In the nearly quarter century that I knew her, Becky Simpson, known to many as the “Mother Theresa of Applachia,” taught me many lessons.
She taught me that visions can come true after she had had an image of a mountain of food, a mountain of clothing and a molehill of money-and all three happened at the Cranks Creek Survival Center she co-founded with her husband Bobby.
She taught me about how far a sense of righteous indignation at society’s inequities and a seemingly bottomless well of compassion and giving can flower and touch people from around the world.
She taught me that fierce and gentle can exist in equal measure in the same person.
She taught me that meaningful moments shared cut across all kinds of lines.
She also taught me about how people can endure and move through unimaginable suffering and come out bruised, but intact, on the other side.
This last lesson came after I asked her how she had been able to survive so much-a third grade education, the death of her younger brother and one of her six children, a profoundly damaged back, the most grinding of poverty, Bobby’s blindness, floods that wiped out her home and a devastating car accident are only among the most noteworthy-and still continue both to extend an open hand to help those who needed it and to fight for justice.
How do you do it? I asked as we sat around the kitchen table where we spent many, many hours talking.
I was waiting for a lengthy explanation of social justice tactics.
Becky gave me nothing of the sort.
Rest and try again, she said, her clear blue eyes filled with hard-earned wisdom.
I’m trying to draw on Becky’s counsel these days, when things are popping on many fronts, to put it mildly.
I’m working to pull my Data Journalism course together for the final month and to work with potential replacement Daniela Cartagena to make sure that she has what she needs to feel oriented and to continue the burgeoning tradition we’re starting to establish at the University of Diego Portales.
I’m coordinating a presentation of my research into the impact of the landmark 2009 Transparency Law on the country with Antonio Campana, Yunuen Varela, and the rest of the folks at the Fulbright Commission.
I’m writing one post a week for Hoy in both Spanish and English, and working to maintain a similar pace with the Huffington Post in English.
I just sent off tonight an 8,000-word chapter that Dunreith, Gabriele Thimm, Dad and I wrote about our trip in May 2012 to Dad’s hometown in Germany for a book based on the Engaging the Other conference at which we presented in South Africa in December 2012.
Dunreith and I are working out the logistics for trips that we’ll take to Peru, the desert in northern Chile and the glaciers in the southern part of the country during the month that Aidan is here.
After receiving an email from high school friend Tamera Coyne-Beasley about the possibility of our class holding a 30th reunion, I reached out on Facebook to classmates to see if there was any interest in having such an event. This sparked a chain of events that has led in the past two weeks to the formation of a Facebook group with more than 150 members, the discovery that our class has had $559 since our tenth reunion in 1993, and the impending delivery of a class directory courtesy of the Brookline High School Alumni Association.
I’m gearing up for my brother Jon coming here for a couple of weeks for us to work on a journalism project, all the while trying to keep this space going.
This says nothing of following up and making plans to learn from and collaborate with, the talented, dedicated, courageous and inspiring journalists I met at the Global Investigative Journalism conference last month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
And I’m trying to keep my writing going here and in another book project.
I don’t offer this list either to brag or to complain.
It’s hard for me to express how fortunate I feel on so many levels to be with Dunreith at this point in our lives and in the nation’s history.
Rather it’s to say that tending to all of these varied projects can leave me feeling alternately drained and scattered and to my head swirling with the myriad details to which I need to attend.
Which brings me back to Becky.
This afternoon Dunreith and I slogged through about three hours worth of checking out websites, reviews and options for each of the three trips we’re taking starting at the end of this month.
My eyelids were starting to hang heavy as we sat on the lower level of the Starbucks on Pedro de Valdivia Street.
My response time and accuracy was diminishing, my irritability rising.
I’ve got to head back to the apartment, I told Dunreith, who was feeling the same way.
We loaded up our computers and cords and adapters into my red backpack, walked down Providencia Avenue, greeted the doormen and gratefully laid down on our bed.
The pain in my jaw that accompanies my starting to meditate began its inexorable rhythm.
My breath grew deeper.
My thoughts started to slow down.
I woke up forty minutes later.
My head was groggy, and, within 20 minutes, it started to clear.
After an hour, I felt fully recharged.
I kept contacting people to interview for the project.
Dunreith and I had dinner and watched the latest dark episode in the third season of Los 80, Andres Wood’s look at a pivotal decade in Chilean history through the eyes of a middle-class family.
I called mentor and friend Paul Tamburello and filled him in on my doings.
I went downstairs, pumped away on the exercise bike and stretched on the rug-covered floor.
I came back up to write this piece.
It’s close to 1:00 a.m. and I’m starting to fade again.
It’s time once to more to heed Becky’s words.
It’s time to rest.
And, in the morning, to try again.