Stepping Stones

By Marguerite Jill Dye

A dear friend asked, “Aren’t you afraid of expressing your opinion in such a public venue? I lived through the McCarthy era when people were blacklisted for speaking their truth.”

Most of my life I’ve been afraid of voicing my feelings for fear someone might disagree or disapprove. In Argentina, we quickly learned to keep our opinions to ourselves. Anything we said could be taken as criticism of General Videla’s military dictatorship. The cost of speaking out could lead to disappearance and loss of life, so I was careful to write about ecumenical programs helping abandoned women and children, not mentioning how some of their loved ones were among Argentina’s “missing.” I waited to write about the plight of their indigenous people until I returned home to the United States of America. Here, our Democratic system, Constitution, and laws protect and guarantee our right to speak out and write our opinions. It is important that we exercise these freedoms. I’ve lived long enough to know what I truly believe, and now I feel certain that self-expression is part of my mission.

“What brought you to this point?” other friends have asked.

“A series of stepping stones,” I reply.

Several years ago, I was on the edge of a hopeless abyss when two gifted massage therapists stepped in to free me from the disability and chronic level eight pain of Arachnoiditis, “an incurable, untreatable condition of the spine.” They delivered me from the “dark night of my soul,” my own living hell, through half a year of healing modality treatments. On the great occasion of my very first venture outside without pain, a walker, or a cane, I rested on a park bench overlooking Sarasota Bay. In conversation with the woman I sat beside, slowly her story emerged. She was a U.S. Naval veteran, living, homeless, in Sarasota. I was stunned and distraught about her situation.

When I returned to our condominium after my first

miraculous walk, I said a prayer of gratitude for my new life. I offered up my hands and heart in service, but was shocked to see, before my eyes, the immediate transformation that occurred. From one moment to the next, my view from the high rise of city life below changed. Suddenly, a crystal clear lens clarified the dynamics of society. An overlaying web linked injustice and inequality. I could see and comprehend the suffering of humanity. I was overwhelmed and deeply afraid of the burden of the insights I’d seen. Horrified, I said out loud, “Oh no, not that! Please, anything but that!” I couldn’t imagine feeling compelled to speak out or debate such controversial themes. I was born in the Year of the Rabbit, and avoid conflict at all costs. Unbelievably, I had the audacity to take my offer back, and cried out to the Almighty, “Please let me help in any other way!”

Instead of accepting the challenge to communicate the clarity I’d been given, I shut it out and tracked down the homeless woman veteran whose plight had plagued me since our chance meeting. Together, we set out on a three month journey to find her housing, aided by my phone and car. But Sarasota, Fla., has been repeatedly voted America’s meanest city towards the homeless. We wound our way through the maze of social services, trying to determine what step to take next. In pure synchronicity and unbeknownst to us, the day we arrived at the Veterans’ Administration, President Obama’s plan was launched to end homelessness for veterans! A few weeks later, she was safe and secure in her very own “cottage” apartment. I wrote a guest column about the experience for Sarasota’s Herald Tribune, (“Two lives changed on a park bench,”) which appeared, simultaneously, with the city commission ordinance to remove all downtown park benches. “Why?” you may ask. So our homeless citizens couldn’t sit on them.

Other stories appeared online about the tragic events leading to hopelessness and homelessness of people I met in our city-wide effort to end homelessness.

Meanwhile, with the healing of my back, my decade-long dream was revived and realized to walk and paint along the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain. I also needed a break from Sarasota’s sad side. I prayed for my life purpose all along the Way of Saint James and was given a book by a young Polish pilgrim, which I stashed away in my backpack. The following summer, while unpacking a box of books in Vermont, I found “Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing with Passion and Purpose” by Jill Jepson. I realized that the book I’d been handed on the Camino, while praying for my life purpose, answered my prayers. So I began to write my own story to give people hope and attended Yvonne Daley’s Green Mountain Writers Conference to propel my book along.

I had lost hope when overcome with pain and disability, and learned how critical it is to believe in our dreams and not give up, no matter what. The universe rallies to help those who pursue their dreams. We must envision what it is that we want to achieve and see ourselves already there. I know that the book I was inspired to write, “Treasures Along the Camino: An Artist’s Empowering Journey Across Spain,” will come out in divine time, but first I’ll add my plein air watercolors, drawings, and insights from walking the Northern Camino route along the Bay of Biscayne this September.

The opportunity for my next guest column arrived with the rare and endangered Canada Lynx kitten, perched on the stone wall behind our Killington lodge, when we returned from Woodstock’s Bookstock last July. I submitted “Soul Home,” which the Mountain Times printed as a guest column, then I marched in to see Editor Polly Lynn to propose a weekly column about nature and spirit. After all, I was following in the footsteps of my mother who wrote about the trials and tribulations of building our ski lodge in Vermont. I had no idea that the column I’d begun so gently, writing from my heart’s inspiration, would, at times, take on more challenging issues, like the calling I’d received and initially turned down. Although they may appear haphazard, isn’t it surprising how often stepping stones lead where we hadn’t dared tread? It seems we are led when we’re ready. When we doubt ourselves, we doubt our essence. And when we doubt our essence, we doubt our faith. Fear is the opposite of faith.

To reach the other side of the stream or pond, we must seek out those who support our dreams and believe in our journey. We must seek out those who encourage us to fulfill our potential. We must seek out people who bolster our courage and have faith in the outcome we desire. Without support and encouragement, it is all too easy to give in to fear and abandon our dreams.

I look forward to seeing where the next stepping stones lead. They always lead somewhere. Where are your stepping stones leading you?

Marguerite Jill Dye, artist/writer, and her husband, Duane Finger, divide their time between “heaven on earth,” Killington and “paradise on earth,” Bradenton, Fla.

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