Song For You - Donny Hathaway
They Dance Alone - Sting
Seasons of Love - Steve Wonder/Rent
With You - Tony Terry
Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing - Marvin Gaye
Walking in Memphis - Marc Cohn
One of Those Days - Whitney Houston
Where Is The Love - Black Eyed Peas
Spend My Life With You - Eric Benet

Bast East - Ardmore & NYC
The Last Resort - The Eagles
Something So Right - Paul Simon
Diamonds On The Inside - Ben Harper
Sowing the Seeds of Love - Tears for Fears
Fastlove - George Michael
Streetcorner Symphony - Rob Thomas
Move Along - The All-American Rejects
Tell Me Baby - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's
What I Did For Love - A Chorus Line
Bubby - Colbie Caillat
Everything - Michael Buble
Viva la Vida - Coldplay

The Walk
Walking To New Orleans - Fats Domino
Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones
Doctor My Eyes - Jackson Browne
Walk Like A Man / Who Loves You - Jersey Boys
Out of My Head - Fastball
Say - John Mayer
I Wish - Heather Headley

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Final Days (Mississippi Coast)

(front) Kim, Nene, Lee, Matthew, Taylor (back) Lis & me in Bay St Louis, MS on Saturday night

Me, Robin, Mr. Bean & Bruce in Gulfport, MS on Friday night

Me, Audrey & David in Biloxi, MS on Tuesday night

Tonight I am in Slidell, Louisiana, just one long day's walk outside of the eastern edge of New Orleans. My short 6-day stay in Mississippi is over, but I won't soon forget the people who so graciously welcomed me there.

Way back before I took my first step of this journey I knew I had a place to stay in Gulfport. My friend Brian Atkinson had contacted his mother Robin and she had pledged that I would have a place to stay when I arrived. That, as they say, was many moons ago. Yet sure enough, Robin and her husband Bruce were ready for me when I arrived. They had also connected me with their son Brian and his fiance Audrey who hosted me the night before in Biloxi.

I spent three nights with the Robin & Bruce just north of Gulfport. Together we rang in the New Year, if ringing in the New Year can be done nestled in our respective beds, sleeping peacefully. Other than catching up on sleep, I was able to catch up on some writing and Robin & Bruce drove me all around the Gulf Coast - from the Bellingrath Gardens Light Show near Mobile to the casinos of Biloxi. Oh, and lest I forget, I ate like a king. They took me out to lunch on Thursday and cooked an absolutely delectable meal of lamb and mashed potatoes on Friday night and in between we feasted on leftovers from their Christmas celebration.

On Saturday morning, heavier for my stay in Gulfport, I walked my last full day in Mississippi. I started in Long Beach, passed through Pass Christian and then walked across the beautiful new Bay Bridge into Bay St. Louis. There I was welcomed by Lee and Lis Bosarge, a couple of friends, some news media and a few of Lee's firecrackers, set off for my arrival.

All throughout my six days on the Mississippi coast I saw the enduring legacy of the Katrina's destruction. When Lis asked me what day I started my journey I told her August 29. "That is the date Katrina hit," she said. That was 2005. Almost four and a half years have passed and the sections of Mississippi right along the coast are still a mish-mosh of empty lots, mangled trees and the occasional stretch of rebuilt homes. Mississippi is where Katrina caused the most damage. The eye of the storm came right through Pass Christian.

Amidst all the destruction and despair, Katrina has had another enduring legacy: that of kindness. Lee and Lis told me about how many different people had come down to Bay St. Louis and helped them rebuild their house which was totally destroyed by the hurricane. Their peach colored house now sits proud and tall on new stilts, just to the west of the new 2-mile span of Bay Bridge.

Their house is colorful both inside and out. Each room is a different vibrant color, kind of a metaphor for the undying spirit of this region to grow and prosper in the aftermath of one of the greatest natural disasters this nation has seen. My final memory of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church in Bay St. Louis. Lis took me there this morning for the 9am service. How many churches do you know - Catholic or otherwise - which have a full gospel choir and whose congregation is fully interracial? Still thinking? I know this is the first I have been to on this journey.

Buoyed by the enthusiastic praise songs from worship, I walked on. 18 miles to be exact. Tomorrow will be my longest walk to date - 26 miles along Route 90 to the Mennonite Disaster Service headquarters on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. I've never walked a full marathon before. So let me run down my list. Carbs loaded? Check. 78-song iPod playlist? Check. Legs conditioned by 1,600 miles of road? Check. Fun evening with my 100th host of this trip?

Check ....

Me & Melody - my 100th host - in Slidell, LA on Sunday night

Friday, January 1, 2010

An Appreciation (New Years Day, 2010)

Me (age 12), Monicah (background), my mom, my Dad and John, enjoying a light-hearted moment

"Fortify yourself with contentment, for this is an impregnable fortress." --Epictetus

I saw this quote on my friend George Throop's website ( and I thought it fitting for my first post of the New Year. I am reminded that the one thing I can always control is my attitude toward the present moment. When the present brings joy and pleasure, it is easy to have an "attitude of gratitude" (I think Jesse Jackson might have just sued me). But even when the present brings challenges or pain, I can choose an attitude of acceptance rather than one of anger or stress.

While I am on this topic, allow me to recommend a DVD for the New Year. It is a British film called Happy-Go-Lucky, released in 2008. It is about Poppy, a cheerful North London school teacher whose optimism is injected into every sliver of her life, even those corners which seem most averse to it.

I mention this movie for another reason - my mom really liked it. Jo-Jo has a quirky taste in movies, so that is no small feat. She likes realistic, character-driven dramas, but they can't have too much swearing (sorry Stand By Me). She can enjoy a good kid's movie, just so long as they don't have references to the occult or voodoo (Sorry Princess & the Frog). And once in every blue moon she will enjoy a pure comedy, especially if it stars Bill Murray (come on down "What About Bob"). Somehow Happy-Go-Lucky found a spot in her wheelhouse as part drama, part comedy, part character study. Go figure.

You might be wondering why I chose the picture at the top of this blog. Well, the purpose of my first post of the New Year is not to poke innocent fun at my mom's taste in movies. Rather, it is to write an appreciation. Yesterday was my mom's last day of work as secretary and administrator at Ardmore Presbyterian Church. She is retiring after 23 years as the heart and soul of a church that both she and my dad grew up in many years ago.

It's hard for me to think of Ardmore Presby without my mom coming immediately to mind, sitting at her desk, walking the halls or chatting with a visitor. Pastors have come and gone, I've gone from junior high to high school to college to adulthood, out to California and back, and she has served Ardmore Presby faithfully through it all. She took the job when we first moved back from Zimbabwe in late 1986. For the previous 16 years, through my and Aaron's childhood, she had worked at home, caring for the two of us (Andrea & Heidi might use the word "spoiling" instead). She had been part mom, part housekeeper, part pastor's wife. Then to help make ends meet, and because Aaron and I were now at an age where it was nice to have the house to ourselves after school, she re-entered the working world at a job that was tailored made for her mix of organizational ability and deep and abiding care for people.

My brother and I used to always joke that the highest compliment my mom could give anyone was that they were a "hard worker." She has sprinkled that high praise around to many people we know over the years, but now I am going to boomerang it back to her. Even though her nature is to deflect praise, my mom is and always has been a very hard worker. She didn't want to retire, but the health of her neck dictated that she shouldn't spend such a huge chuck of every day sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. I have no doubt she will be missed by every single person associated with the church, especially those accostomed to coming through those big wooden doors, walking up the steps, taking a left, going down the hall and seeing her at her desk, ready with welcoming smile. Like me.

Now she starts a new phase of life. My New Year's wish is that she finds a bunch of little things to do that she truly enjoys, be it helping other people, doing things with friends or sitting in her favorite blue chair reading one good book after another. I wish her happiness.

So that is why I chose the picture I did. In it we all are so happy. Me, with my feathered dirty blond hair and Cosby-like sweater. Monicah with her beautiful smile in the far background. My dad and John on the right, enjoying a crisp Zimbabwe morning. And especially my mom, cup of tea in hand, surrounded by people she loves, captured in a full-throated laugh.

Happy Twenty-Ten everyone. May you chose happiness through both its joys and challenges.

"Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same." ~Francesca Reigler