Like many of you, I began to read and write at an early age. A book was a “safe place” where I could be whoever I wanted to be (without anyone suggesting the absurdity of my choice) and go wherever I wanted to go (without being told “no you can’t”). I loved reading Bible stories and memorizing verses, but for some reason I thought it was implied by my Sunday school teachers that all my inspiration should come from the Bible.
…and then I found the library!
One of the first books that inspired me was “Autos, Trains, Boats and Planes” which ignited my life-long love of traveling. The adolescent series “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” encouraged me to pursue a nursing career. I devoured “Spiritual Midwifery” throughout my first pregnancy and eventually became a midwife.
Books have been my inspiration for as long as I can remember, helping to guide me to appreciate the often confusing dissonant world we live in. I never turned my back on the “planted seed” (the Bible), and as an adult I continued to study and share all the spiritual gifts that have healed, supported, defended and directed my path(s) in life (Thank you, Mrs. Sprow!). I became a writer to encourage others to seek out inspirational “things” and individuals that inspire us all to be the very best human beings we can be.
Inspirationalists come in all colors, genders and age groups. Their collective uneasy rise from personal adversity, conflict, physical and mental abuse, discrimination of all kinds and devastating illnesses serve as an inspiration… and a reminder that within each of us is a spirit of strength and tenacity (that I believe comes from the Almighty) to conquer any challenge we encounter.
Below are a just few individuals that inspire me to become a better person. This is a partial acknowledgement of a much larger list, an eclectic group of writers, lesser known personalities and “old” friends that popped into my mind as I was writing, listed in no particular order. Some are famous persons and others are ordinary folk like you and me. Perhaps they will inspire you, too:
Ben Okri is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Much of his early work is about the violence he witnessed during the civil war in Nigeria before leaving the country for England to study. His book “The Famished Road” (1993) tells stories of imperialist avarice and broken dreams, making reference to black ghetto life as a “long, futile battle against countless indignities”. Still, despite that early adversity Okri assures us that “this same life is never bereft of a hopeless kind of joy”.
Maya Angelou is a familiar name to many, and was a beloved African American actress, writer, poet and civil rights activist. Among her many writings, Maya penned a seven volume series, the most acclaimed being “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”(1969), an autobiography of her early years overcoming racism and trauma throughout her entire life. Although she supped with kings and presidents, actors, activists and regular folk alike, she never forgot who she was and where she came from.
Salmon Rushdie, a British Indian novelist best known for his book “The Satanic Verses” (1988) grew up as a Muslim in Bombay, but soon became a target of Muslim extremists after the book came out. In 1989 Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (death sentence) against him citing blasphemy against Islam and Muhammad. A sizable bounty was placed on his head forcing Rushdie to go into hiding, but in 1998 Iran declared it would not support the fatwa after Rushdie publicly apologized and voiced his support for Islam. Years later he publicly regretted the statement saying “As soon as I said it, I felt as if I had ripped my own tongue out”. His courage has influenced a generation of writers to speak out against religious discrimination and cultural inequalities.
Blessed Mother Teresa was born in Kosovo but became an Indian subject (1929), founding the Catholic Missionaries of Charity, a society of nuns that still serve the “poorest of the poor” in the ghettos of Calcutta today. As endeared as she has become to many people from all religions, Mother Teresa was harshly criticized for her outspoken comments and convictions about abortion and contraception throughout the years, as well as demonized for the substandard conditions of several hospices under her care. Still, the beatification of Mother Teresa took place on October 19, 2003 by Pope John Paul II. It is likely she will be proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in September 2016.
Danny Thomas, born in Michigan of Lebanese parents was a beloved television and film actor, producer and philanthropist. As a “starving actor”, Thomas had made a vow to help raise funds to build the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (1962). He fervently believed “no child should die in the dawn of life”. To date, St. Jude has treated children from all around the world regardless of their ability to pay (no family ever receives a bill), also providing an environment for exceptionally talented and gifted physicians and researchers to continue the search for a cure for childhood cancers.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist and writer in her native Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan where the local Taliban banned girls from attending school. On 9 October 2012 when she was returning home from school a Taliban gunman shot her in the head. The ugly scars from her attack didn’t keep Malala from blogging about human rights advocacy. Malala is best known as the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, further dedicating her life to secure education opportunities for girls and woman everywhere.
Maggie Doyne, a young American woman who used her $5000 savings (!) from babysitting to help a nation, was named the 2015 CNN Hero of the Year. Maggie backpacked to Nepal, bought land and worked within the Nepalese community to build a school, a women’s center and a children’s home. Her “Blink Now” Foundation (blinknow.org) continues these efforts with generous gifts from many benefactors around the world. She refers to all the children in the facility as “her children” , and is committed to being a mother figure for all children she has helped.
Linda Yates was 61 years old, going through a divorce, laid off from her job when her granddaughter was born with Down syndrome and a heart ailment that lead to open heart surgery. Linda volunteered to be her granddaughter’s caretaker so that her daughter and son-in-law could retain their employment. In September 2013, the 64yr. old mother of five went back to school to study Early Childhood Education. It wasn’t easy at first, she said, but her new passion to help children with disabilities has motivated her to study more than when she was younger.
Ella Jeans married her beloved husband within a month of meeting him. The fact that they married at all is remarkable when you consider their differences. As she tells the story, they were “poor as church mice! He was a devout Protestant and Republican and (she) being a devout Catholic and Democrat was practically unheard of back then.” They were together long enough to create seven children before her husband died, leaving Ella to raise the children all by herself. “I was blessed and am thankful for the time we were together”.
During the ensuing years she worked as a registered nurse, spent decades within the prison system working in the infirmary while putting all seven children through college and trade school without any assistance other than an uncompromising faith in the Almighty to be there when she needed Him the most. “Always trust and obey, Sweetie” she reminds me when I feel discouraged or especially whiny. (Common sense, don’t you think?)
Despite all that has happened in her life, Miss Ella gets up early every day without fail to telephone dozens of persons (close friends, immediate family members and acquaintances) listed in her notebook to play the “Happy Birthday” song on her old piano. She also gives shoulder massages to everyone she comes in contact with (waitresses, shop clerks, people on the streets, etc…). I’ve never witnessed anyone turn her down.
Many years ago Ella lost one of her adult children to heart disease. Another daughter and granddaughter were both killed by a drunk driver on the day after Christmas coming over the snowy mountain to visit. Ella was absolutely crushed from the loss, but spent most of her time at the funeral comforting everyone else. “They are safe in God’s hands. I know I will see them again one day”, she told everyone. Ella’s uses her faith as her weapon for all the challenges she faces.
Last year, at the age of 90 years old, Ella was diagnosed with breast cancer, but refused treatment following her surgery. Weeks later she fell and broke her tailbone. Currently Ella is on hospice care for palliative pain control. She now uses a walker to steady her step and gets tired much quicker than she used to, but otherwise is as mentally sharp as she ever was.
Miss Ella is my spiritual advisor, the person I most admire and aspire to be “when I grow up”. She is one of my dearest friends and frequent companion. I feel very thankful and honored (and blessed) just for knowing her.
Today I pray that each and every one of you have a special inspiration in your life. If not, get out there and find someone or something that inspires you to do great and miraculous things! The world is a much better place with YOU in it!
By the way, the oldest African-American woman veteran, Alyce Dixon, died a few days ago at the ripe old age of 108 yrs. She joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1943, was stationed in England and France during World War II and worked in the military postal service. She made sure that every service person received his/her mail and packages as soon as humanly possible — even if they were fighting on the front line! Alyce was so good at her job that she received the Good Conduct Medal for her service to her country.
Now how’s that for an inspiration?