I must admit the opportunities to blog are few and far between as I struggle daily to wear fifteen different hats effectively. It’s only been a few weeks since my last update but in this inch that lies between success and failure, it may have well been a year. Oh what can happen in a short span of time, yet as we are living it we often feel impatient and frustrated when we don’t see the results in the bold strokes we imagine. I have been working on this project now for more than two and a half years, seven days a week. To many people, especially those who measure success in either money or within the framework that a tangible and finitely measured result must be achieved…to these people I have failed. But if success is measured by having the courage to set out on a mission, no matter the opposition , without any guarantees or even probabilities…with absolutely nothing more than an unshakable belief that you could and should do it…than I am one of the most successful people I know.
This mission, this dream and profound belief that I have decided to make the focus of my life has caused me to say to people again and again that I am happier now than at any point in my life. Each time I say this, my husband looks at me with an unspoken question or comment…”Are you kidding?” I know him well enough to know that he struggles in his own mind to validate this message coming from the mouth he often sees rigid with stress or too tired to turn up in a smile. Yesterday, I was finally able to articulate why I can say that and mean it even in circumstances that do not support the message. Happiness can have a headache.
This journey so far has been a challenge to say the least. We set out without much of a roadmap; under resourced and with a myriad of other hurdles to overcome. Some, we saw coming; others caught us by complete surprise. Every day has been a lesson, mostly in hard knocks. But we are learning and growing in our mission and as individuals. We are selling enough books to survive and keep moving forward but not enough to do some of the things we “want” and “need” to do like wrapping the bus and producing a soft back version of the book. I am becoming an accomplished speaker and honing this new found craft in preparation of the larger audiences I know that I will one day have. Nothing quite as humbling as arriving at a speaking event you planned your calendar around to find an audience of four, nor as thrilling as being able to hear a pin drop as you stand in front of one hundred and fifty. Either way, I give it my all with the belief that if I inspire one person, I can effectively impact hundreds more. As Peb Jackson, one of the founders of Focus on the Family reminded me, “My dear, what you are doing is planting seeds.”
This is what I cling to when the road ahead looks bleaker than I imagined or when the results of my efforts leave no visible impression. I am planting seeds and I don’t need to worry or burden myself with which seeds grow or which ones wither away…my role is simply to plant the seeds. I share this message each and every time I speak because when you are asking people, living in a time of immediate gratification, to roll up their sleeves and join the fight: the good fight, you must also prepare them for the reality that the effort they make may not necessarily result in change they can see. They need to be prepared that their efforts may seem futile and small and their role insignificant…that it is not what we can accomplish today by these efforts that matters as much as we can accomplish years from now by making these small gestures today. When it comes to changing the world, the ego must be parked as you likely will not get credit for the change or even be alive to witness it. I know this and accept it, but feel important and significant to have any role at all in such an important process.
Never before was this awareness greater than it is now. A few remarkable things happened to set up the “best day” so far. On Tuesday, we finally managed to fly Tim’s nest. We had extended our few days of refuge in his home to four weeks. Tim’s generosity seemed infinite and our appreciation felt inadequate but we all knew it was time to leave. It was time to cope without the conveniences of using Tim’s truck to get around and his house to spread out in. Se we left for the sake of leaving. We didn’t have anything scheduled for a week but figured we’d park at a beach and get ourselves caught up. We had been running at it hard with little time to breathe for the past two months.
Literally, as we pulled away and only moments after putting the address of Dockweiler’s RV Park in my Blackberry navigation system, I received an email from the Culver City Rotary Club asking me if I could possibly speak on short notice the next day. They’d had a cancelation. I responded that I could and decided to worry about the logistics later: the absence of Tim’s truck formulating inconvenient questions in my mind. Once we found our way to Dockweiler’s, I entered a new address into the navigation system, this time the meeting place of the Culver City Rotary Club. Words cannot tell you how pleased we were when it told us we were only six miles away. Instead of having to get to this presentation in a thirty-nine foot bus with everybody on board in L.A. traffic and then deal with parking, we could hop in a taxi without fear of the fare. I felt God and it felt good.
We parked, got ourselves situated and then enjoyed some time with the boys before going for a run. OK, I confess, Brock ran and I walked, but as I walked I thought about someone I hadn’t seen in a long, long time, my Godfather, Jim “Mudcat” Grant. I was so excited to get back to the bus and drum up his number in order to call him and invite him to my presentation. I didn’t expect to find him in town…he rarely was. To my surprise he was in town, and cancelled a few appointments to join us for lunch at the Rotary Club meeting. Seeing him again reminded me of how time seems to race by and stand still at the same time, how things can seem both unchanged and different and that certain things are forever…the simple things that make us who we are, regardless of which way we travel from your house to mine.
Mudcat was older and walked with a cane but he still looked strikingly handsome and gave off an unmistakable aura that said “I am important and I can tell you stories that you won’t believe.” This aura was always there from when I was three and we first met to eight years ago when I had seen him last. It was never conveyed in smugness or ego but rather through a self confidence that comes from knowing who you are and where you are going. I noted to myself that I recognized this now only because I finally understand who I am and where I am going, though the actual route remains a mystery. The one thing that stood out most to me was that I felt the same pride I had always felt in his presence, the pride of a little girl in the presence of a great man. I was nervous as I rose to speak realizing how much I wanted him to be proud of me, more importantly that it was “designed” that he would be there on this day and that this was the day that a seed planted 43-years ago was going to be recognized. As I delivered a speech that I had given dozens of times before I looked out and saw Mudcat, his glasses perched on his nose looking up at me and then down at my book while I spoke with the same passion and conviction that he had lived his life, I realized it was meeting him that had first inspired me. I delivered a speech that was neither my best nor my worst but I delivered it to a person who had a profound impact on my life…something that I did not realize nor I imagine did he until that very moment. I sold nineteen books that day which in our world is a windfall and Mudcat was there to witness people buy multiple copies, one woman buying eight. For a book costing $64.95 in a bottomed out economy, this is more remarkable than it might sound. Mudcat was proud of me and I was proud that he was there.
We spent the rest of the afternoon together talking about the time that had past and recounted to Brock the story of how we met: the story of a black man befriending a little white girl on her way home from Des Moines, Iowa to Orange County, CA. Today, this wouldn’t make for much of a story but forty-three years ago things were different. Mudcat was a pitcher with the Oakland A’s and while the world was beginning to accept and celebrate the talent of African American ball players on the field and in some circles off the field, it was not ready to accept a black man walking through the Salt Lake City Airport with a little blond girl on his shoulders and two other blond girls holding either hand. My sisters and I, three, four and eight years old were flying home from visiting our Grandparents. Flying unaccompanied was nothing new as our father was a pilot for Western Airlines. On this particular flight we shared the plane with some major league ballplayers. As the story has been told by Mudcat hundreds of times, I was sitting on the aisle seat across from him with my sisters in the other two seats. When I began to talk to Mudcat, I was elbowed and reminded “We are not supposed to talk to strangers.” Coming from my oldest sister who can still intimidate me today, it should have carried more weight but I was young and foolish. I asked Mudcat “What is your name?” when he replied Mudcat, I triumphantly turned to my sister and said “His name is Mudcat, he’s not a stranger.
Later I asked him if he would color with me and when he accepted my brave invitation, I crawled into his lap with a Mr. Magoo coloring book and a box of crayons. As I colored, he held the crayons giving me whatever color I asked for as it was needed. When I had colored everything but the skin, I abruptly closed the book announcing that I was finished. He immediately said “No you’re not, you forgot to color the skin.” He then watched me look from his very dark arm to my light arm and then to the extremely light arm of Charlie Finley in the next seat and then back to his arm and then the box of crayons. After careful consideration I resolved my dilemma and asked him with conviction for the color orange. Mudcat told this story again and again over the years as a lesson in diplomacy taught by a child. Mudcat was in our lives on and off throughout the years and even sang at each one of our weddings, but he and I had formed a special relationship that continued even after everyone else fell out of touch. Eventually, we fell out of touch as well, but for an infrequent phone call or visit. The impression he made on me was indelible. I look back now, fresh from our 8 hour visit yesterday, and realize that he had planted a seed unbeknownst to both of us over 4 decades ago in the heart of a little girl who would one day become a published author and artist. Meeting Mudcat at the impressionable age of three during a time when African American ballplayers were not allowed to date white women or stay in certain hotels set my future into motion.
Always the “different” child in my family, I guess I related to the concept of struggling from the outside even at a very young age. At the age of nine I read Sammy Davis Jr.’s autobiography “Yes I Can” and did my first portrait in Crayon. Today I am the author/artist and publisher of a book that challenges what is tolerated with what is right. Mudcat and I have rekindled an important relationship and will be staying in touch and doing speaking events and book signings together as he has also authored a book, The Black Aces. Our subjects might be different, his baseball and the struggles and strides made by African American players and mine the children globally who suffer from human rights violations, but our message is the same. We are each a small part of humanity playing a role that at some future time will have greater significance. Don’t waste life looking and waiting for the results. Life is about planting the seeds. The harvest will come later.