This Love Poem Living Through You

Imagine for a moment, it’s your last day on this beautiful Earth; and as each breath is drawn in with a sense of gratitude, you are finally able to pause and reflect upon the love poem that your life has composed. The love poem, that has lived through you.

What kind of a love poem will it be? In what ways will love have woven itself into this world through your hands, your mind, your intention and your heart? How has the love of the world, for you, woven itself into the life you’ve lived?

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I do believe, most deeply, that the world is filled with love for us, and in all moments it is beckoning, enticing, inviting us to giggle and smile and pause to feel the embrace of this love.

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I’m not speaking of some commercialized, surface-oriented love that is just there to make us feel better if we’re feeling down. No, I’m speaking of an intensely soulful love that is unconditional, non-judgement, and seeking no result other than for us to be ignited by its presence.

This love is never discriminatory, never withheld, and is bestowed upon every single human and living being without expectation or limit. The more conscious of it we are, the more we open ourselves up to receiving it, and reciprocating it.

As with all things, what we give attention expands; and as we give this love attention, we expand as well.

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“The stunning capacity we have for love is mirrored in the stunning capacity this world has in its love for us.” 

This is not a new idea. How many ancestors do we carry with us in our blood and air and soil, and water, who have repeated this reminder, this essential truth of the human existence, the human experience.

We are not an accident.

We are not only creatures of destruction and of violence. We are made for this world, and we are made of this world. And the stunning capacity we have for love is mirrored in the stunning capacity this world has in its love for us.

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Have you forgotten? I sometimes forget.

Yet, here in Chile, as I consciously make more time for quiet, for simply paying attention, the more I find myself staring in wonder at the wild love poems this world is writing to me each day. And each day we truly are, again, invited to fall in love.

The world wants nothing more than this.

Each sunrise is a love poem. Each sunset, a sonnet.

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The wind carrying the vibrant tones of the fast-descending waterfall, interweaving it’s roar with the far-carrying and fluttering birdsong- a most divine love song of presence.

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The bursts of color and delicate beauty of freshly bloomed spring blossoms and out-of-nowhere rainbows that tickle us with glee, are all love notes.

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The moment the sunshine nudges aside that cold, dark shadow and wraps you in its deliciously warm sunbeams- an embrace of pure love.

Stones and clouds and leaves and puddles and pony spots, all arriving in our paths in subtle, quiet moments- shaped like hearts- love messengers.

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It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to believe otherwise, when billboards block those heart-shaped clouds, and glossy phone screens draw our attention away from those split seconds that the rainbow shows itself. When the podcast in my earbuds blocks out the sounds of soft, lovely birdsong dancing with wind-tousled leaves- I miss this love song meant for me; when I’m walking outside with my head full of my to-do-lists or recounting something that I did wrong or someone I feel I’ve let down, and I don’t notice how my body naturally responds with appreciation to that change of temperature moving from shadow to sunshine- I miss that pause, I miss that moment of receiving the love being offered.

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“The love poem of your life is not a piece of art made for critics- inner or otherwise.”

How is your life a love poem?

I caution that we may only look back at it in it’s entirety when we are in our final moments- because it is far too precious a piece of art to look at directly while in the midst of making. The love poem of your life is not a piece of art made for critics- inner or otherwise. It is not cake meant to be tasted before its fully baked, it must never be reflected upon with anything other than a quiet, open mind and a loving heart. And yet- we must reflect upon it if we hope to consciously weave it with the divine quality of unconditional love that this world has for us.

Photo Credit: Erin McElroy

Just as we easily pass by the love notes from the Earth, we also easily overlook all of the open windows through with we are meant to send our love out into the world. The love that so masterfully forms and shapes this poem living through us.

And just as easily as we can begin to receive the love of the world, by paying attention, we can also consciously weave our love into the world with this simple practice- paying attention, being present for the experiences we are living as they unfold.

“As I imagine myself as an old woman at the end of my life and ask myself how I will evaluate my time here, there is only one question that concerns me: Did I love well? There are a thousand ways to love other people and the world–with our touch, our words, our silences, our work, our presence. I want to love well. This is my hunger. I want to make love to the world by the way I live in it, by the way I am with myself and others every day. So I seek to increase my ability to be with the truth in each moment, to be with what I know, the sweet and the bitter. I want to stay aware of the vastness of what I do not know. This is what brings me to the journey. I do not want to live any other way.”

~Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation

Photo Credit: Helene Barbe

Oh what a magnificent invitation from dear Oriah, to notice that something as simple as our full presence for one another and for this world is an act of love. Our smiles and laughter given so generously and genuinely are our shared love language. We can weave our love into our work, into the words we choose to use, into the relationships we cultivate and into the art we create. Our love can be a key ingredient in the meals we cook and the conversations we have, simply with our decision to make it so

Cultivating a sense of presence, this willingness to simply pay attention to each moment of our lives, this is our opening, this is our invitation to fully participate in the crafting of this love poem, to fully honor this incredible exchange of love that is available to us in all moments we live and breathe.

Our presence with our love is what gives it wings to sail out that window into the larger world beyond. Our presence is what crafts the stanzas and the stunning, brilliant prose of the love poem living through us.

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The Generosity of Presence

The sunlight danced through the tree canopy as we rode through the open forest; it dappled the hides of the horses and tickled and teased my eyes.

Oh how delicious it felt to know we were going the right way, to have a clear and distinct trail in front and behind us.

Oh how delightful it felt to have a blue sky above, sunshine in our eyes, and to be arriving where we’d actually meant to arrive, and in mid-afternoon no less!

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Winding forest paths dappled with sunshine

It’s a wonderful practice to notice what you naturally gravitate toward when you’ve pared down all of your comforts to the barest of the bare. At this stage all I needed to squeal with delight were three simple things:

  • sunshine,
  • clear skies, and
  • a sense of certainty that we were moving in the right direction.

Up to now Patagonia had whittled away all other necessities (even food, as we grew more and more accustomed to our incredibly small daily rations); and with these three gems of the day I felt like queen of the forest.

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All the necessary gems

As I rocked gently with Picante’s steady pace as he plodded across the soft forest carpet, a sense of curiosity awoke within me and I imagined who exactly it was that we were about to drop in on.

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Woodland magic

This gaucho who lived in these deep and wondrously remote glacial valleys of southern Patagonia, all alone. A man who rode his horses into town only once a year- a minimum 4 day ride (when you know the way- when you don’t know the way, and lose it often as we did, it takes far longer)- to gather supplies that sustained him in his life way “off the grid”. A man who was somehow a crucial puzzle piece to our journey, and the only person who would be able to share with us the way forward- a way forward that was not documented on maps or guide books or on GPS.  A way forward that lived in his mind, in his heart, and in the musical descriptions falling from his tongue of the rocks, the rivers, the forest and the glaciers that would be our guides from there onward.

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Wild Patagonia

As the trail dropped down we arrived at the edge of a deep, fast flowing river. The icy blue water licked my boots as Picante waded belly deep. On the other side we were greeted by several more dogs, Check and Curi Cuyen said their hellos and then trotted on after us to continue their inspection of this lovely little home in the wildest corner of the world.

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La vida del campo

I suddenly felt self conscious as we rode closer to the house- what if he didn’t want visitors? What if we felt like a burden, coming to him with our questions about the route, with our empty bellies, so hungry from weeks of rationing food? What if he didn’t even like company?

He did, after all, willingly choose to live in one of the most remote places in the world, with only his dogs, horses and cows for company…well, dogs, horses, cows and all the rest of Patagonia’s wild wonders.

But still…what if our arrival felt like an intrusion?

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The horses climbed the last hill and as they did we saw a small, thin- yet sturdy- old man striding toward us. His soft, suntanned face broke into a wrinkly smile as he reached up his hand to take Alejandro’s in his; and then he took mine. He looked us in the eyes, held each hand with both of his, and warmly he welcomed us to unsaddle our horses and unload our chiwas (the traditional Patagonia packs loaded on our packhorse).

He pointed us toward the small smokehouse at the top of the hill and told us meat was cooking over the fire, and we must help ourselves to it. He said he had to go off and take care of some things, but when he returned we would sit and drink mate together.

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Arrivals

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so warmly welcomed, so wholeheartedly received by someone who moments before had only been some fictional being; someone pulled from a story who now was wrapping his entire heart around us with his presence and generosity. I felt so received and embraced, and for the first time since we had departed on our journey across Patagonia, I felt a sense of true arrival.

After unsaddling the horses and letting them loose, we raced to the meat and ravenously began slicing pieces off, the juices dripping off our fingers as the soft meat was gobbled up. For the last 7 days we had primarily been living off of instant mashed potatoes and rice- so the meat arrived on our tongues with a sudden level of decadence I could never have imagined. Our dogs also seemed joyous to be eating anything other than rice as they joined us in the feast, finishing off the bits of cow that the other dogs had not yet gotten to.

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Cooking meat in the smokehouse

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A feast for all

Later in the evening Don Rial returned with a few other gauchos who had stopped in to help him brand and castrate a few cattle. Alejandro would join them in this work the following day. In the meantime, we dropped into an easygoing conversation and exchange of story, meat, sopaipillas (a typical chilean dish of dough fried in freshly rendered fat), and shared wonderment of the surrounding beauty as the sun dropped behind the mountains and lit the clouds aglow with pink.

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Fresh sopaipillas

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Asado

Our time with Don Rial was far too short in reality; but those three days were deep in their width, despite the shortness of their length. He was everything that had been spoken of him, and more. When he spoke of this place he lived, of his love of this wild place, it was like listening to a poet read their most divine verses worthy of nobel prizes.

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Dinner is served

When he spoke of being gaucho, and the pride he felt for it, he described it not as being a cowboy-like figure who could handle cattle and horses and work the land, but instead as a human being who honored friendship and kindness above all. To receive others with an open and generous heart, and to be a friend to all- this is what truly made one a gaucho.

When he spoke of friendship, I felt I actually understood the depths of the word in a way I never had before. When he spoke of connection, and the way he could live so far from people, yet still feel so deeply connected with everyone he had ever crossed paths with in his lifetime, he stretched my capacity of understanding there as well. Through and through his words carried the depths of how powerful we can be with our generosity of presence, with our generosity of friendship.

He was, and is, quite simply, a sage.

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A moment with our friend, Don Rial

To be with him for a brief moment in time felt like a gift from the universe. To know him, to call him my friend, this too feels like a gift from the universe.

The details of our time with Don Rial will emerge with time, his personality, his sweetness of life, his quick wit and sense of humor, the gorgeous simplicity of his life and being, his commitment to the place, and to his soul- they are all far too large to fit into this brief glimpse of a blog post.

Yet, I had to invite his presence into all of your lives, in this moment in particular. It is two years ago that we were in his magical presence, in his magical home, deep in the belly of Patagonia.

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Don Rial leading the way

He is 80 years old now, still living all alone in his remote cabin. News from the south has been carried to us that our dear friend has grown much weaker, and he is challenged in his ability to care for himself. Also, that he continues to honor his soul, and wishes to remain on the land that has fed it for so long.

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A soul’s delight

I wish to sit with him again, to drink mate together around a crackling fire as the sun sets, casting glistening pinks and blues across the glaciers that embrace his homestead; to simply be with him in a way that honors a friendship, and his generosity of life. I wish for another chance to meet his endless generosity of presence with my own.

Regardless of wishes coming true or not, I carry forward a new impression of friendship thanks to Don Rial, and a stunning awareness of how essential a gift it is to be so generous with our whole being.

I’m thankful to my life for all of the curious paths it led me down that brought me into the presence of this incredibly bright, vibrant and shimmering light of humanity, this gaucho who lives all alone, in the belly of Patagonia.

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Traveling with Kindness

“This is absolutely ridiculous! I don’t know how you people can do this and keep a clean conscience, it is disgraceful. It’s the holidays, don’t you care at all what you are doing to families? We have spent hundreds of dollars on this trip!”

“I’m very sorry mam, if you will just take a seat we will do our best to resolve this issue. We understand this is an inconvenience for your and your family and I do apologize for this situation.”

The woman in front of me stormed off, huffing and puffing, pulling along her overstuffed carry on and looking ready to burst with frustration. As I stepped forward, the airline associate behind the desk smiled at me timidly, as though she were bracing for another barrage of scolding words.

Instead, I offered her a broad smile and uttered eight words that made her visibly joyful. “I would like to give up my seat.”

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At first she seemed almost stunned, and I can’t really blame her. It was New Years Day and the airport was overflowing with bustling travelers. Every flight in the airport seemed to have been oversold; and not just oversold by a seat or two, on my flight alone they had oversold 8 seats.

Eight. That’s crazy. Eight people had paid for a ticket and were now sitting in total dismay at not having a seat on the flight they paid for. Although these people had every right to be frustrated and angry with the airline companies for this injustice, at the end of the day these airline associates were wallowing in their misery with them, not rejoicing at their power and ability to deceive them. They hadn’t hand selected who would have a seat and who would not with devilish grins and mean-spirited chuckles. But here they were, the scapegoat for the computer algorithm that counted on so many people missing this flight. The airlines should really give their employees armor for the abuse they receive on the holidays. Or better yet, they should be accountable for giving people the service they’ve actually paid for and not overselling flights in the first place.

Luckily for me, it was a Saturday. I was traveling alone and didn’t have any need to get back to San Francisco until 9:00 am Monday morning, for all I cared they could lily-pad jump me across the entire United States. It was 7:30 am, feeling like the perfect time to make someone else’s day. It was the holiday season after all, right?

“Okay, so I am going to book you on a flight to North Carolina, from there you will get a flight to Atlanta, and then another to Las Vegas. You will need to spend the night in Las Vegas, but I’ll set you up in a hotel and you will be booked on the first flight out to San Francisco Sunday morning,” the flight attendant looked up at me as she described the complicated itinerary. Again I could sense she was expecting some sort of confrontation or pushback.

“That’s just fine, whatever works for you guys, I have plenty of time and have everything with me, so it’s easy for me to travel all day.” At this point, after watching the abuse this woman had taken for the past twenty minutes, I sincerely just wanted to make her feel good about some aspect of her job, and I also felt as though someone who really needed to be somewhere this day should take my seat. I had the luxury of an open schedule.

“Well, you will also receive a $500 flight voucher for giving up your seat on this flight, and the flight I have booked you on to go to North Carolina might be oversold as well, so if you decide to give up your seat on that flight then you could actually make out pretty well,” she said with a smile.

I smiled back, “Sounds like a day well spent if you ask me, making it possible for others to get to their destination while also collecting flight vouchers, can’t beat that can I?” I laughed out loud, and the airline associate also let out a giggle. “No, sounds pretty good to me” she said with a smile.

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And so began my day of intentional selflessness that ended up being one of the most self-indulgent days I can remember.

How could this day possibly be self indulgent? Well, with my sole intention being to give up my seat on every flight I was assigned to, I managed to rack up $2000 worth of flight vouchers. I also received heartfelt thanks from 4 individual passengers and a family of five who were able to fly together thanks to my seat becoming available. I received 3 hugs from perfect strangers, and an overwhelming embrace of gratitude from seven airline employees who were struggling through one of the toughest days of the year for them.

When I did manage to land a flight that was not oversold, the airline associate upgraded me to first class, twice. And when I got to Vegas, I didn’t even have to cash in my hotel voucher; instead, the airline associates there managed to get me on a flight and I arrived in San Francisco at 5:00 pm, only 30 minutes after my original arrival time.

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I can’t help but smile when I remember this day. My intention was not to collect flight vouchers (which would end up paying for 4 future flights). My intention was to make as many people smile amidst a constant stream of negativity. To travel with kindness. With the simple decision that I would flow with all that unfolded in a spirit of generosity and kindness, I ended up feeling as though I received the greatest gift of all.

It’s easy to get caught up in the streams of negativity that flow around us. Their currents are swift and they sometimes sneak up on us, sucking us into their depths before we even realize it. Each moment we live and breathe is an opportunity to choose how we participate in the world around us- how we choose to travel through it. Carrying kindness along as a companion is like carrying a life vest to keep your head above water when that stream of negativity threatens to overwhelm you and everyone around you. Kindness is often gentle and subtle, and powerful all at once.

Let us not forget how powerful it is to be kind to one another, to be kind to ourselves. Not because we have to, but because we get to; because it’s a privilege to cross paths with one another, to touch the life of another in a way that lifts us all up. When we pay attention to the opportunities that present themselves, when we lead with a generous heart, we often receive far more than we give- and in curiously delightful ways.

As Rumi so eloquently put it:

“Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love, which linger and continue to uplift others long after your sharing.”

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Cultivating Untrammeled Joy

“Joy is a meeting place, of deep intentionality and of self forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formerly seemed outside, but is now neither, but become a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world.”- David Whyte

Untrammeled joy is the best way I can describe how I feel when I’m in the presence of horses.

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Photo: Lindsay Fitzgerald

It’s also how I feel when I get to share their presence with others.

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Photo: María Prieto

“The horses are like a smile, like a contagious smile.” My husband, Ale, once said as we were reflecting on what it’s like to ride our horses out into the community. And it’s true, there is some essential form of presence that they invoke in people, igniting ripples of untrammeled joy that might even be felt against the will of the person feeling it – due to its inexplicability.

This, in our experience, is particularly prevalent with children.

 

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Photo: María Prieto

During our long ride across Patagonia, we were approached constantly by children in the streets- wriggling in their parents arms as we rode by, pointing and squealing “caballito, caballito!” Passing cars would slow down, roll down their windows, and children would thrust their hands out into the open air, hoping to bury outstretched fingers in the fury necks. Often parents would the car pull over on the side of the road, so the children to could come up to the horses and touch them. Smiles spread outwardly and inwardly, and as we rode through town it was as though we left a wake of smiles behind us. Where ever we travel, our horses seem to naturally invoke a presence of openheartedness.

We noticed this, and decided that when we got home, we would nurture that openheartedness in our community, somehow.

When we returned to Pucón after our long ride and suddenly found ourselves to be the owners of seven horses, we felt this deep intentionality to cultivate connection between people in our community and the horses. At the time we didn’t know exactly how we could do it, but there was such a draw to share the abundance we felt by their presence, that we decided to set up a small workshop to introduce some of the children in our community to a few of the horses.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

We didn’t just want to give pony rides though, we wanted to cultivate connection and teach the children how to begin a heart-based conversation with horses. Our idea was that by introducing them to horses through the heart- we could plant a seed of heart connection that could potentially influence how community members interacted with horses, and with one another.

Our neighbor generously offered their round pen to host the workshop and parents supported us as spotters and horse handlers. Instead of charging a set rate for the workshop, we decided to offer it based on a donation of abundance- we encouraged neighbors to offer whatever they felt they had an abundance of in exchange for us hosting the workshop.

The day of the workshop the winter rains paused their downpours and we were gifted with gorgeous sunshine. Once everyone was gathered on the sheepskins that had traveled with us all across Patagonia, I began to describe the journeys that Picante and Pichi had adventured through in order to be here with the children.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

With wide eyes they listened as I described how Picante had crossed freezing cold rivers and treacherous mountain terrain, and how Pichi had walked in the deep sand along the ocean day after day, carrying a surfboard on her back. We were pretty lucky to be in the presence of such incredible horses.

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Photo: Heather Hillier

I then introduced them to a very special, magic way to connect with horses- with our breath and through our hearts.

All of the children closed their eyes, placed their hands on their hearts, and we took several deep breaths through our heart space. We collectively gave thanks to Picante, for his courage that brought him across the mountains and rivers, expressing gratitude for his friendliness and for his bravery in crossing so many bridges to get here. As we breathed through our hearts together, we gave thanks to Pichi for her happy persona, for her tireless energy as she walked through the sand all of those kilometers, for her curiosity and her calm presence.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

In the few moments we breathed gratitude through our hearts, I could visibly see both of the  horses and the children sink deeper into a state of calm.

The children then took turns greeting the horses with a soft breath in their nose and open palms that patiently allowed inspection from curious noses. It was incredibly simple, and yet so stunningly beautiful to witness each child reach out to the horses with a heartfelt connection of appreciation and story.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

The children took turns riding around the round pen, and then thanked their horse for his/her presence with a hug or a stroke on the neck. The air was thick with curiosity, love, attention and appreciation. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for the abundance we were able to share.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

As morning wound into afternoon and the children scurried off to play in the field, we unsaddled the horses, leaving them to graze while the adults gathered for a potluck lunch in the sunshine. The quality of connection, conversation, delicious food and wholehearted presence was palpable. On a small table, all of the abundance offerings were awaiting us- a jar of organic  quinoa, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and cheese, 10,000 pesos and amazing cards of thanks drawn by all of the children.

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The children brought them to me one by one, filling me arms with everything to the point that they were overflowing- then they all hugged me at once and I could not contain the joy emanating from my being.

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Untrammeled joy.

“To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow our selves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt like a thankful death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, overheard in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of the ocean, the sense of having danced to the music, in the rain, under the sky or with a well loved, familiar face – I was here and you were here and together we made a world.”- David Whyte

I don’t think I ever imagined I would step into a work that invoked within me such a deep level of joy. Working in partnership with the horses feels like an ever-deepening gift. I was always passionate about the various types of work I’ve done over the years, but the joy I experience when I’m supporting these wholehearted connections between horses and people…it steals my breath a bit. And as I move closer to this becoming my life’s work, I realize more and more how essential it is to ask ourselves, what invokes within me untrammeled joy? What ignites my soul and overwhelms my being with sheer gratitude for my very existence?

Why are those questions not on our college entrance exams? Or listed as essay questions on the SAT? Why aren’t we more diligently nurturing societies that encourage people to cultivate a life that invokes untrammeled joy?

Both Ale and I believe in the innate capacity horses have to awaken, heal and empower the human spirit, and we’ve committed to build an organization that cultivates this connection between people, nature and horses. We wanted to ensure we were honoring the wisdom and wellbeing of our herd. That’s what ultimately inspired us to build a company offering authentic learning journeys that will integrate Equine Facilitated Learning and Coaching, wilderness education, personal development and adventure.

In order to do this work from a place of integrity to take it to a deeper level, I felt I needed a broader foundation of how to support people in their personal development as they experience the healing power and wisdom of horses. As a result, I’ve decided to enroll in a year long apprenticeship program to gain my Equine Facilitated Learning & Coaching Certification. When we said yes to the horses more than a year ago, I knew we were saying yes to something that was bigger than us. I also knew if we wanted to create something bigger than the two of us, we couldn’t do it alone. This certification is just part of the vision we are building, but it’s a big part, and I need support in order to accomplish it.

Just as this workshop that we hosted in our little community was inspired by and initiated from a place of abundance, this wholehearted request for support is wrapped in a spirit of reciprocity, and I wish for folks to give if they can do so from a place of abundance. In the spirit of reciprocity, I’ve set up an Abundance Exchange filled with offerings of stories, photographs, and authentic experiences in exchange for financial support.

You can follow this link to learn more about the vision we are bringing to Chile and to donate, if you are feeling you have the financial abundance to do so.

Horses Empowering Humans

If you feel this work and the vision we hope to bring into the world might resonate with your friends, family or broader networks, please spread the word and share the link (https://www.gofundme.com/horsesempowerhumans) and help cultivate openhearted connections between people, horses and nature- with quite a bit of untrammeled joy along the way.

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Photo: Lindsay Fitzgerald

 

The Privilege of Sharing Abundance

The sweet scent of the summer meadow grass tickled my nose as the evening twilight settled across the field. The children gathered all around me as I told them stories of our close encounters with bears and hedgehogs. They giggled with glee as I described the adventures of Houdini, my most mischievous hedgehog, and her tendency to roll into a spiky ball and throw herself down the steep flights of stairs- simply for the sake of adventuring into the unknown. My, what life lessons that brave little hedgehog had for us all.

Lila played with a simple braided bracelet I wore on my wrist, telling me she liked all of the colors.

“You know,” I said, “this is a very special bracelet; it was given to me by my friends who are on a grand adventure. They are two women who are walking 20,000 miles across the Americas. They’ve been on the trail for two years and expect it will take them five years to walk from the southern tip of South America to the northern tip of North America!”

The children all stared at me with wide eyes and let out whispers of “wow” as they imagined these wild women who could embark on such a journey.

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I smiled and told them that I was very lucky because recently I had the opportunity to be a Trail Angel for these women. Again, eyes widened and faces lifted in interest and curiosity as a choir of questions spilled out into the cool evening air. The primary question of course being, “What’s a Trail Angel?!”

It was obvious that to the children, this sounded seriously magical; and in that moment, I realized just how magical it actually was.

I leaned in a little closer and did my best to paint a worthy picture of a Trail Angel across their imaginations. I described the way Trail Angels welcome travelers- be they hikers, pilgrims, neighbors, or even random strangers in need- into their home and offer them simple but wonderful things that travelers don’t always have when they’re on the trail or the road; things like freshly ground coffee, nice smelling shampoos and lotions, soft pillows and hot showers; home cooked meals and a warm fire on a cold, rainy day. These things seem small, but they are very meaningful.

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After many years of living on the road or on the trail, it always feels like a gift when I have a cozy home to offer to another.

Trail Angels give without any expectation of receiving money or things in return. We give because we know how simple pleasures can mean the world to someone when they’re in the midst of a long journey. And in some way, we are all on a journey at any point in our lives, so we’ve all been there.

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Living outside on the trail through cold and wet conditions have definitely made Ale and I particularly knowing of how wonderful a roof that doesn’t leak and a warm fire can be.

“It’s a very, very special gift to have the chance to be a Trail Angel,” I told the children.

Lila, who had been quietly sitting on my lap, looked up at me and asked in a voice just above a whisper if she could be a trail angel with me next time; the other children heard her and all chimed in, “yes me too, me too!! I want to be a Trail Angel too!!”

This moment felt special, it felt important, as though I had just extended a lifelong invitation for these children to trust one another. For them to be willing to participate in the journeys of others through simple acts of kindness. In some special way I had just shared with them a little secret of humankind, that it is a privilege to share simple abundance with one another, and that we all have an endless capacity to offer kindness to one another.

My heart just about burst with delight as I smiled broadly and squeezed them all in a big hug, promising that the next time I was lucky enough to be a Trail Angel, I would call on all of them to be Trail Angels too so they could bring their favorite gifts and offerings to the next weary traveler.

They cheered in delight. As should we all.

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Simple little delights that bring smiles and gratitude

I believe it’s in our nature to give to one another, and most people deeply appreciate opportunities to offer kindness without expectation. As soon as we tie an expectation to our giving, as soon as we draw conditions around our willingness to give, our entire world becomes smaller, and so do we. But when we give without expectation, when we are able to acknowledge what a gift it is to have something to give in the first place, that alone will fill us with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, love and compassion. The world in which we can give becomes larger; and so do we.

Personally, when I offer kindness without expectation, I find that I already have an endless well upon which to draw from. When we give from a place of abundance, we are continuously replenishing that abundance by expressing our gratitude for it in the purest form- setting it free again in the world.

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We all have a capacity to share what we feel we have an abundance of

Throughout my life I’ve experienced the powerful beauty of the kindness of strangers time and time again. As a young woman traveling solo around the world, I crossed paths with countless strangers who were always willing to help.

As a thru-hiker walking miles and miles everyday, carving my belongings down to the barest of essentials and opening myself up to a new sense of vulnerability, I was introduced to the true magic of Trail Angels who had sprouted up along the Appalachian Trail so that they could intentionally offer kindness to Thru-Hikers passing through.

Last year when Ale and I headed to Patagonia and spent four months traveling and riding our horses across the region, we were again continuously embraced by the kindness of most whose path we crossed, constantly being invited to share a warm fire, a warm meal or tea, and warmhearted stories and conversation.

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After riding for seven hours straight in freezing cold rain, we stopped at the last smoking chimney in sight to ask if there was a clearing ahead where we could camp. Alexi immediately welcomed us to spend the night in his home, fed our horses hay and even put them inside his barn so that they could dry out as well.

When Fidget and Neon, the two women walking across the Americas, headed through our tiny town in Southern Chile, it was only natural for us to receive them with open gates, open doors and open arms.

We are all, in some way, pilgrims on a journey as we live out our lives. Sometimes we’re traveling in a literal sense, but most of the time, most of us are simply traveling through the expanse of our individual lives. If we pay attention, and we leave the light on, we may be lucky enough to receive a fellow pilgrim and offer them a few simple gifts to make their journey a little more comfortable, their bellies a little more full, and their spirits lifted a little higher.

If we allow ourselves to perceive the beauty in the world, the beauty in one another, we will not only attract this beauty, but with a willing heart we can live the privilege it is to share the abundance of kindness that lives easily within each of us.

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If you’re interested in learning about and/or contributing to the journey of my friends Fidget and Neon, the wild women who are walking the length of the Americas, check out their blog and website at Her Odyssey.

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The Refuge We May Find in Beauty

The words I read in the headline burn my eyes. I click the “x” in the right corner of the browser, closing the news article, feeling full of its toxicity, disgusted and saddened, ashamed at the level of political discourse in my country has sunk to- between candidates yes, but also between one another.

I log into Facebook and send a little note of love to a dear friend, and before I know it, I’m caught up in the quicksand action of scrolling through my newsfeed…again the toxicity of the posts I read feels tangible. So many people sharing the next obscene and ridiculous thing that has been said, and possibly done. So much expression of outrage. So much conflict and argument. So much talking and declaration, so little listening and asking.

I log out of my account and close my computer.

I sit for a moment quietly, taking a few deep breaths with my eyes closed. My eyes continue to burn as I rest them, the words and images plastered across the various articles, screaming for attention, pop up in the darkness of my mind, continuing their torment.

Dishes from breakfast beckon for cleaning and I have work to do, so up I go. I turn on my NPR One app to catch the morning newscast. Why? I’m not sure…a small part of me wants to further engage with the drama, perhaps?

Why are we so easily addicted to the things that do not truly nourish us?

The newscast offers up what I expect it to…and suddenly a stream of horrifying reports is flowing abrasively into my ears while I scrub off the remains of egg from my frying pan.

After several minutes my heart can no longer bare it, and begs for retreat. My ears feel overwhelmed by all the junk I’ve just consumed, like a guilty child who’s eaten too many sweets and now has an awful tummy ache. If only my ears could vomit all of that poison back up and release it from my body.

We are so much larger than this…I know we are.

The overwhelm of my senses is collectively gathering and I feel physically heavier as each moment passes.

I suddenly pause, and realize I’m starving for beauty, gasping for sustenance, aching for kindness.

I grab my jacket and step outside into the pouring rain, heading toward the forest that leads down to the river. Fresh apple blossoms greet me along the way, splashing their obvious beauty across my view, demanding I take pause to study their delicate, delicious and brief existence.

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I let the beauty of the forest fully embrace my eyes, soaking up every inch and detail of the vibrant green mosses and delicately dripping leaves. The spring (yes, it’s spring in Chile!) rains have been falling heavily for hours, and the leaves shimmer and shine brightly, reflecting the bright white sky above.

My eyes no longer burn.

I pause beside a thick tree trunk, suddenly lost in its web and variety of mosses and ferns that have claimed residency on its living, growing, breathing real estate.

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The green vibrance of the freshly-born leaves hanging from the trees invoke a sense of wonder. Each day their hue changes ever-so-slightly as they age from their spring birth into their midlife summer.

But now they catch the freshly falling rain with a full and delicate vulnerability. The rain splashes upon their new skin and they bounce under its weight; and they are resilient, these bold little leaves are not discouraged by the constancy of this heavy spring shower. They continuously reach upward, toward the sunshine they know resides behind the clouds.

Perhaps we can be as resilient as these bold little leaves, we can continue to reach toward the sunshine in the midst of this heavy downpour.

Before moving on I close my eyes and turn my face to the sky. The rain falls freely, delighting my skin with its fresh and delicate kisses. Each raindrop laughs as it collides with the leaves above, sliding down onto my skin, rolling onward from the clouds to the thirsty soil. I revel in the joyful journey of these little drops of water.

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I smile quietly and continue to follow the path toward the river, breathing deep the smells that the rain has encouraged forth. It’s so wonderful that rain produces such lovely smells in wild places.

How lucky are we for that? Very, I think.

And how delicate the smells are, they’re unnameable and unseeable, like fairies ducking beneath the leaves and emerging quickly and elegantly here and there, only to disappear again when another wishes to tickle our noses with delightful scents.

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Just down the hill I reach the spring where an underground creek gushes forth in crisp, pure form, traveling with great intention to join the Liracura river that runs along the property.

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The sounds of the forest pour into my ears- the gurgling rush of the water mixes sweetly with the pitter-patter of the heavy raindrops falling onto the fresh spring leaves. Various birds sing to one another and their calls mix with the lonely call of our dear rooster who seems to have lost his hens.

My ears seem to froth with gratitude for such lovely offerings, and I sit quietly, simply soaking in the beautiful sounds that surround me.

I dip my hand into the water, it’s icy cold and as I splash it on my face it takes my breath away. I cup the fresh water in my hands and take several deep sips. The cold, clean water washes its way down my throat, into my body, caressing my organs and my cells, sharing its vibrance with me.

My body, my senses, my heart no longer feel heavy, or full of the abrasive things I consumed earlier.

The world is a mess. And it’s also overflowing with beauty.

All too often we’re not conscious of what we’re consuming, nor are we aware of how the things we consume impact us. These delicate bodies of ours, they are strong, and powerful, and resilient, and yet they are affected by all things we consume. We often use the term “You are what you eat”- but we are also, in many ways, what we consume in these other forms as well. We are what we hear, what we see, what we smell, what we taste, what we feel. Perhaps that’s why we feel such exhaustion and repulsion from an overload of negative and disheartening things…our bodies and our hearts are crying out to keep this out, it is poisoning us.

And yet we are incredibly resilient, how quickly we are rejuvenated when we consume things that inspire us, that lift our hearts, that delight our taste buds and sooth our ears.

Food is not the only thing that nourishes our body. All of our senses are attuned to receive from our environment, and if we aren’t aware of what we are exposing them to, we risk losing ourselves amidst the toxic and damaging realities of our world. In order to find the creativity, the curiosity, and the resilience we need if we are to overcome these negative realities, we must offer all of our senses nourishment.

So where might we find this nourishment?

We find it in beauty.

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I wholeheartedly believe in the undeniable power of beauty. I offer refuge to myself, by choosing to engage with beauty when I need regeneration. Despite the undeniable chaos and darkness we are exposed to all across the TV and computer screens, despite all of the products for sale that have done incredible damage to the environments and communities where they were made and discarded, despite the availability of foods that are full of toxic pesticides, chemicals and hormones that have damaged our soils and polluted our waters, despite the outrage we are witnessing and probably feeling in our communities about social injustice and corporate and political corruption- despite all of this we have beauty awaiting us at every turn.

It’s waiting for us, waiting to offer us the replenishment we need so desperately so that we can carry on.

We can all be more mindful about what we consume. I believe in being an informed citizen, and in participating in our society in order to move collectively toward a more positive and regenerative existence on this planet. And I believe in being a wholesome person, who listens to the needs of her body, who seeks inspiration and opportunities to serve in a positive way, who knows that she was not made to carry the weight of the world and therefore there are times I must retreat from it. When I must retreat into it.

And when I retreat, I retreat to beauty.

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Nourish yourself. In the midst of all the embattled dialogue on our screens and public stages, take time to listen to beautiful music; make a colorful meal with fresh ingredients that is so beautiful to look at you can hardly dare to disturb it with your fork; step outside and breathe in the fresh spring rain, or the crisp fall air- both will be swollen with the life of leaves- breathe in that life. Walk up to a tree and get lost in its trunk for a few moments, oh what wonders await us when we look closely at the bark of a tree! Embrace a friend or a loved one with gratitude and appreciation. Beauty is all around us, the ways in which we may uncover it are truly endless!

So, how might you take refuge in beauty? What simple beauties invoke a sense of wonder and joy in you?

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A Simple Act of Kindness

Plump, swollen, frustrated tears formed around the edge of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I sat beside the riverbed, the misty rain beginning to chill my bones, feeling utterly defeated as I held our broken water filter in my mosquito-bitten hands. I had been trying to get the pump to work for nearly twenty minutes, all to no avail. I pushed myself up, wiped the mud from my knees and headed back to our campsite.

What had already been a tough day filled with steep elevation gains, constant rain and sadistic mosquitos that could fly in the rain and bite through rain gear, was now made a whole lot worse by the realization that our primary method of water purification was broken; and the nearest road crossing was a 4 day walk from where we were. Crap.

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Yet another very wet day on the Appalachian Trail

Ale and I had been on the Appalachian Trail for 9 days, we were just beginning our 5 month journey walking on foot from Maine all the way to Georgia. Prior to this “little” adventure of ours, neither of us had really done any backpacking; we’d both done a good bit of camping before, but nothing like this. Everyday seemed to hold a new lesson about what it would take to live on the trail.

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Simple lessons learned on the trail: best technique for climbing over fallen trees

I guess you could say the mountains were “testing” us, giving us a run for our money, proving whether or not we had the wear-with-all to walk the entire 2,189 miles to Georgia. Blisters were forming on our feet and I had them appearing ominously on my collar bones, right where my 45lb overloaded backpack sat rubbing heavily. An overloaded backpack filled with everything EXCEPT a back-up water purification method…Crap.

When our water filter stopped working, we were in the middle of a remote  stretch of trail called the 100 Mile Wilderness, which is essentially 100 miles of trail with zero road access; so once you go in, it’s totally up to you to get yourself out. It’s pretty much the worst place on the entire Appalachian Trail to have a critical piece of gear, like a water filter, fail.

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Taking in the vast, expansive section of the 100 Mile Wilderness

Ale and I surveyed our options and decided to boil all of our drinking water for the next few days rather than risk a bought of giardia. We would be cutting it close, but if we took care we should have just enough fuel to get us to Monson, the first town at the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness where our first re-supply box awaited us.

The next two days were brutal. Each morning we pulled ourselves from our warm, dry sleeping bags only to be greeted by cold, damp clothing that never dried in the wet night air. The mountains battered us with steep ascents to cold, windy summits followed by slippery, knee-jarring descents. At the base of the mountains, we were met by swollen, freezing, fast-flowing rivers that had to be crossed carrying our packs overhead, soaking us to the bone. All the while the mosquitos tortured our psyche, swarming our heads and attacking any exposed flesh.

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Ale going “all in” to cross the swollen rivers and find the trail. He came back to carry my pack across, as I was afraid if I slipped it would pull me under and I’d drown

I was jolted awake on the morning of the third day sans-water filter by a terrible dream that ended with us running out of fuel. I looked around the dark and quiet lean-to, reassured that it was just a dream. We were 19 miles from Monson, about 2 days of hiking (at this point we didn’t have our “trail legs” and hiking 11 miles in one day was a pretty big deal). I pulled out our camp stove and fired it up, pouring in water to boil.

Just as the water began to boil I heard the distinct sound of the canister emptying it’s last bit of fuel and *poof* we suddenly had no way of purifying our water or cooking the rest of our food.

Once again Ale and I surveyed our options as we gulped down our half-cooked mac and cheese. After nearly a week of soaking rains the likelihood of finding any wood dry enough to start a fire was low to none. Neither of us had much drinking water left, I had maybe half a canteen and Ale had half his Camelbak. Aside from Nutri-grain bars and trail mix, the only food we had left required cooking for eating. It looked as though we would have to try to push out the last 19 miles in one day with no water.

We left camp with a sense of urgency, climbing up Mount Barren, quickly soaking in the views and moving on. The sky was finally clear and the sun was warm, a nice change from the rain, but not really helping with the thirst. We hiked onward for hours, soon running entirely out of water.

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Taking that very last sip of water

My mouth was parched as we hiked along, sweat beading up on my brow. As we came around a bend in the trail, we saw two hikers ahead of us, walking along the river. They didn’t have any backpacks, and appeared to have just hiked a short distance to check out the trail. Ale ran ahead to ask if they had any water they could spare.

Now- mind you, we are looking pretty worn and torn by now. Neither of us have had a proper shower in 12 days, we smell…simply awful. Our clothes are covered in dirt and sweat. By most accounts we probably looked a little bit crazy, suddenly emerging from the woods. However, none of that seemed to phase Jake and Gram. Without missing a beat they immediately invited us to follow them back to their campsite nearby where they had bottles of water in ice filled coolers.

Ice. Filled. Coolers. I never thought I would looks so forward to hearing those three words. But after two days drinking boiled/hot water and hours of hiking without a sip of anything, this suddenly seemed like a dream.

We followed Jake and Gram back to their campsite where we met their four other friends- Matt, Russ, Loney and Chad. All six of them had been best friends growing up, and even though they had families now and lived all over the country, once a year they had an annual guys weekend out in the woods.

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Ale and the guys

Before we had even finished introductions I had an ice cold bottle of water in one hand and a double stacked cheeseburger in the other. As we guzzled our water and inhaled our cheeseburgers, they peppered us with questions about what on earth we were doing and how we’d ended up in our current situation.  As I finished my burger, without missing a beat, they passed me another and replaced my empty water bottle with a beer.

Not only did the guys maintain a consistent flow of food and beverages along with their questions and endless jokes, but they offered to drop us in Greenville on their way back to civilization that afternoon. I was overwhelmed by their kindness, their unhesitating willingness to help and their genuine openheartedness.

As we jumped in the back of the truck bed and pulled away from the trail, the wind whipped my hair and I closed my eyes, smiling, relishing in the speed at which we could suddenly move. We’d moved so slowly for the past 12 days, to suddenly be cruising at 80MPH down the dirt logging road was exhilarating to say the least. I let out a belly laugh and watched as the forest zipped by with dizzying speed.

As promised, the guys drove us to Greenville where we were finally able to buy water treatment that would hold us over until we fixed our water filter. We offered them money for gas, which they refused, and instead they offered take us all the way to Monson (a good 20 minutes out of their way) so that we could resupply food. Their selfless generosity flowed like a swift moving river, and it lifted us up and carried us onward, momentarily allowing us to lay back and simply rest.

When we reached Monson, they wished us luck on the rest of our crazy adventure, shaking their heads and laughing as they piled back into their pickup trucks to head home to their families. Ale and I shouldered our heavy backpacks and walked toward the nearest hostel where we would sleep in a bed for the first time in nearly two weeks. My feet ached, my muscles ached, my blisters threatened to pop and my bug bites itched- but all I could feel was the lightness of my dancing heart, so thankful for the simple act of kindness from a few random strangers. For the next 2070 or so miles, this lightness would remain with me in many ways, carried forward by the kindness of many more strangers, and would play an essential part of my journey toward Georgia.

Our capacity to be kind to one another is truly remarkable and one of our greatest treasures. We all share this capacity, regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Throughout our lives, opportunities to offer simple acts of kindness often arise out of nowhere. Our lives intertwine unexpectedly in the most essential of moments. Each time we cross paths with someone, each time we have a conversation or share a random encounter, we have the opportunity to choose kindness. And when we do, we can only imagine how far that simple act of kindness may travel…

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