A LIFE-LONG DREAM REALIZED: VOLUNTEERING WITH THE BIG FIVE IN AFRICA by Melissa Haynes

melissa haynes

“Everyday you can either be a host to God or a hostage to Ego”Dr. Wayne Dyer

Dreamers spend their lives asleep. The early bird gets the worm. Keep your head down and work hard. Your job is your worth. If you don’t have a good job, you don’t have anything. Money makes the world go round. You are your bank balance. Your title defines you. No one will like you if you aren’t successful in business. Things matter. Appearance is everything. Grow up. Get real.

My father had the stage every Sunday night at the formal dining room table. In between bites of roast beef and soggy vegetables he pontificated this sage advice. His well-meaning yet fear-based words were meant to instill a strong work ethic, but as a young child I took these words verbatim and adopted them as my own fear-driven demons beliefs that would form my identity and value.

In The Impersonal Life, author Joseph Benner says beliefs are merely the “rubbish we have gathered from the dumping ground of others.” This is a story of rubbish removal told from the best viewpoint possible: hindsight. It’s 20/20.

It was 2010; I had spent the last three decades desperately trying to fulfill my so-called identity. That started with a paper route and led me to where I was now – about to finish the 2010 Olympics and with it my job as an Olympic project manager. Recession would follow the Games; the economy was already contracting and the torch hadn’t even left town yet.

Melissa HaynesThousands would be looking for jobs and they told us to prepare to be unemployed for at least a year – perhaps two. The prospect of being jobless, worthless for two years was unfathomable. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to. I had an offer to sit at the head of a company in an industry I knew inside and out. The Head of an established company. The Boss. The Big Cheese. The ‘Shit’. I had finally fulfilled my identity destiny and my demons had never been more thrilled.

The job wouldn’t be easy; I’d work long hours at least six days a week, and not have much of a life outside of work; something that was strangely alluring in the past. I’d be so committed to work that I’d quickly bypass the point of no return when it came to children; also something that was strangely alluring in the past. So why then, was I hesitating?

It was the nudge.

The nudge came in the form of a story the late Dr. Wayne Dyer recounted in many of his PBS specials and his movie, The Shift.

Wayne Dyer was 19 years old and had just entered the navy. He was about to make the 28 day voyage to Japan by sea. Before he boarded the ship his uncle Bill gave him a book of short stories written by Leo Tolstoy. One of those stories was called, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Ivan Ilyich was a judge who lived in Moscow. He hated his wife because she had pushed him into this prestigious career, one he did not get any sense of purpose from. He was filled with internal rage and anger. Laying on his deathbed, his wife holding his hand, he looked into her eyes and whispered his last words, ‘What if my whole life was wrong?’ then he died.

Wayne set down the book, opened his notebook and wrote these words: Dear Wayne, don’t die with your music still in you.

While I stood at the crossroads of perhaps what was the biggest (in hindsight) decision of my life, the nudge was too powerful to ignore.

Would I dare to fail? Would I dare to be embarrassed when I fell flat on my face? Would I dare to be judged? Would I dare to let my bullshit identity die? Would I dare to expunge the one thing that defined me? Would I dare to challenge my demons beliefs?

The temptation of comfort and the known was great, but the possibility of living a muted life was even greater.

I turned down the job and dared to do what I had wanted to do my entire life. A spark of passion that was ignited in kindergarten while daydreaming within the pages of National Geographic magazine – I would go to South Africa and save the animals.

At the time I didn’t know if I had just made the best or worst decision of my life. I was leaning towards the latter. But now from the vantage point of the hind, I can see it was the best damn decision I ever made.

After researching many organizations and projects I decided on a Big Five conservation project with an organization called Edge of Africa. I liked that the project was small and very hands-on.

HiShortly after, I arrived in a tiny pocket of South Africa just off the Garden Route to a small game reserve. The reserve was home to rescues of the Big Five: lions who had been saved from a trophy-hunting farm, elephants whose herds were annihilated by poachers and sent to be touring elephants – a fate they rebelled against so they ended up here. Rhinoceros, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalo and crocodiles plus many other animals also called this place home – it was a dream come true.

That was at least until I was shown to my tent camp, a small triangular plot on the edge of the reserve, where I would be sleeping alone. Nothing but a thin electrical wire that merely served as a ‘mental block’ to the animals was all that separated me from them.

065 - Version 2The lion camp bordered one side. The elephant camp was on the other side and the open reserve on the last. The lions were so close, I could hear their roars every night, needless to say I didn’t sleep a wink that first night.

Work began at dawn and ended at dinnertime. The first time I put on the soft, butter yellow, work gloves I had never felt more proud. That is until I began to actually work. Have you ever lifted elephant dung? It’s as heavy as a bowling ball. Mucking out ellie stalls took hours of backbreaking, stinky work. But you know what? It was great. I loved every grueling second of it.

Days were spent patrolling the reserve, tending to the animals, tracking cheetah, and overall reserve maintenance. Working with the animals was exhilarating. I had never felt more purpose or alive because I was finally taking out the rubbish. I had never learned so much about things that really mattered. Every day I gave of myself trying desperately to even out the balance sheet, but the more I gave, the more I received – forever indebted to the animals of Africa.

037A few days in, the worst storm in over a century pummeled the game reserve. Our conservation effort quickly morphed into a massive clean up effort. Rebuilding roads by hand one stone at a time. Chopping reeds from within a crocodile pit to relieve the flooding. Cutting tree branches for food, our only tool for all these jobs – a machete.

One of the casualties from the storm was a red hartebeest, a regal creature. She didn’t die instantly; it would take a few days. I cried and cried for that hartebeest but I also witnessed the perfection of nature and life in her passing. It was a gift that would release me from my own grief over my mother’s passing a few years before.

Soon I no longer feared sleeping in my tent, the lull of the roar of the lions put me to sleep every night. In fact, pretty soon I didn’t fear anything and was ready to confront a life-long phobia: Great White Sharks.

The finale of this volunteer project came weeks later, off the coast of Mosselbaii, South Africa. Pumped-up from my experience thus far, I began to shiver with fear when I climbed into the titanium shark cage. There we waited in the deep blue darkness and silence save for the loud thumping of my heart.

And then it began.

101The cage began to rock. Not from the current, but from the massive weight of the creature that had just slipped past behind us. I tried to look but only caught a glimpse of a dark shadow disappear into the blue. The terror was overwhelming. I reminded myself to breathe.

Within minutes shark after shark came to check us out, one even pushing his nose through the cage just inches in front of my face. Oh my God! Would he bite my head off? Smash the cage? No, no he would not. He would retreat and move on just as quickly as he had arrived.

In this moment I realized that this life-long phobia was nothing more than an illusion. Great white sharks were the coolest and most beautiful beings I had ever seen.

My fear quickly morphed into profound love for this misrepresented creature. A graceful, inquisitive, powerful predator who, after surviving millions of years was now endangered at the hand of the greatest super predator of all: the human race.

As the sea turned pink with sunset I made it my mission to spread the truth about these magnificent creations and put an end to the myths by supporting shark advocacy groups and speaking up for legislation to protect sharks.

My time in Africa was a brief sojourn, merely weeks. I went there to save the animals but the animals saved me. They saved me from my beliefs demons that kept me from daring. They saved me from . . . dying with my music still inside me and I’ve been dancing ever since.

Hindsight. It’s 20/20.

Melissa Haynes is a shark advocate, animal lover, adventure junkie, and author of the book, Learning to Play with a Lion’s Testicles. Her book has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and on Ellen. She is now working on her second book. To see more photos visit her website. (Her crossed-out words in this story are intentional.)

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN by Sohini Chakraborty

Sohini Chakraborty (Micky Wiswedel photographer Photo Courtsey Vital Voices)

I decided at a young age that I wanted to live my life as an independent woman. I know a lot of women are independent in spirit, but in my case, I also wanted to live on my own, outside of my family’s home. In the cultural context of life in India, this was very bold, as family is a big thing. The traditional way of life in India is that children continue to live with their parents or their families until they are young adults, usually until they marry. I was single, and I wanted to stay single, but I also wanted complete independence. I wanted to not only live in my own space, I also wanted to have financial independence. That was my choice, my decision alone. I was considered a rebel.

My mother died young, so I grew up living with my father. I was a dancer, but I had a degree in Sociology, so I think he wanted me to get a good government job. My decision to live independently was not a decision against him; it was a decision for myself. This was very different from the traditional or “normal” life of a woman in India and it was very, very challenging.

When I was 21 or 22 years old, I had a big idea that dance could change lives. I began to fully pursue that idea when a lot of people were saying that it wouldn’t work. It was a bold decision, but I’ve chosen to live life on my own terms. I think that my independent spirit has helped me to be successful.

Prior to starting Kolkata Sanved in 2004, I had spent about nine years pursuing my dream of changing women’s lives through dance. Most of that time was a constant struggle, but I decided that all those challenges provided me the opportunity to move ahead in life. That’s how I got to where I am today.

I had a daring dream that dance could change lives and I transformed it into an organization: Kolkata Sanved. It was only my dream, one person’s dream, but now it’s the collective dream of many women, and it is truly transforming lives.

For all women who speak Bengali, I share this video message (I have also inserted English subtitles:)

 

Sohini ChakrabortySohini Chakraborty is a sociologist, Ashoka Fellow, dance activist, and Founder/Director of Kolkata Sanved, which has expanded the notions of dance and traditional rehabilitation programs. Through Kolkata Sanved’s groundbreaking dance/movement therapy program, survivors of violence and trafficking release trauma, develop confidence, identify their own potential as human beings, and become independent and empowered individuals rather than victims.

LOVE MADE VISIBLE by Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur Sea Shepherd

Click on each photograph below to see it in larger size.

It’s summer in the Antarctic and on sunny days I can venture out onto the bow of our Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker, to let the warmth penetrate my bones. Between chores, the bow is a great place to spend a bit of idle time outdoors reflecting on life and on our mission here in the southern oceans.

Keep a sharp eye and you’ll spy dolphins, penguins, albatross, and southern petrels. These moments of quiet reflection give me time to reflect on how the heck I got to be on this boat of environmental and animal rights activists, and on how a few defining life decisions led me to this moment.

A beautiful but wet day on the Antarctic Ocean.

A beautiful but wet day on the Antarctic Ocean.

Life won’t always be this idyllic aboard our boat, which the crew affectionately refers to as “The Bob.” We will have intensely dangerous confrontations with our rivals, the Japanese whaling fleet. Our boat is one of three on this 2009-2010 Antarctic Mission to stop the poaching of up to 935 Minke whales, which are hunted by the fleet and sold for meat in Japan.

Bob Barker captain, Chuck Swift, gives orders to crew in an intense moment while being surrounded by the Japanese whaling fleet.

Bob Barker captain, Chuck Swift, gives orders to crew in an intense moment while being surrounded by the Japanese whaling fleet.

The whalers hunt under the transparent guise of “research,” and though the countries who are members of the International Whaling Commission have imposed a ban on whaling in this southern sanctuary, no one is there to enforce the ban. Long time radical animal activist Paul Watson decided to take the matter into his own hands, sending ships down to the Antarctic to intercept the slaughter of these endangered animals. My title on board The Bob is “Sea Shepherd Crew Photographer.” It’s a role I almost turned down in lieu of a much-needed restful winter in Canada. When I think about a “fabulous” experience or moment in my life, he story of how I came to be on The Bob is one of those. I am a photojournalist and the work I do for animal rights is rewarding and exhausting. The year 2009 was undoubtedly the craziest of my 33 years. It began with a trip through Guatemala and Belize, followed by three months in Africa.

A volunteer shares a moment with a rescued chimpanzee.

A volunteer shares a moment with a rescued chimpanzee.

While shooting a photo story at a primate sanctuary in Cameroon, I contracted dengue fever, which left my body crippled with reactive arthritis. Refusing to return home for a rest, I moved on to Uganda to do photo work with the Jane Goodall Institute. There I asked a doctor to load me up with the meds necessary to allow me to continue my work. These meds were steroids, and I relied on them for close to four months. They helped me to walk and work, but slowed my overall healing significantly.

After a brief rest in Canada, I left for Spain and France to do factory farm investigations and a story about the brutal slaying of bulls during La Corrida. Night after night, with cameras in hand, I traipsed all over the country to document the extreme suffering of pigs, broiler chickens, egg laying hens, and bulls. From there I went onto Scandinavia where I documented mink farming. It was incredibly exhausting work, in both the emotional and physical sense. The traveling and all-night investigative escapades left me drained in a very profound way.

Thousands of bulls are needlessly killed each year in Spain’s Corrida.

Thousands of bulls are needlessly killed each year in Spain’s Corrida.

I do all of this investigative work so that I can help expose the use and abuse of animals worldwide. The images I take have become part of my umbrella project on the subject matter, called We Animals, and dozens of animal welfare organizations use the images to promote their work. We Animals is my passions combined: my love for story-telling through the lens and my love for helping animals, seamlessly entwined, epitomizing that famous quote by the writer Kahlil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.” I feel very strongly that my work for We Animals is what I was born to do in this lifetime. I took action to solidify this belief when I wrote to Sea Shepherd that November.

Free range chickens are collected, six at a time, by their legs, and put on the truck headed to slaughter.

Free range chickens are collected, six at a time, by their legs, and put on the truck headed to slaughter.

The Sea Shepherd mission came on the heels of my European investigative work so I put off replying to them as to whether I would join. The opportunity stood before me as a chance of a lifetime: saving whales, visiting the Antarctic, living on a boat, working alongside other dedicated activists … incredible! Yet I knew that I had to say no for the sake of my recovering health and my sanity. I wrote a carefully crafted e-mail, saying that I would love to join future campaigns, but would regretfully decline this upcoming mission. I sat there at my computer before hitting “send,” feeling responsible but hollow. As I navigated my mouse to the “send” button, however, something happened. I quickly deleted that email and, with a smile and a sigh, wrote the words “Sign me up!” I hit send. My fate was sealed.

The Ady Gil, moments after it has been rammed by the Shonan Maru No.2 The boat sunk less than 48 hours later. All crew members escaped.

The Ady Gil, moments after it has been rammed by the Shonan Maru No.2 The boat sunk less than 48 hours later. All crew members escaped.

My “yes” to Sea Shepherd was a door thrown open wide. I felt like I was also staring down a dark abyss of danger, seasickness, and sleep deprivation. It was all that and so much more. Not only did I have the adventure of a lifetime with inspiring activists and work that was meaningful to me, but my photos were also published by over two thousand news agencies worldwide. Though I was working for Sea Shepherd for free, it turned out to be a decent career move while helping to expose the poaching of whales in the southern oceans. I’m happy to report that my Sea Shepherd mission only somewhat slowed my recovery to full health. The dengue-induced arthritis lingers, but I have made a full recovery.

photo by Bohdan Warchomij

When I finally caught my breath after that whirlwind twelve months, I was sure that things would slow down and that there’d be calmer waters ahead. Actually, though, that whirlwind hasn’t really stopped. Since that year, I have travelled to dozens more countries and worked with many inspiring animal protection groups to document factory farms, wildlife sanctuaries, puppy mills, captive animals, fur farms, slaughterhouse vigils, animal fairs, and more. I have written two books and, with Dr. Keri Cronin, launched the Unbound Project to highlight the work of women on the front lines of animal advocacy. Little did I know that in 2009, I was just getting started.

In documenting our complex relationships with animals, I see the best and worst of humanity: the willingness of so many to look the other way in the face of atrocities, and the refusal of some to turn away.

Me and a rescued chicken at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Karol Orzechowski

The work I do is can be difficult and devastating. I’ve shed more tears than I thought possible over the cruelty, hopelessness and apathy that I have witnessed. Not being able to save the tens of thousands of animals I’ve met causes me a lot of heartache too. Yet every moment of injustice and suffering that I have captured serves a purpose. My images have been presented to government committees examining industry practices. They have been mounted on billboards seen by millions of people. They have been featured in countless exposés highlighting practices that would otherwise remain in the dark. The work is hard, yes, but the suffering of those animals is not lessened by our not seeing it. Change will only come with visibility, so I continue my work to make sure these beings are seen.

On the other side of what I do are the rescued animals. And the activists who give––and risk––everything to make sure that those animals know that despite everything they have been through, they’re safe now. They’re loved. My work for animals is my love made visible.

Jo-Anne McArthurJo-Anne McArthur is an award-winning photojournalist, author, educator, and animal rights activist. Her documentary photo project We Animals explores our uses, abuses, and sharing of spaces with the animals of this planet. She is featured in the award-winning documentary film The Ghosts in Our Machine and has written two books, We Animals (2013) and Captive (2017).

ON SELF-ESTEEM by Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem "On Self-Esteem"

As wise women and men in every culture tell us: The art of life is not controlling what happens to us, but using what happens to us.

Like all great oaks, this understanding began with a very small acorn.

It was the late sixties, those days that were still pre-feminist for me. I didn’t question the fact that male journalists with less experience than I were getting the political assignments that were my real interest. Instead, I was grateful to be writing profiles of visiting celebrities – a departure from the fashion and family subjects that female reporters were usually given – and this included an interview that was to take place over tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel.

Because the actor was very late, I waited while the assistant manager circled disapprovingly and finally approached. “Unescorted ladies,” he announced loudly, were “absolutely not allowed” in the lobby. I told him I was a reporter waiting for an arriving guest who couldn’t be contacted any other way – an explanation that sounded lame even to me. The manager escorted me firmly past curious bystanders and out the lobby door.

I was humiliated. Did I look like a prostitute? Was my trench coat too battered – or not battered enough? I was anxious: How was I going to find my subject and do my work? I decided to wait outside the revolving door in the hope of spotting the famous actor through its glass, but an hour passed with no success.

Later, I learned that he had arrived, failed to see me, and left. His press agent called my editor to complain that I had “stood up” his client. The actor missed his publicity, the editor missed a deadline, and I missed a check that I needed to pay the rent. I also blamed myself for not figuring out how to “get the story” and worried about being demoted permanently back to the ghetto of “women’s interest” articles I was trying to escape.

By coincidence a month or so later, I was assigned to interview another celebrity who was also staying at the Plaza. To avoid a similar fiasco, I had arranged to meet this one in his suite, but on my way through the lobby, I noticed my former nemesis standing guard. Somehow, I found myself lingering, as if rooted to the spot – and sure enough, the manager approached me with his same officious speech. But this time I was amazed to hear myself saying some very different things. I told him this was a public place where I had every legal right to be, and asked why he hadn’t banished the several “unescorted men” in the lobby who might be male prostitutes. I also pointed out that since hotel staffs were well known to supply call girls in return for a percentage of their pay, perhaps he was just worried about losing a commission.

He looked quite startled – and let me stay. I called my subject and suggested we have tea downstairs after all. It turned out to be a newsworthy interview, and I remember writing it up with more ease than usual and delivering it with an odd sense of well-being.

What was the lesson of these two incidents? Clearly, the assistant manager and I were unchanged. I was even wearing the same trench coat and freelancing for the same publication. Only one thing was different: my self-esteem. It had been raised almost against my will – by contagion.

Between those two interviews, a woman doctor had made a reservation for herself and a party of friends at the Plaza’s Oak Room, a public restaurant that was maintained as a male-only bastion at lunchtime on the grounds that female voices might disturb men’s business meetings. When this woman was stopped at the Oak Room door for being the wrong gender of “Dr.,” as she knew she would be, her lunch group of distinguished feminists turned into a spirited sidewalk picket line and held a press conference they had called in advance.

Now, I had also been invited to join this protest – and refused. In New York as in most cities, there were many public restaurants and bars that either excluded women altogether or wouldn’t serve “unescorted ladies” (that is, any woman or group of women without the magical presence of one man). Certainly, I resented this, but protesting it in the Oak Room, a restaurant too expensive for most people, male or female, seemed a mistake. The only remedy was a city council ordinance banning discrimination in public places, and that would require democratic support. Besides, feminists were already being misrepresented in the media as white, middle class, and frivolous, a caricature that even then I knew was wrong: the first feminists I had heard of in the sixties were working-class women who broke the sex barrier in factory assembly lines, and the first I actually met were black women on welfare who compared that demeaning system to a gigantic husband who demanded sexual faithfulness (the no-man-in-the- house rule) in return for subsistence payments. If groups like those were not publicized – and if well-to-do women who lunched at the Plaza were – I feared this new movement’s image would become even more distorted.

As it turned out, I was right about tactics and the media’s continuing image of feminism: “whitemiddleclass” did become like one key o the typewriter of many journalists (though polls showed that black women were almost twice as likely to support feminist changes than white women were). But I was very wrong about women’ responses – including my own. For instance: By the time of that demonstration at the Plaza, I already had picketed for civil rights, against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and with migrant farm workers, often in demonstrations that were far from tactically perfect; so why was I suddenly demanding perfection of women? When blacks or Jews had been kept out of restaurants and bars, expensive or not, I felt fine about protesting; so why couldn’t I take my own half of the human race (which, after all, included half of all blacks and half of all Jews) just as seriously?

The truth was that I had internalized society’s unserious estimate of all that was female – including myself. This was low self-esteem, not logic. Should a black woman demonstrate for the right to eat at dimestore lunch counters in the South, where she was barred by race, and then quietly leave when refused service at an expensive New York restaurant on account of sex? Of course not. The principle – and, more important, the result for one real woman – was the same. But I had been raised to consider any judgment based on sex alone less important than any judgment based on race, class, or anything else alone. In fact, if you counted up all the groups in the world other than white women, I was valuing just about everybody more than I valued myself.

Nonetheless, all the excuses of my conscious mind couldn’t keep my unconscious self from catching the contagious spirit of those women who picketed the Oak Room. When I faced the hotel manager again, I had glimpsed the world as if women mattered. By seeing through their eyes, I had begun to see through my own.

Gloria Steinem is a writer and activist who has been involved in feminist and other social justice issues for over fifty years. A major figure in the launch of the women’s movement in the 1960s, she is one of the few to span generations and cultures with such newer U.S. feminist groups as the 3rd Wave and Choice USA, and international human rights/women’s rights groups including Equality Now. Steinem is the co-founder of New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, and author of such touchstone books as Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions; Revolution from Within, and Moving Beyond Words, among other influential writing.

“On Self-Esteem” by Gloria Steinem published with permission from the author. Story excerpted from Revolution from Within Copyright ©1993 by Gloria Steinem. Printed by permission of Little, Brown & Company 

WALKING ACROSS AMERICA IN MY 90TH YEAR by Doris “Granny D” Haddock

Doris Granny D Haddock

Doris “Granny D” Haddock received a lot of attention when she walked across the United States to raise awareness of campaign finance reform. She did this at the tender young age of  89. This story is an excerpt from her book about that experience, provided exclusively for Dare to be Fabulous.

Jim and I, at long last, got in the vehicle and drove home to Dublin, New Hampshire. My, it was delicious to see the miles fly by and not have to even think about walking them! And then my town ahead, and there it is! And the old house! My old chair! Bathtub! Books! Ahh, my tired bones!

On Tuesday morning I made my way back to my old friends – our Tuesday Morning Academy. They were happy to see me, but it was rather as if I had been ill for a time or off on a cruise. Within a few minutes, I was one of the girls again – except for one difference. One of my friends, after a few minutes of conversation about my walk, said she didn’t see what was so important about campaign finance reform.

It is reported that I took her rather sharply to task with a presentation of memorable ferocity. Well, was that me? Old Doris? It was not the Doris who had sat meekly among them a year and a quarter earlier. Even at my age, I had changed quite a bit.

For the first time in my long life, I was clearly not afraid of what someone might think of me – I cared more about the issue than my vain self. That transition was worth the walk, though I must keep working on it.

Several weeks later I received a call. A group of campaign finance reformers from the Alliance for Democracy were going into the Capitol Rotunda to petition for the redress of our grievance against campaign corruption. Yes, I said – I would go with them this time. I could care less anymore if people thought I was crazy. This was a way to push the issue forward – to demonstrate the depth of our concern and to take the pain of social change upon ourselves.

So I returned to Washington. On the evening of April 20, 2000, I walked from a train at Union Station to a church building near the Supreme Court. There I was to meet thirty-one others who would risk arrest. I was a bit late, as the streets of Washington can be confusing. I entered a room where the thirty-one were seated in chairs gathered in a great circle, and my perilous seat waited empty for me.

In the few steps across the room, I reminded myself that my whole life had been spent worrying too much about what others thought about me. Go ahead, old girl, have a seat.

It was a comfortably well-worn chair, and I looked around with wonder at the smiling people around me, bathed as they were in the golden light of the old room. Many had lost themselves to their causes many years ago. Some, like me, were young beginners.

I was arrested the next morning for reading the Declaration of Independence in a calm voice in the Rotunda. I did so to make the point that we must declare our independence from campaign corruption. My wrists were pulled behind me and cuffed. I was taken away to jail along with the others. When you jump fully into the river of your values, every moment glows with a blissful joy, even when your arms hurt behind you.

But, oh, dear husband, Jim! Are you up there looking down, laughing at me in the pokey? Get used to it, dear.

The fear of not being liked – of not belonging – has been central in my life. “She’s not like the others. She’s different. Sometimes I wonder if she’s mine at all, like I found her in a basket on my front doorstep,” I overheard my mother say when I was seven.

Not knowing how else to proceed, I embraced the idea that I was different. I was a princess in disguise. The pink granite Laconia Public Library, complete with turret, became my castle, and I read every adventure book in it. At home, my nose was always in a book until Mama scolded me to do my chores.

That overheard conversation, and that uncertainty helped me to become well read and adventurous, which has made me a connoisseur of life and of people. It has sent me on a lifetime of adventures – I can’t imagine how boring I might have otherwise become to others and to myself.

It does help to know that I was, in fact, loved. At Sybil’s wake, when a priest asked Mama who would be taking care of her now that Sybil was gone, Mama’s eyes brightened with joy when I said, “Why, she will be coming to live with me, won’t you, Mama?” It may have been only the sparkle of an extinguished worry, but I have clung to it.

Do we see who we are, finally? Do we see, behind the curtain, the scars and the insecurities that have controlled us? And when we see them and look them squarely in the eye, do they lose their power over us, backing down from their bullying bluster? Indeed they do. We become free to take our lie in whatever shape it has become, and find a good and enjoyable use for it, serving others and ourselves.

Interesting! After all this chattering, I have not told you five minute’s worth about my long career in the shoe industry. For so many years, that was all I could think about, and now it hardly seems worth bringing up. I think the lesson there is that a career, in the end, is a much smaller part of our lives than we can possibly imagine at the time. Our career distracts us from our real work, so we must learn to see past the limits of that blinkered world. All those years condense now in my mind to a chuckle.

The aftermath of my arrest was that I was later brought before the judge in Washington for my crime of being a troublesome person. While I hoped he would not put an old woman in jail for six months for reading the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol, as well he could, I yet worried that perhaps all of this, all of me, had been silly and he would now send me away to contemplate my silliness for a few months. As he sat expressionless in his great robe, I wondered what this wise-looking old man thought.

Judge Hamilton finally spoke, and most mercifully. He sentenced me, and the others, to the time we had already served, and he added these words of heavenly grace:

“As you know, the strength of our great country lies in its Constitution and her laws and in her courts. But more fundamentally, the strength of our great country lies in the resolve of her citizens to stand up for what is right when the masses are silent. And, unfortunately, sometimes it becomes the lot of the few, sometimes like yourselves, to stand up for what’s right when the masses are silent.”

His honor gave me a fine hug in his chambers afterward. His staff members were tearful and I was tearful, and America felt like my own country again.

So I am happy for how my walk has turned out, and for how my life has turned out. I am thankful for the troubles that have shaped me. If you and I were having a cup of tea and you were telling me your stories, as I have told you mine, I would see that it was your hard times that made you so interesting, so wise and able to laugh at life. Aren’t we lucky, friend, to be the creatures of such a genius Creator that even our darkest troubles graciously serve to deepen and wide our hearts? And all our memories, like days cast in amber, glow more beautifully through the years as the happy endings finally reveal themselves and flow slowly into the bright and mysterious river of the Divine.

Well, I am not finished … with my life or with my passion for campaign finance reform. There is almost always time to find another victory, another happy ending. I hope that is your feeling about life, too.

Granny D

Doris “Granny D” Haddock  continued to speak publicly and travel the country for campaign finance reform until she passed away in 2010, six weeks after her 100th birthday. 

 

Excerpt from GRANNY D: WALKING ACROSS AMERICA IN MY NINETIETH YEAR by Doris Haddock and Dennis Burke, copyright © 2001 by Doris Haddock and Dennis Burke. Used by permission of Villard Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. 

HER NAME WAS HONG by Jill Robinson, MBE

Jill Robinson moon bear

Her name was Hong – at least that was the name I gave to the first bear I ever saw on one of China’s notorious “bile extraction” farms in 1993.

Going undercover and joining a group of Japanese tourists, I broke away from the group and found stairs leading to a basement below the farm. The vision was shocking — held in “crush” cages, were 32 endangered Asiatic Black Bears – called Moon Bears because of the beautiful yellow crescents on their chests. Nervous “popping” vocalizations echoed around the room and when I looked at their damaged bodies I knew why they were afraid. Here were animals which had been deliberately de-clawed and had their canine teeth brutally hacked away by the farmer who had taken away their defenses to make them easier to “milk.”

Wounds three feet along their bodies from where they had grown into the cage bars, and gaping, infected holes from where crude metal catheters protruded, showed how these gentle, intelligent animals had been “milked,” as machines, for their entire lives – for medicine in Chinese pharmacopoeia which can just as easily and cheaply be replaced by herbs.

At one point I felt something touch my shoulder and spun nervously around to see a bear with her arm stretched through the bars of the cage. Naively I took her paw – and, surprisingly she didn’t rip my arm from the socket, but simply squeezed my fingers whilst our eyes connected in a moment which crossed every barrier of species and understanding. Her message was clear, and whilst today my overwhelming sorrow is of a bear we couldn’t save, Hong — whose name means bear – became the ambassador for a dream which began the China Bear Rescue.

An old Confucion saying “A thousand miles starts with one step” sums up the road for our campaign to bring the unconscionable and unnecessary trade of bear farming to an end – and this story simply sets the stage of how, individually, we can start such a journey. That the power is in every single one of us to right the wrongs of this often unconscionably cruel and ignorant species of humankind — and to change the lives and future of beings who previously had no hope. That, through a combination of blind faith, optimistic ignorance, tenacity and sheer bloody mindedness, the destiny of another species can be changed for the better.

There can be no more proud or joyous feeling than to look into an animals’ eyes, knowing that you have made a difference, rather than turning away, ashamed, at each new vision of despair.

Today, our Sanctuary in Sichuan Province, is bursting at the seams with happy, healthy bears who have put their miserable lives on the farms far behind. Following years of work and negotiations with the Government Departments of Beijing and Sichuan, we finally secured an Agreement to rescue 500 bears and work together to end bear farming in China. To date, over 40 bear farms have been closed, securing 205 bears confiscated into our care — and this month sees more.

Our projects on site are providing “win/win” solutions for animals and the local community to enjoy. Once a bear farm closes, the farmer returns the original license to Animals Asia and receives compensation for his bears. No new licenses are issued, and farmers can never again legally enter this trade. Our Sanctuary creates jobs and salaries for people who previously had no work, sees the use of local equipment and materials, and the purchase of local food and produce, for bears and people alike. Following endorsement from Chinese celebrities and extensive and enthusiastic coverage from local Chinese journalists, growing interest in our China Bear Rescue is being seen far and wide in a country which has only just begun to understand the words and connotations of “animal welfare.” Our Traditional Chinese Medicine Education Packs are also seeing mass circulation to thousands of Doctors and students who are now signing on in droves to our escalating campaign — “Rescue Black Bears — Give up Bear Bile Usage!” Central to the rescue is the development of education programmes which provide a unique opportunity for us to spread a message of respect for all animals, whilst advancing the concept of animal welfare and rights in China.

Admittedly, the road to ending bear farming isn’t easy. Today there are over 7,000 bears who are cruelly caged on farms – and still no Central Government policy calling for a final ban. Therefore as the only group rescuing 500 bears and working “from within”, our evidence is crucial in building the case to end a disgraceful and unnecessary industry.

Having received over 200 victims of bile extraction at our Sanctuary since October 2000, our case is solid – and the evidence on our surgery table is leaving no doubt that the new, so-called humane, methods of obtaining the bears’ bile fluid are no better than the old – and that bears are clearly dying in agony and in significant numbers on the farms.

With each new investigation of the bear farms, and with each new pitiful arrival requiring anything up to 7 hours of surgical repair, we are proving how the so-called “good” farms and “humane” methods of bile extraction are anything but.

In May 2004, the Chinese Government invited the team of Animals Asia to accompany them on an investigation of bear farms in China’s southwest Yunnan Province.  Despite the best efforts of the farmers to convince us all that their methods of captivity and bile extraction had progressed to a humane and pain-free model of excellence, we saw images which made us sick to our stomachs and reduced us to tears.  Bears being exploited and tortured, sick and skeletal animals clearly dying in front of our eyes, abuse, after abuse, after abuse. During the visit I broke down after seeing a shell of an animal which had once been a bear.  Almost naked, with sores all over his body, two huge hernias in his abdomen, and a shrunken skeleton of a face – I looked into his eyes and could only say sorry, because there was nothing else I could do or say to help him.  This is the image that drives us.

Indeed on that same trip, the farmers had fooled no-one.  The Government officials who accompanied us were clearly disturbed and the report we have produced is now circulating across the country – in our ongoing effort to extinguish a practice which should never have begun.

Reports are not enough — dialogue, hard evidence and public presentations must escalate our goal. Recent workshop held in Beijing attended by the Government, by local and international experts – and by bear farmers themselves – saw an aggressive afternoon of presentations and dialogue.  The farmers lied and lied again, making bold accusations against Animals Asia’s work and investigations – and were immediately shot down in flames, with their claims in tatters, when we presented hard, compelling and up to the minute evidence of the realities of the trade.

In truth, no-one can tell the bears’ tragic story better than the victims themselves, and the images of free and happy bears tumbling into bamboo forest, and playing with their friends touch the heart and show that our voyage is on course and is the driving force within China for bringing bear farming to an end. Victims who arrived violently aggressive and consumed with pain and fear are, today, showing how stoic and truly forgiving this species can be. Ambassadors like gentle three-legged Andrew, fun loving

Jasper, mischievous Banjo and sweet elderly Franzi are all proof that miracles do happen. As their health has improved, so too has their confidence – and their eyes have gradually taken on the trusting look of animals who have put their years of torture behind and who understand that life is worth living again.

At Animals Asia, our belief is simple. By helping the individual bears, we can work towards our higher goal of helping them all as a species and ending bear farming by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. One quote from Tolstoy drives me personally on this journey … “Every man and living creature has the sacred right to the gladness of springtime.”

Jill Robinson is founder of Animals Asia, devoted to ending the barbaric practice of bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals in China and Vietnam. Through her work with the bears, and her many other programs, she is at the forefront of changing the way animals are being perceived and treated on that continent. In 1998 she was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of her services to animal welfare in Asia. In 2002, she received the Genesis Award in the United States – the only major media and arts award concerning animal issues.

HEART by Julia Butterfly Hill

Julia Butterfly Hill and Luna

The root word for courage comes from the French and means “heart.” True courage can only come when we are speaking out or taking action from the heart. For me, this seed of understanding took root and began to grow in December of 1997.

While traveling west with friends, I experienced the ancient redwoods in person for the first time. I was deeply and profoundly touched by their beauty, majesty, and ancient wisdom. I felt like I had walked into the most sacred of cathedrals.

A few weeks later, I found out that over 97 percent of these trees—that grow to be 200 to 300 feet tall and 2,000 to 3,000 years old—have already been logged and that they are continuing to be cut down with highly destructive industrial logging practices. I could not believe this was happening. I felt like I should do something to try to help stop this atrocity from continuing, but I didn’t know how or what to do.

Then, I heard that people were living in trees in order to protect them from being cut down and to try to bring attention to the issue. I thought to myself, “I could do that!” I grew up with two brothers and no sisters, so I knew how to climb trees! I wasn’t quite sure how to be an activist. I wasn’t even sure what that meant exactly. But tree climbing was something I knew how to do, so I volunteered.

When I climbed 180 feet up into the branches of a 200-foot-tall, over 1,000-year-old redwood tree, now known as “Luna,” I thought I would be there for three weeks to a month. It turned out to be over two years, 738 days to be exact, before my feet would touch the ground again. In that time, I faced many challenges that left my heart, spirit, and body broken. There were so many moments where I wanted to give up. Yet every time I felt myself in this space, I would pray and ask for strength. The funny thing is I would always get sent more challenges. Finally, I realized that I was receiving what I had asked for because the only way we get stronger is through exercise, including the exercise of heart, mind, and spirit. Every challenge then became an opportunity for learning and growth.

It was in this way that I realized that every moment, every day, every choice is an opportunity for courage. Every time I choose to act consciously out of my love for my world, no matter what the status quo says, no matter how difficult the choice might be, I am living a life that has meaning, joy, and true power. No matter how dark things in our world seem sometimes, I am the only one who can consciously choose to shine a light of caring, commitment, and courage. It really is a moment, by moment, choice. Yes, we need the “big” acts to encourage and inspire us, but it is only through looking at these as examples to empower ourselves, that we find the extraordinary person that lives within the heart of each and every one of us.

Julia Butterfly HillJulia Butterfly Hill climbed the 1,000-year-old Redwood to stop loggers from cutting it down. Little did she know she’d remain in its canopy, defying the scare tactics of the logging company, for two full years. Julia received international attention and went on to become an international speaker, author, and life coach.