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.

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Your story is beautiful and inspiring. You have made me want to me Lydia herself! It reminds us that what seem like small kindnesses to others, such as walking with a young girl in the evenings, or just listening, means so much.

Thank you for sharing your hero with us.


"Tell me then, what will you do with your one wild, sweet, and precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Very nicely written! Your friend Lydia sounds special. They say that a person can count his true friends on one hand........I believe that is true. She sounds like she would be one of the five. Everyone should have a friend like her!

Dear Mei, To say seriously, you have achieved what hermits been taking long years to achieve. Understanding the power within you starts when you listen to yourself. Many do not get a lead like you got: someone who hear without being critical, so that you hear yourself. You are lucky that way and sure she is your hero. Simple listening helps many people to solve their problems. When I realised it, I decided to give time to others in counselling: meaning simple listening. I hope to put much more time when I retire from present active life in counselling, now that I know from you too what it could do. Warmly, R. Vasanath

Henry David Thoreau wrote,

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

For ten years I have said all I want is a small cabin in the woods. Let the trees be my teachers. Let the fresh morning air fill my lunges and the silence of evening fires guide me to dream. Let the seasons teach me about myself, let my hands work with the earth and learn all of the metaphors of nature.

It is funny you mentioned hermits...some of my favorite, most beloved writers were hermits. They escaped "society" to learn from the natural world. This gave them so much wisdom that they could not escape society because people continuously sought them out to learn what they had learned. I still want a cabin in the woods. I went through 5 months of yoga teacher training last year and for the past four years my yoga practice has guided me inside. We can seek feverishly for answers in the external world for that which is already cultivated within.

J. Krishnamurti said the second you commit yourself to a belief, a doctrine, a system of thinking - you have stepped off of your path. I have thought of this long and often.

Yes, I am blessed to have Lydia in my life. To call her even if five months have passed and speak to her for three hours about nothing and everything. She is always acutely honest with me, and instead of 'giving me advice' she simply points out things that I know already, but have somehow forgotten to admit. She has taught me, above all else, to honor myself and to walk in integrity.

Thank you for responding :)

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Dear Mei, thank you for you beautiful story which made me stop in my mind. Your message is so true, or how important it is to be listened to, and to listen to those we love. I too share your experience of living in a family who did not listen, they did not know how, probably had not been listened too. It has been the people who have listened to me and believed in me that have given me the belief in myself and the push forward on life's roller coaster of ups and downs. With busy days some times I stop to think who have I listened to today, and now I will be even more aware of the importance in just that to listen! Take care, Jamie

Jamie Bolling Executive Director - European Network on Independent Living skype: jamiebolling

Thank you for taking the time to listen :)

I agree. It is funny because we never know who is listening. I just spoke to my close friend in Massachusetts. I didn't realize it, but we have known each other for 8 years. She just graduated college and went into a graduate program for dance therapy. She was telling me about the program she designed for a local gymnastics' studio where the owner gave her full reign of the dance program and her own studio section. She is now a "Director of Dance" while also teaching choreography workshops and traveling to New Hampshire twice a week for dance therapy. We met when she was 15! She told me at one point that I was her mentor. I kept saying, "Don't say that! If I ever show you a side of myself that's not superb, you will be let down!"

I have this effect on people sometimes...I tend to simply talk to them about what they are passionate about and help them in an educational direction. She had no idea what she was going to do once she graduated, but last year I visited her for a week. By the end of the week she had decided on dance therapy. It wasn't my doing, but I really listened to her and heard her passion and the direction it was traveling. The same thing occured with my neighbor. She has been working on her degree for 10 years, but has never finished because she didn't know what to do. She has taken so many classes, which I consider to be a blessing. She has a rich artistic background and is a wonderful teacher. One morning I told her she should look into teaching programs that would compliment her creative background. She just started, this semester, at Arizona State University's program for elementary education, a program introduced last year that specializes in teaching through imagination and focusing on differentiated learning. Again, I didn't do anything...but Lydia taught me to listen. I love listening to people.

I'm happy to read there is one more person out there who steps back and asks if they have listened to anyone during a single day. Sometimes we just need five minutes to rant and for someone to be interested in who we are for those five minutes.

May you hear a lovely story tomorrow :)

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

“Nene, someday, you will be a teacher… I can see that. You have the brains… you will be the first teacher in our family. Everyone would be very proud of you.”

I was in Grade 2 then…and he spoke those words while we were on the elevated area of our 8-hectare farm back in Columbio, Cotabato (Philippines). Down there, we could see the golden rice grains, ready to be harvested. I could also see the long river, almost covered with tall trees and thick shrubs, where we would swim and go fishing on weekends. It was a heavenly sight.

Tatay (my father) was a typical farmer… hard-working, and devoted to his family. His life revolved around us, and his farm. He would wake up before 4am, cook breakfast for his family, then he would proceed to the farm. Before 7am, he would be back home, and we would have breakfast together. I remember him packing lunch for us, kids who were already in school. How I loved the lunch packed in banana leaf… the aroma it brought to my nose once I opened it. And before we leave for school, Tatay would hand in to us kids a few pieces of fresh eggs… our “baon”. (We would sell the fresh eggs to the nearby store, and the money proceeds we would use to buy snacks… or whatever school supply we needed).

Due to peace and order situation in Columbio, we had to leave our house farm and settle down in Tulunan, another town in North Cotabato. Tatay had to look for a land to till, as tenant. It was a big adjustment on his part, as he was used to be his own boss, tilling the land he owns. With a growing family, I saw how harder he tried to fulfil our needs.

The farm he tilled were rather far from our house, thus, he would sometimes stay in the make-shift nipa house in the farm and would only go home every three or two days. And always, he would be bringing us food, chickens and vegetables…

One day, Tatay got sick, complaining of stomach pain. The pain was too much that we had to bring him to the hospital. The doctor said it was an ulcer. We did not know that while in the farm, he sometimes forgot to eat, or perhaps he was too tired to cook for himself.

When we brought him home from the hospital, he was not the same Tatay that I used to know him. He was always angry, irritated. He was bedridden, thus, sometimes pillows would be flying inside the house just for simple reason. We children found it hard to understand him, but I have observed that Nanay was more patient, understanding.

One night, Tatay called me to his bedside.

“Nene, I don’t know when my time would come. I may die anytime. Please promise me… pursue your dreams… be a teacher, no matter what. You are the only hope of this family. You have the brains, and the ambition. Promise me you will be a teacher someday, and I will die happy…”

I did not say anything… I just hugged Tatay, very tight…and with tears flowing, I nodded my head, squeezing his skinny hands, kissing them. He smiled. I saw tears in his eyes.

The next morning, Tatay died… I was in Grade V then…

“Class, please pass your papers…”

The mention of the word ‘CLASS” suddenly brought me back to yesteryears… I saw Tatay in his bedside, his words ringing in my ears.

Through the years, I tried to pursue my dreams… forgot about what Tatay wanted me to be. I took a course in Mass Communication. All I wanted then was to join the professional world, earn an income, and send my siblings to schools, too.

But as Tatay wanted me to be, his desire led me to another profession… a teaching job. It was a sideline teaching, but I am a teacher, nevertheless….and how I enjoy it, too!!!

Tatay has been in the other world for about 40 years now, but never a day that I don’t remember him. He is alive… I feel his presence. I see his chinky smile…

I am sure he is very happy for what has become of me… very proud of me, just as I am very proud of him, as my father.

Tatay, thank you very much for what you have done to me. You continue to be my guiding star, my inspiration. The happy memories I have of our bonding time while you were still alive are enough for me to cherish my childhood. Someday, when I get the opportunity to go back to Columbio, Cotabato, I want to visit that area where we once seated one Saturday morning, when you told me those encouraging words… and then I would blurt out, “Yes, Tatay, I am now a teacher… I have fulfilled your wish….” # (Tess Superioridad Baluyos)


Dear Eureka, (can I call you Nene?) Tears are rolling down my cheek when I heard your story. You are lucky to have had a father who stayed alive until an age in which you could very well remember him and his words (that too the last words). May his spirit guide you further. You sure has reached what your dad wanted you and perhaps beyond, I would say. Take Care. Regards, R. Vasantha

Dear Mei,

Thanks for this beautiful and inspiring story that you shared with us, as its been said "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel"

your friend Lydia was a fabulous friend.

Warmest regards


Dear Mei, I am so inspired by your story, Thanks for sharing with us. You know something came out strongly for me in this and it is to be there for somebody. Lydia was dear for you and she brought out the amazing woman that have always be in you out. I am so proud of you Mei. You have just started, GO!!!!!! and continue stepping up.

Love You Busayo

Busayo ObisakinWomen inspiration Development centerIle-Ife, Nigeriabusobisaki@yahoo.comwomeninspirationcenter@gmail.comhttp://womeninspirationce.wix.com/widcng

Dear Mei!

Thanks for posting your story, it is so exquisite! Your friend, Lydia is a marvelous friend who has rarely met. I'm so happy reading your story:)

With all my loves, Sarvina

Regards, Sarvina from Cambodia VOF 2011 Correspondent