Invitation to the Podcast

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Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

If we had the advantage of getting a glimpse into the private life of every person we encountered every single day, we’d live our days with more understanding, compassion, and love, and with less judgment and less division.

When we see each other as people — with lives and stories and personal hardships…

When we see each other as people  — with love and grace and joy and sorrow …

When we have the selflessness to remember the world does not revolve around us

Only then can we find common ground.

Only then can we experience empathy.

Only then can we allow our minds to wander into the shoes of another.

Only then can we wake up to the reality that we all want to live free, happy, fulfilled lives without ridiculous barriers erected by archaic thinking and the subversive false pretense of human hierarchy.

Only then can we learn that success, joy and power are not zero sum.

If you view me (or others) as less than, remember this:

My/their success does not diminish yours. It supports it.

My/their joy does not diminish yours. It supports it.

My/their power does not diminish yours. It supports it.

My/their light does not diminish yours. It supports it.

Through zero sum lenses, there is conflict and division and separation, and this planet is cracking as a result of trying to balance a world of pain on top of a shoddy now crumbling false foundation.

As I recently heard said, it is time to do right, not be right.

It’s time to reach out to one another in love, not fear. It is time to listen.

The Another Door Opens blog is officially a podcast. I want to invite those of you who follow me here, who have not found the podcast yet, to come visit over there.

It is called Another Door Opens with Stephanie Himango, and each week I interview a different guest about part of their life, and most of the time, some type of turning point when they experienced struggle or hardship, self-reflection or pain, and the strength and resilience and life lessons they drew on or discovered through the process of that transformative moment or time.  You will see yourself in each person. You will find connection.

The idea is exactly as you find here — a series of guest-centric interviews that over time will represent a beautiful cross-section of people with all different types of backgrounds and experiences.

I hope you come visit the podcast and keep coming back, to listen to my guests, one week at a time.  I hope you leave uplifted.

I hope you experience an opening: of heart and mind.

Thank you and sending you all peace & love.   Click here to go to the podcast

My Blog is Becoming a Podcast

It was the tennis great Arthur Ashe who said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I followed that advice when my heart told me to start the Another Door Opens blog back in 2013.

I started where I was. (New Mexico).

I used what I could.  (An idea, a recording device and a camera).

And I did what I could. (Knocked on doors and asked questions of strangers then wrote their stories.)

Passing through those doors into worlds unknown was my search for meaning as much as it was a creative project to give my life some structure. I had left an all-consuming career as a network news producer in late 2012, and after spending time with family, traveling, wandering and rejuvenating, I craved purpose.

Throughout my journalism career, I noticed the lights that flickered on in the eyes of a person who felt seen and heard. I thrilled at learning about them, listening to them, and then reflecting and learning something about myself in the process.

That’s the gift I wanted to provide in creating the Another Door Opens stories and blog. The stories are written to be hopeful, yes, but more importantly, insightful. Listening to the stories of others, we can learn a little about the life of a stranger. We listen so that we may care more and judge less. We listen so that we may find common ground that connects us. We listen so that we can celebrate the differences that distinguish us. We listen not to then say, “You’re wrong, and I’m right.” We listen to learn something and find new perspective. We listen to practice some self-reflection and self-analysis. We listen more to love more.

In this day, when our country feels so divided, we are also hopeful because thousands, maybe millions, of people are taking a good hard unrelenting whack at systemic racism and working hard to break up the sick and oppressive nature of long-standing institutions. Together, purposeful leaders, compassionate thinkers and action-takers are shining a light on how archaic ways of thinking and acting marginalize people and corrupt growth. A light is being shined on how an unspoken caste system creates massive sustained pain, destruction and division. Ignorance of these truths creates yet more division and an inability to listen and communicate perpetuates it. When we open our doors and hearts to dialogue, it’s just possible we may also open some minds.

My small blog is growing up into a podcast. Service through story is still at its core. Subject matter may be light or heavy. But it is all about someone’s personal experience.

The bonus you get when moving from blog to podcast is you get to really hear from the guests — their voices, their inflections, their cadence and energy. Often times their laughter.

As I write this to you, the podcast is nearing its launch date. I plan to have 10 episodes ready for you at the time of launch, and I cannot wait for you to hear from my fabulous guests.  They educate me, inspire me and motivate me to keep knocking on doors and to keep connecting people.

Please check out my Patreon link below to find out more about the podcast and how you can subscribe to become part of the creative process.

https://www.patreon.com/anotherdooropens

Mission: Open doors, open hearts, open minds.  Thank you for being here, and I hope you’ll come along for the metamorphosis.  (Below is a glimpse of the podcast cover art so that you will know what to look for once I launch).

Thank you!

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Flow State

“I’m sitting there in the bank just crying, just reading through all of the things. Oh, look, she paid for the dogs to go to the vet. Oh, look, she bought this. So many times when we would go out to dinner — and I would pay for dinner — she would pay with what I thought was my card, coming out of my account. No. She was paying for it. And she never said it.”

It had been months since Debra died, and the bank contacted Dr. Heather Richardson, MD, on the very same day her friend Debra’s death certificate arrived.

“We were each other’s living will person, and so I went to the bank.”

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Dr. Richardson is a respected and beloved breast health surgeon at Bedford Breast Center in Beverly Hills, California. One reviewer on Yelp writes that she’s a ‘highly skilled and professional surgeon, who also just happens to be a super cool bad@ss.” Breast cancer patients write about how she saved their lives. Office staff smile about the way Dr. Richardson hums and sings so freely and skillfully.

With a passion for the fine arts and science, Dr. Richardson loves her work.

“I have to think three-dimensionally. I have to think about balance, symmetry, aesthetics. I get to talk to people about their fears and anxieties. And usually I get to make them feel better. And they’re so grateful. To connect with people, to use an analytical mind to solve problems, and then to physically have to do something… the artist in me just loves performing surgery. It’s just really elegant. They talk about the ‘flow state’ when you’re doing something and you kind of get lost. I absolutely get in the flow state when I’m performing surgery.”

About five years prior to that day at the bank, Dr. Richardson had been communicating with her friend Debra who was going through a hard time. Dr. Richardson invited Debra to come to Los Angeles to stay in her spare bedroom.

“She never wanted to be a burden, but there was this heaviness to our conversations. I don’t remember the exact day, I told her point-blank: ‘There’s never going to be a right time. Things are never going to be organized and orderly or tidy enough. At some point, you just have to get on a f*king plane.’ We used that moment, that statement, many times after that to punctuate those action thoughts that need to propel us into the next stage of our lives, as paralyzing as it may be to take action.”

They decided Debra would stay for a month or two, rent-free. She could get her feet on the ground, then go. She wouldn’t have to work or pay for anything. Just take care of home life and enjoy. Two months grew into nearly five years, and a sisterhood.

“She was a very bright girl. She didn’t have an opportunity to really get educated. She is just one of the most giving, caring, conscientious people ever.

“I have to have an education because I had to have an education. I can’t do what I’m doing without having gone through the schooling that I’ve gone through. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily think that people that are formally educated are better or smarter than other people. I know a lot of people who have learned what they know just from experiences in life lessons, and they’re so much more capable and smart than a lot of people who are more classically educated.

“One of Debra’s favorite mantras was ‘unexpressed expectations are premeditated resentments.’

“So, if you don’t tell someone what you’re thinking and you don’t communicate anything, then you don’t give anybody an opportunity to try to make it better or fix it.”

They did communicate, effortlessly. And they didn’t have unexpressed expectations.

“We just had this team living approach where I paid for everything and she took care of stuff. So she cooked and cleaned and took care of animals. She had two cats, and I had two dogs. We had like a little menagerie. We were like cousins or sisters.  I would do my thing and work, and she would do her thing and take care of the dogs and the house and listen to podcasts and research everything.

“We didn’t ask for anything from each other, but anything that we needed, we would have given to each other.”

That synchronicity changed both of their lives forever. “She was my best friend. I was her biggest cheerleader, and she was my biggest cheerleader.” Neither could have foreseen what would happen one day in the autumn of 2019.

“She came into my room at four-thirty in the morning and said, ‘something’s really wrong. I have a horrible headache.’ And after talking with her, I figured pretty immediately that something was not right. So we went to the hospital.”

Soon after arriving at the emergency room, Debra seized. “That was her last conscious moment.” Debra died of a brain aneurysm.

Even in death, Debra was as Dr. Richardson described her: giving, caring, conscientious. She donated her organs. Months later, a memorial service was held. The date was February 11, 2020. Debra’s birthday. She would have been 48 years old.

Los Angeles for Healing

Debra came to Los Angeles to heal. And so did Dr. Richardson.

Back in 1999, Dr. Richardson had finished medical school and was in her surgery residency at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. She died in the year 2000. The young physician didn’t yet know what type of surgeon she wanted to be, but soon after, that decision was made. She joined a practice with Atlanta breast surgeon and mentor Dr. Bill Barber.

“I lost my own mom, and I’m sad without her. I wish she was still here. I think the gift in that experience of going through that with her is that I saw what people are going through mentally on their own side of it, the fear that they have, the anxiety they have, how they process information. Learning those lessons through someone who actually went through it, it really kind of gives me a scope of what my patients might be going through. And as much as I would rather be a slightly crappier doctor and still have my mom around, it’s definitely something that I’m making the most of, and I know that she would be proud of me.”

Dr. Richardson’s layers of resilience are as deep and diverse as the intricate paintings she creates.  Her perspective is ever listing toward the light.

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Moving West

“In any scenario, you have an opportunity to make something better for a person… and sometimes that person is yourself.”

By 2014 and after another loss in her personal life, Dr. Richardson needed a change. A place to heal.  It was her own time to get on a plane.

“I was in a very complicated marriage for years and years and years. And my husband took his own life. It was a really horrible situation, and I wish he had made different decisions. But I can’t unmake his decisions. And they weren’t my decisions to make. So I have to just sort of let them go and appreciate that I wish things had turned out differently. I can’t do anything else about it. And all I can do is take what I have from all of that experience and move forward. That’s why I left my practice in Atlanta and why I came to Los Angeles.

“Just start over, just give myself a new place to come. I wanted to go somewhere really different and wide open where there were tons of opportunities for me personally and socially and career-wise. And I just wanted something bigger.”

What did she do during that transition time? Did she have anchors or routines to help her feel grounded? Did she exercise? Hike? Meditate?

“I’m the worse exerciser. I am the worst dancer. I don’t do anything athletic. I’m just a giant klutz. I don’t like moving!

“The most athletic thing I do is downhill skiing and that’s because the mountain does the work. All you have to do really is stand still and go into a controlled fall. At the other end of that is a giant bowl of melted cheese and several glasses of wine!”

Humor is something her mom and dad instilled in her and her brother, Jamey.

“Our family is really funny. Whatever the situation is, it is what it is. And it doesn’t have to be good or bad. You don’t have to put a sign, a dramatic absolute, to anything. Any situation you have, you can take something good away from it or any situation you can make it better. If it’s already pretty good, you can just enjoy it and be grateful for it.

“I just threw myself into my work, and I love what I do. I came here to start with one practice, and that ended up not working out.

“To have a really busy, thriving practice and start over from scratch twice was really sort of a blow. That is really where all of my attention and all my effort went. And it bore fruit. So that was the reward. The reward was in that work: Planting those seeds and then watching everything grow and develop and blossom. I didn’t really think, well, what if I fail?”

She asked herself a different question: What am I going to do with my success?

“Any ingredients that you’re given, you can always make something from it. Any horrible situation that life presents you, presents you with a lesson of your own strength, your own resilience.”

Through her example, Dr. Richardson shares that strength and resilience with every patient she encounters and with all who come to know her caring heart.

“Every stumbling block that I encountered was a rock or a current that sent me onto this beautiful new shore.”

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Trickle, Trickle, Trickle

Back at the bank that day, Dr. Richardson was told that whatever was in Debra’s account was now hers.

Dr. Richardson knew that Debra’s father had left her about $100,000 a few years prior.

“I figured after three years, she probably had like $80,000 left. After sitting for two hours at the bank, they handed me a check.” There were $13,000 left in Debra’s account.  “I was really shocked that all of her money was gone. My first thought was, ‘way to go!’ You haven’t been sitting on a big pile of money that you’ve been waiting to spend. You did everything you wanted to do. I’m really, really impressed!’ Then I thought, maybe she’s put money somewhere, and I need to find out where it is. As I’m going through every month of her bank statement, it’s just trickle, trickle, trickle. The entire time she was living with me, she was putting money into my account.

“I had two bank accounts, and I would move money back and forth between the accounts. And when I would do that, it would just say the name of the bank. And her account was at the same bank. So when she transferred money in, it just said the name of the bank. So I never, ever, ever knew. She did it completely anonymously. The only reason I ever found out was because she died.”

Not unlike donating her organs after death, Dr. Richardson knew how befitting this gesture was of Debra’s character.

“In any relationship, I think people overestimate what they’ve put into it. Whether it’s business or personal, you overestimate what you’ve put into it. They’re overestimating what they’re putting into it. And the reality is somewhere in between. When you give freely and you’re grateful for whatever you get, then it’s complete harmony.”

It takes a selfless heart to recognize and appreciate the depth inside the soul of another person. That’s what they both did for each other. And that is why their sisterhood was complete harmony.

Dr. Richardson says Debra always gave more than she got.

I bet a lifetime of family, friends and patients would say the same thing about Dr. Heather Richardson.

Find Bedford Breast Center on Instagram and Twitter @bedfordbreastcenter and online at www.bedfordbreastcenter.com. Photos courtesy of Dr. Heather Richardson. Shown: Portraits, as well as an image of a painting done by Dr. Richardson, and an image of Dr. Richardson and her friend Debra.

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la vie en rose

Rose McAleese is a writer and storyteller.

“I’m Nora Ephron if Nora Ephron listened to Kendrick Lamar.”

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Rose has a quick wit and a sparkling personality.

“I’ve been a writer all my life. I did poetry then (music) journalism and then screenwriting. So obviously I like jobs that don’t pay!”

She wrote and published a book of poetry called Strong. Female. Character. She has written for BET’s The Quad. She has been through the Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship program where she worked with mentors, wrote punchlines and gave notes on scripts.

“And I just became a playwright!”

There is a clarity, rhythm and mischievousness to the way Rose speaks, and it’s mixed with deep awareness, compassion and humor.

Her first play was recently performed, and it is titled A Phrasal, Likewise Me. It’s a cool name. Clever too. It’s an anagram. Think about that. And I’ll tell you the answer later.

“I’ve had my words said in a TV show that I’ve written for… and short films. But in theater,  it’s just completely different.

“There’s this magic … ‘on this Saturday we’re all gonna witness something great together and all we can do is try to, you know, describe it to people before it slips away.’”

Rose says her play is a Shakespearean mixed tape.

To remake or remix something requires knowledge and insight into the original thing. In this case: Shakespeare. Rose — raised in Seattle — says she has slept through more Shakespeare plays than most people have seen. (There is a Nora Ephron Sleepless in Seattle reference I should insert here, but I can’t think of one.)  Sitting in the audience to watch her own play A Phrasal, Likewise Me come to life in Los Angeles, however, Rose was wide awake, nervous, excited. 

“It was a series of monologues that were written from the point of view of characters in Shakespeare that Shakespeare writes about, but doesn’t give lines to. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet, the girlfriend before Juliet is Rosaline. Rosaline gets mentioned seven times in the play.

“So I kind of gave Rosaline a speech towards the end of the play. She finally gets to talk. She talks about how Romeo wasn’t really her dude, but she might be jealous, but like, it’s fine.

“So that was one of the monologues. Another one was Miranda’s mom from The Tempest. Obviously Miranda had to have a mother. The mother character never has a name. Her opening line is, ‘I never had a name in any of these stories.’ So it’s from her perspective.

“I feel like every writer has the first storyteller that sparks their imagination. And for me it was Shakespeare. My mother read everything to me, explained to me that if you don’t understand it, that’s the beauty of it. It’s poetry. It’s always up to interpretation.

“When I was 11 or 12, the Seattle Shakespeare Company had a summer camp called Camp Bill. We just put on plays. So I’ve played Romeo, I’ve played  Juliet, I’ve played Puck, which was my favorite. I love Puck because Puck is the quietest meddler.”

The Trouble With Words

To re-imagine the work of her earliest inspiration required empathy, interpretation and imagination. But it also required a great handle on language, and in Rose’s earliest years of childhood, words on paper and the order of the letters…puzzled her.

“I used to be very embarrassed by it, because when they tested me for dyslexia, I was a seventh grader with a reading level of a third grader. But I had an immense vocabulary. I knew what words meant.  I just couldn’t spell the words.

“That’s why I got into spoken word poetry — because no one sees your writing. It was really calming to be like, ‘Oh, I just have to memorize it.’ Memorization comes easy. Most people who have dyslexia or a reading disability have a superpower to do something else.

“I didn’t think I could be a writer if I was dyslexic. I mean, literally, ‘you want to work with words, but you can’t even read.’ But then I got the right resources, had the right mentors, had a really loving family that supported me. And then was introduced to this world that didn’t require actually anyone reading my jumbled up letters or words.”

Once you’ve seen Rose perform spoken word (Google search), you will see what a huge talent she possesses. Her delivery has a powerful cadence.

“Everything is a poem,” she says. “Everything has rhythm. Everything’s a song.”

Diversity in the Writers’ Room

Our personal pasts have a rhythm, a song…. once we choose to see our individuality as something magical. Because we are all unique, a variety of voices are needed to bring drama or comedy to life on screen. All of our favorite scripted TV shows have writers’ rooms. Those writers tell the stories we see.

“I was taught this in the spoken word poetry community: Every single human being has about 10,000 poems that live inside of them. Maybe sometimes you and me might have similar poems. We would write them completely different. You and me might have similar life experiences, but we saw them from a different POV.

“Diversity is important because that’s the natural thing. It just sparks a whole new point of view.

“It’s really important to have people that don’t look like you and don’t sound like you and don’t come from the same city as you to really bring that heavy texture and layers that we need in storytelling.

“I grew up thankfully with a lot of amazing programs that taught me media literacy when I was really young. I was part of a group called Powerful Voices, and they have this program called Girls Rap where we basically went into middle schools and high schools and we learned media literacy. We learned how important ads in magazines are to be, like, ‘What is this telling you? What’s the truth of the matter?’ Like, you don’t have to be skinny. You don’t have to be fair skinned. That is important.”

Rose is a huge fan of Insecure on HBO and Issa Rae.

“Everyone watches TV. Everyone watches film. So you have to have diverse voices to really make these stories sound authentic, to really have this point of view come through where it’s like, no, this exists.

“Being a white woman, my diversity lies in the fact that I’m a woman. But being white in America, that is a privilege. And understanding your white privilege is really important. But then on top of that, I didn’t really grow up rich, you know? And so class was a huge theme in my life.”

Class & Character

Rose is taken back to her childhood in Seattle.  “I guess I didn’t realize that growing up in a bar gave me character.”

Rose’s grandparents own Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub.

“When I was little, my dad was a bartender and even managed the restaurant with his family. My sister and I, we just grew up there.  No wonder I became a storyteller. I was in a bar! It’s music meets oral history.”

Career Path of a Storyteller

“If anyone’s gone into my apartment, they enter it and they go, ‘Oh! This must be what the inside of your brain looks like.’ Because there’s Post-it Notes everywhere. It’s really random and eclectic, and there’s twinkle lights constantly. My dad says, ‘Life is a matter of lighting.’”

There are two quotes that for Rose are guiding principles.

“One, on the fridge, is the Jimmy Breslin quote: ‘Go ask the gravedigger.’”

That is in reference to It’s An Honor, the extraordinary article written by Breslin that highlighted the perspective of the last man to serve President John F. Kennedy: the man who dug his grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Clifton Pollard. The message: See what others are doing, and don’t do that. Do something else. Be original.

“And then the second one, because I love Kendrick Lamar, is: ‘Careers take off. Just gotta be patient.’”

Rose makes it clear that it is quite literally a ‘note to self.’

And it reminds me of a quote I read in Busy Philipps’ book This Will Only Hurt A Little which is similar and applicable to all of us: ‘Be grateful in that waiting room.’ And in that writers’ room. And in that room of your own soul.

Which brings me back to the beautiful juxtaposition of Rose and Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare (whose language perplexed many of us) threw off convention to craft his own bedazzled words and phrases, and he utilized language to his pleasing. And to the benefit of those who are inspired by it. And not unlike her earliest inspiration, Rose McAleese found her own brand of true expression when she was bold enough to unravel the complexity of words so she too could utilize language to her pleasing. And to the benefit of those who are inspired by it.

A Phrasal, Likewise Me is William Shakespeare through Rose-colored glasses.

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Follow Rose:  Instagram: @rose_ettastone  Website: http://www.rosemcaleese.com

GET IN THE RING: The Tale of Bruno the Boxer

Hello friends! Another door has opened.

Years ago, I attended a writing seminar in Lincoln, New Mexico, and the instructor advised us that nothing gets written without putting “butt to chair.” I took his advice, and with a glimmer of an idea, I began.

What emerged is a fable called GET IN THE RING: The Tale of Bruno the Boxer. Even though I had never written fiction or a fable before, somehow it happened.

With excitement, I share with you my first ever fable. It is about a boxer puppy who wants to be a boxer boy. The themes running through this book include overcoming self-doubt and limiting beliefs to living our truth and achieving our highest potential. The messages are universal. It’s a fitting read for adults who enjoy an imaginative simple story with subtle messages, and it’s also a good fit for youth as they dare and dream and discover who they truly are.

Buy it on Amazon.

If you enjoy the book, I ask you to *please* log on to Amazon and give the book a good review so that I can reach people outside of my immediate network. I think the messages will resonate with many people, and with your help, I hope to reach them. More positive reviews, more traction, more people. This was a passion project, and writing this book and putting it out into a critical world was a form of “getting in the ring” for me. Here’s to you getting into the ring too!

With all my thanks and gratitude,
Stephanie

 

The Power of Choice

How does one choice impact the trajectory of our lives?

The compound effect of our choices often takes time to be revealed, the influences so seemingly small.

And then some choices are more pivotal, singular, instantly decisive.

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Nineteen year-old Loc Le paced the dark beach late that night, eyes straining to see anything in the watery abyss. The plan was going wrong.

He walked up and down the shoreline, quietly convincing himself he was there at the right time, on the right day. This was his second attempt to catch the boat, and to avoid detection he had to go alone.

He found the house where the escape was coordinated. But when he spotted police hiding nearby, he knew not to approach.  “They waited to catch people who contact the person in the house.”

A small boat was supposed to pick him up and take him to a bigger boat. But where was it?

He waited. And waited.

“I cannot go to that house, so I don’t know where to go. I just think, ‘What can I do now? No one I can contact with.’”

Somewhere in the night, he hoped his father, step-mother and half brother had reached the big boat, and that they would be re-united soon.

They were all running. Away from Vietnam and communism. Into the unknown. Toward freedom.

It was 1979, and a few years had passed since the North defeated the South. When he turned 18, Loc was awakened in the middle of the night and forced to join the army. He wrapped up a few clothes and was put in a police car to report for military duty. He could feel his freedom slipping away.

Not long after, he escaped from the army for the first time. When he was caught, he was put in solitary confinement for one month. Months later, he was assigned to guard duty at the Vietnam-Cambodia border. His family didn’t know where he’d been sent. But his father searched through jungles, asking after his son, and eventually found him.

“I don’t know how he found me,” said Loc. “Only love can do that.”

Loc and his father told his superiors a story that Loc’s mother was ill, and he needed to go home.

Was that true, I asked?

“No! It’s not true at all. To survive under the communists, you cannot tell the truth.”

And his family fought to survive. His father had been a captain in the army for the South. Loc’s older brother, also a soldier, had been killed by soldiers from the North when Loc was just 12 years old. Loc’s paternal grandfather had also been killed, simply because he was working for French people and learning to speak French.

“You’re looking for the boat, right?” The voice came from a fisherman on the shore.

Loc said yes.

The fisherman said he would point him in the direction of the boat, but only for money. Loc had no money. None.

So he unclasped his necklace and gave it to the fisherman.  “I said, ‘Tell me, where is the boat?’”

The fisherman pointed to a faint light in the distance, a boat floating in the darkness on the South China Sea.

“That’s the boat that’s going to leave tonight,” he told Loc.

But how would he get there?

He walked back and forth until 2:00am, searching for a solution, searching for the small boat.

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“Then I heard the dogs start barking.” It was the police patrol, and they were moving toward the shore.

“At that time, I have to make decision.  If they catch me, they going to put me in jail because I escaped from the army. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.

“Now, the season is life or death. So I say, if I still have some life, I have to take it!

“So I start to swim.”

His emotions surface and the gravity of the situation is written on Loc’s face as he recounts the story.

“And I am not a good swimmer. But I swim. I swim. I swim. I swim I don’t know how long. And I reached the big boat. They pulled me up, and I passed out.”

The Big Boat

The big boat was just 12 feet long and three feet wide. When Loc finally regained consciousness, he was told he could go above deck to get some fresh air.  It was then he discovered he was one of 38 people aboard that small wooden boat.

“And I see my father there! Oh, what joyful! I see my step-mom. I see my half brother.  Oh, I am so happy.”

No sooner, news came that the boat had no food supply. The supply boat never came. “But they had to leave. So we have no food. We just have three gallons of water containers. For 38 people.”

A plan was quickly set to ration the water, using the small caps of the containers as serving sizes.

“We have three water caps. So, one at 10 o’clock, one at 12 o’clock, and one at 3 o’clock. Each people have three caps of water per day. No food.”

They went three days like that, in an overcrowded boat on the open sea, with only three caps of water per person per day.

Add to that, there were no experienced seamen on board. “No compass. No map. The captain, well, we call captain, of that boat: only thing he knows is that the sun rise and sun set.”

On the third day, they found a small damaged boat floating on the sea, and when Loc and other men climbed aboard, they discovered another container of water. Rusty water. “But who cares! I know I can survive a few more days with that much water in my body. So I drink and give to them and they drink it!”

The Philippines was the nearest destination, said Loc, but still they saw no land.

Day 4.

Day 5.

Day 6.

“We’re all exhausted, so we say ok, now we need to pray,” he said. “We need to pray something miracle happen.

“The next morning, around 8 o’clock, we see the cloud coming toward our boat. Maybe some rain!

“We get the tarp. Maybe some rain! Maybe some rain!

“And raindrops! The miracle thing. The raindrop! Oh, raindrops. We tried to lick the water on our hands. We tried to hold it in the tarp. Only for one minute, and that’s it. Then it stopped.”

And he stopped. He grew quiet and wiped his eyes. Finally he spoke.

“We survived on that rain.”

On the eighth day, they met a cargo ship from Holland, and while the crew couldn’t take them on, they gave everyone food and water. They also said they were close to the Philippines.

At around 6pm, they saw land. “Thank God that we see the land! Then the Philippine people, they get out, and they carry us to the land!”

He was free.

“As long as I feel free, that’s all I need. I didn’t feel fear of unknown. I can adapt. As long as I have freedom, it’s up to me!”

 Living Free, One Day at a Time

I asked Loc if that was the hardest thing he’s encountered in his life.

Through quiet tears, he answered, “Yes. Everything after that easier, yes.”

To describe his journey from the Philippines to America and to making a life here as easy would be a gross misstatement. It was hard too. But his family, freedom, faith and self-reliance were strength enough for the journey.

“Until you lose it, you don’t know how precious your freedom is. Nothing better than freedom. Nothing.

“If you have freedom, and if you have your will, then you will make it.”

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And he has made it.  Now 54 years old, if you were to visit his southern California business for dry cleaning, or alterations, or shoe repairs, the treatment you’d receive would feel less commercial and more familial. For 24 years, Loc “Peter” Le has had Knott’s Cleaners. He greets people warmly, asking about their families, their lives.

Peter’s own family consists of his wife Sunny and their teenage daughter Angelle. His father, Vien Le, is now 87 years old.

More than 30 years since their escape from Vietnam, his father still talks about that journey. “He just reminded me,” said Peter, of the day their prayers for rain were answered. “Last Monday, I took him to see the doctor. He just remind me again, that a miracle happened to us.”

Peter continues to live his life with an intense appreciation for freedom and the opportunities it allows.

“The man dignity does not matter what kind of work you do, but how you do the work. Do it with pride.”

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The Giving Side

After young Jireh’s uncle vanished, everything changed.

The danger was too close.

“We’re leaving tonight,” said Jireh’s father.  “Take whatever you can.”

Jireh (JEE-ray) Mabamba was just seven years old at the time, the fifth of six children — the sons and daughters of preachers.

It was 2001, and Jireh’s parents opposed the child soldier movement in their home country of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

And their opposition made them targets.

Jireh is still unclear about who exactly was after them… and about who exactly found his uncle instead.

All he knows is they had to leave.

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Now a 19 year-old college freshman at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), Jireh sits inside a warm home. Outside, it’s a frigid midwestern morning.

“It was a nice house like this,” he says of his boyhood home in DRC, his eyes scanning the room.

His manner is calm and reflective right now, but he is charismatic and fun-loving too. Tall and fit, Jireh has the posture of an athlete and speaks English with eloquence. It might not be perfect, but it’s very good. In his delivery, you hear a mixture of accents and word selections acquired from the places he’s lived. It’s a melding of French, Swahili and Lingala influences from DRC, the mellifluous lilt of South African English and some American slang he’s picked up since coming to the United States.

“I was very young, so I do not remember what I took with me. However, I do remember us leaving a coat. It was green in color, and all my siblings including myself, had worn that coat. The family was very attached to it, but we had to leave it behind.”

Jireh’s memories of those initial months after fleeing DRC are vague, but stories have been passed down about the family’s existence as refugees.

“We drove, we walked, we drove, we walked, we took a boat.

“I think we went through Congo to Zambia, Zambia to Malawi, Malawi to Mozambique, Mozambique to South Africa.”

The small boy making his way through these refugee camps would have a very big dream one day. He just didn’t know it yet. But he does now, and it’s a dream that will lead him right back to where this story began. And he may just write a new chapter in his country’s history.

South Africa

“We were illegal,” says Jireh. “When we arrived in South Africa, we didn’t have documents.  We went to the home affairs, and we told them why we were there, and how we got there. We said we ran.”

Jireh’s parents and their children were registered as refugees.  But the documents they received did not come with food or shelter.

“We spent a couple of days outside on the street. And then later moved to a church,” he says. “Then the church couldn’t do that the whole time, so we moved to a shelter.”

Jireh’s sister started selling oranges to try to earn some money for the family. Jireh’s father, a French-speaking preacher in DRC, struggled to find work and communicate in a new language. He took a job as a car guard — a position that earns no pay if not for the occasional tip.

By now Jireh was nine and beginning fourth grade.

“We moved to a primary school. A lot of naughty kids would go. Kids that had been kicked out from other schools.”

But Jireh and his siblings immersed themselves in academics. “We’d go to school, stay after school, speak to teachers, ‘show me this, show me that’. We were very committed.”

In middle school, he passed all his classes and played “every single sport” but was particularly passionate about basketball.

Soon, he set his sights on a prestigious all-boys high school — Durban High School — and decided to apply. Coats, ties, polish. It was not the place refugee kids typically aspired to attend high school.

Jireh remembers kids around him saying ‘forget it, you’re not going to make it. Nobody’s going to accept you.’

“And they were right,” he says. “Even though I had a dream of somebody handing me the uniform when I applied. I applied, and they said, ‘Nope, we’re full.’”

But one month later, there was an opportunity for a second chance. “That same school sent an email to all schools saying they were having a scholarship available for basketball,” he says. Seven players could represent each school. “I was like, oh, I’m going!

“Every day, every night, I’d be at that basketball court working, training.”

And when the day of the try-outs arrived, Jireh was ready. “I was the first person at the courts. It was part of my plan. I knew coaches would usually arrive there early and organize things, and I thought, if I go early and start practicing they will see me, notice me.”

He was warming up. He was shooting. He was scoring.

Then came time for the scrimmage.

“We played five on five, and I didn’t score a basket! I was stopping kids from scoring, and I was passing the ball. But my position is a shooter, so I’m meant to score. But on that day,” he laughs, “nothing worked!”

When the day was done, the boys were told, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

Again, he waited.

“A month later, the principal of my middle school came, and he’s like, ‘Jireh, congratulations. You are the first child in this school to EVER get a scholarship to that school. You make us proud.’”

Leadership

Jireh Mabamba, a refugee from DRC, would attend Durban High School, the school where South African elite send their children.

“I was an average student. My first year, I was just following the rules: play basketball, do academics, play basketball.

“The following year, I decided to join leadership stuff. Oh, there’s a Toastmasters International course going on? I can join that.  And there is student government? I can join that. I started getting involved in leadership stuff at school. And slowly, while playing basketball still, I started getting involved into school life and building myself up.”

Forgiveness

Jireh made the most of his high school environment from grade eight through 12, but despite his optimism, it wasn’t always easy. The class differences were highlighted by some of the other students.

“The kids were like, Jireh, what do your parents do?”  Sometimes he would answer ‘car guard’. Sometimes he would answer ‘pastor’.

“Some of those kids were very mean. They would have things going on, but they wouldn’t invite me,” he says. “They just never consider me.”

Sometimes they called him names. Sometimes they talked about his parents.

I asked him if that hurt.

“It did. It did hurt.

“My mom would always say, ‘It’s ok. You know what you have to do for that scholarship, right?’ I said, “Yah, I just have to pass, mom.”

Jireh would tell his father, “‘They called me this, and they called me that. And they called you guys this.’

“My dad would say, ‘Are you what they said?’ I’m like, no. ‘Am I what they said?’ I’m like, no. ‘Is your mom and I so and so?’ I’m like, no. ‘Then why you worried about it? It’s not true. If it’s not true, then you don’t worry about it. And if it’s true, change it.’”

Jireh draws much of his ability to forgive from his parents as well as South African leader Nelson Mandela’s example.

“He spent 27 years in jail and got out and forgave those people who put him there. When I got to South Africa, we faced a lot of insults and a lot of hate from people.

“A normal person reacts to it and calls them back names. But because of my beliefs and because of Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive people that hated him for 27 years…” His thought trails off. “Mine was just a small period of time. So if he can do that for 27 years, I will just be myself and be good.”

Public Speaking

By the time Jireh was in the 11th grade, he was heavily involved in Toastmasters and was giving speeches and winning contests. One day at school, an assembly was called for all the boys in the student body to attend. Jireh Mabamba was giving a speech called You Too Can Have the Last Laugh.

The speech was startling at first. “Hey you, you’re a fat kid. You can’t play basketball. Hey you, you’re so skinny. What makes you think you’re going to be a rugby player?” He got everyone’s attention. The message in earnest was summed up by Jireh later. “People will talk about you. People will criticize you. People will call you names. But if you keep doing what you’re meant to do, you will have the last laugh.”

The speech was transformative for Jireh.

“I was nervous. Even though I was making that speech straight from the heart, I memorized it. After that speech was a whole life-changing experience. In the school, people gave me respect. I never felt like that before. It was a great feeling.

“The Toastmasters coarse itself helped me a lot because I’m a shy guy. People don’t believe me, but I am. Every time I talk I get SUPER nervous. My legs shake. That was scary stuff, but I did it anyway.”

Why?

“I wanted people to hear me. I wanted people to understand how I feel. That’s the motivation I got from my parents.  ‘Hey, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t worry about them. God will be with you. My parents are very Christian. God will guide you. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Service Above Self

Jireh’s high school guidance counsellor was very active in Rotary International.

“He asked me what I was going to do after high school. I said ‘I don’t know. My parents can’t afford for me to go to college.’”

“‘Well’,” said the counsellor. “‘There is this Rotary International scholarship that you can apply for, and I think you’re really qualified.’”

Rotary was familiar territory for Jireh. He had begun a life of  ‘Service above Self’, the Rotary motto, by often being a host friend to new Rotary scholars visiting Durban High School. Now it was his turn to be the visiting student.

With the help of Rotary International, he would become part of the Rotary Exchange program and a member of the senior class of Duluth East High School in northern Minnesota, USA. Latitude Durban: 29+ degrees South. Latitude Duluth: 46+ degrees North.

“I came here, and my first snowfall was while I was doing my math test. I’d never seen snow before falling from the sky. I was super distracted.”

He was staring out the window.

Suddenly he heard the voice that had been trying to wake him a few times already. “My teacher was saying, ‘Jireh, are you ok?’

“I said ‘no’, and everybody started laughing.” Jireh asked if he could go outside and take a photo of the falling snow.

“The teacher said, ‘Well, who wants to go outside to take a picture with Jireh?’  And the whole class put their hands up! And he’s like, ‘Let’s go!’”

As the math class snapshot shows, Jireh has been welcomed like family here — in school, in host families, in life. During his first year in Duluth, he brought his magnetic personality to Rotary meetings, and now in his second year, he continues to do so while on scholarship at UMD studying business.

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“The Rotary means a lot to me. They believed in me enough to go out of their way to help get me back here for college. I would not have done it if it was not for the help of Rotary Club 25. I owe them all a huge debt of gratitude. I hope that one day I will be successful enough so that I could make a difference in some student’s life like the Rotary did to me. They gave me hope and an opportunity to make change in this world.”

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Political future?

That young boy from the refugee camp has something in mind as to how he can make change in this world.

“I want to go to the Congo and set things straight. I want to become the president.”

Jireh explains how DRC is rich in minerals and how they have become a curse.

“People are fighting over them. The government is corrupt. They need somebody that can actually CARE not only about the minerals, but about the people themselves.

“Most people like that get killed,” he says.

I let that sink in.

Are you not afraid of that?

“I am. But my parents support me for it.  They know it’s the right thing to do.

“I want to go back, but before that, I want to study here, and have a family just in case anything happens.

“I want to have a house for my parents — have them stable. And if I do go, and if I don’t come back, I’ll know they’re fine.

“I’m on the receiving end of the coin, every time. I’d like to be on the other side. The giving side.”

To many, Jireh is already there.

How We Met — Disco Taco

Many of you asked how I met each person I have interviewed for Another Door Opens, so this How We Met series is an answer to how I met the first 10 generous Another Door Opens people. Thank you for reading. Here is today’s short story. 

DISCO TACO

One gray weekend, I decided to stop thinking about it and do it.

The idea for this Another Door Opens project had been in my mind for a long time, and finally something needed to change.

If you never do, you’ll never know.

The worst that could happen is you don’t try.

The second worst that could happen is no one will talk with you.

So what if you’re not the best writer on the planet.

So what if you’re not the best photographer on the planet.

So what if you’re not the best storyteller on the planet.

Imperfections and vulnerability don’t make your efforts less worthwhile.

Do it.

It would be an experiment as short or as long as I chose to make it.

But I believed and still do in the core reason for doing this. Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to be heard. And we benefit by sharing our stories.

With new resolve, I immediately started looking for opportunities.

I stopped for lunch at a little spot called Disco Taco, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I walked through my first door without any bright lights or flashing signs.

I think it was Agnes de Mille who said, “No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made.”

As I talked with David Medina at the restaurant, and as I watched him interact with other customers, a voice inside said, ask him… start here.

The busy restaurant cleared out quickly, and before I’d finished my lunch, the place was empty.

“Can I run something by you?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said enthusiastically.

It was my first time to say what I was doing.

I explained the project in very short form, then asked David if he’d be willing to have me come back the next day to do an interview and take a few pictures.

“Yes! Why not?”

The first door opened!

Thank you, David. Thank you.

How We Met — Soul of a Cowboy

Many of you asked how I met each person I have interviewed for Another Door Opens, so this How We Met series is an answer to how I met the first 10 generous Another Door Opens people. Thank you for reading. Here is today’s short story.

SOUL OF A COWBOY

Greg Hathcock’s cowboy boots led him straight to my table and into my life at a Ruidoso, New Mexico, coffee shop.

Sixty-eight years old then, and 69 now, he stood to my right — his eyes as earnest and inquisitive as his questions. “I needed to come over here and tell you to have a good day,” he began.

Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you do? What are you working on? Are you married? Do you have children? Why? Why? Why?

Some days later, he arrived at the coffee shop with something he wanted me to read. A manuscript for a movie. I read the first chapter. And I loved it.

Energetic and quick-witted, he told animated stories like there was no tomorrow. Some about bull riding, others about his high school days and before I could speak, he hopped up and out the door to retrieve proof. Riding shotgun in his car was a large tattered album filled with memorabilia. He came back inside holding something that he clearly cherished.

Though worn, it was amazingly detailed. Medals, ribbons, newspaper clippings. All of his stories were there in print — accolades listed, records broken, awards won. Although he tempered mention of his accomplishments with some humility, it was clear to see how proud he was and rightly so.

That day I told him about Another Door Opens, and asked if I could interview him. He said he would do whatever he could to help me. “Just tell me what to do!”

We had to decide on a door, so we chose to do the interview at his restaurant, the Grazing Bull, in nearby Capitan.

I pulled into the gravel lot on the edge of town. Amber hillsides and open spaces reminded me I was in the land of Billy the Kid.

The austere exterior of the Grazing Bull gave little hint of the gem inside. And before I was through the door, I could hear the easy vocals and guitar of musician Mark Remington.

You already know the rest. We sat down at a pine table. Life lessons shared. And new friendship found.

Thank you, Greg.