When I was in grade school I loved Schoolhouse Rocks’ “I’m Just a Bill up on Capitol Hill”. It had personal meaning for me because my father made it come alive. He was the Chairman of the County Commission in rural, south Alabama, so government seemed reachable from an early age. Being a part of forming government came into my consciousness when a guest came over one evening. I was just young enough to be amused by the fact that his name was Rhodes Johnston and he was also a Rhodes Scholar; and I was just old enough to be impressed, both by the Rhodes Scholar status (mother explained that it was quite an accomplishment) and by his association with National Geographic. Mr. Johnston and my father were writing a bill for the state legislature. I think it had to do with one of the local rivers. I later learned that the bill passed. Of course it did, my Daddy wrote it! Like most children I saw the world of the possible as being at least as large as my parent’s accomplishments and the lesson stuck.
Years later I joked with a political science professor about sitting down on the living room floor to write a bill (yes, they sat on the floor to write it). Her eyes widened a bit and she said that it wasn’t that easy. I never explained why I made the comment, but I did eventually ask her for a recommendation to a study abroad program in Central America. I didn’t expect it to lead anywhere, but I asked the questions anyway. I asked my professors “Would you like to write a recommendation?”. I asked Grandma Ed “Would you like to keep the kids for the summer?”. I asked all my questions and filled out the application. Before long that fat envelope that means “yes” was delivered to my mailbox, my children were visiting Grandma for the summer and I experienced the tropical cloud forest. It was not legislation, but it was a dream. I was awed by the colors, textures and sounds that were the cloud forest. I came to believe that if something so beautiful could exist, there must be something right in the world and I was able to experience it because I kept moving toward something I thought was an impossible, or at least an unlikely goal. The kids came down for a visit after the program and I was able to share all that I had spent the summer studying with them, plus a little more.
This was not the first time I met with unexpected yes. The first time may have been when I was twenty. My brother-in law died in the service of his country and I was moved to write an op-ed piece. His brother, now my ex-husband, gave me the “Aren’t you adorable?” look when I showed him my work. The L. A. Times was better for my ego. They published it.
Years later, I began to design clothing. I called my favorite magazine Creative Needle, and asked if they would like to publish my work. They did. My favorite designer saw that work and used my design on her wedding dress. These are not world changing events, but they are life changing events. When your work, whatever it is, is appreciated by the people you admire it feeds the spirit. It gives you the audacity to hope, to keep seeing opportunity and to follow it even when you are certain that failure is just right around the corner.