When I was 16 I lived with my family in an apartment. My neighbor Lydia noticed that my home environment was unstable and my parents neglected parental responsibilities. She invited me to walk with her every night for an hour around the golf course. I had a Siberian husky and she had a cocker spaniel who was so old she brought a stroller along, just in case Frederick got tired mid-way. She is the first person who listened to me. I realized that I had never felt listened to before. I was only 16, but everything I had to say was valuable to her.
The first time I walked into her apartment I fell in love. Street art from the Dominican Republic hung on her walls in bright splashes of color. Mozart or Bach were on low in the background, for the animals of course, who were left to their own devices sometimes. The dove, Pax, flew around freely and sat perched above the sliding glass doors. She had rescued Pax from a gang of black birds who tried to kill her. Lydia nursed her back to life and Pax has never left her, even when doors and windows were open. I saw menorahs and Buddhas in cherrywood finished antique cupboards with glass faces.
I spent many hours on Lydia's porch. She talked to me about everything, from psychology to government, from her childhood in Havana to her sixteen years living in Mongolia. She was the most cultured, intelligent woman I had ever known. It continued to amaze me that she wanted anything to do with me! Lydia has been my close friend for over ten years.
My first love lived in New York and my parents bought me a ticket to visit for the holidays. I told Lydia I would be gone for two weeks and she said, "Why are you coming back? There is nothing for you here."
Although my family was in Arizona, I had no opportunity. Education was not important to my parents. I had dropped out of school due to complicated issues. I wasn't going anywhere in the desert. I left for New York on December 14 and I didn't go home for three years. I got my GED within two months of being there and saved money until I had enough for my first college class. I put myself through school working 1-3 jobs every semester. I stayed in New York because Lydia had taught me to value myself, my voice, my future.
I believe in doing the same. I know there are many people everywhere who have never embraced their value. Because of this, they are often silent. In the presence of silence, oppression can reign without a voice to fight against it. I have worked extensively in my own community to help others find their voices, their value, their worth. The louder we get, the more change occurs. All Lydia did was offer to walk with me. Once we began walking, she offered to listen. Once she began listening, I understood that I too had stories to tell. Once I told my stories, I wanted to hear the stories of others.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to International Women's Day 2011: A Call for Heroes.