Soul Music

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono

As I glided down the escalator and swiped my Metrocard, music bounced off the grimy walls and through the dank air of the Port Authority subway. Startled, I discerned the distinct tones of a cello in the distance. I couldn’t name that tune, but it resonated deep within me and was my own. The notes vibrated in my gut, personifying my complex feelings: rhythmic and dark, penetrating and lonely, yet full of beauty, strength, freedom and light.

It had started as an ordinary Tuesday morning. I caught the 126 bus from 15th Street in Hoboken and took my seat. My nose was glued to my Kindle for the entire ride, getting lost in the lives of my book’s heroes, except for the two games of Candy Crush between chapters 27 and 28. Lost in my own world, I didn’t notice the sign halfway through the Lincoln Tunnel alerting us we had entered the great state of New York.

Now, in the presence of this music, I felt fully alive, transparent, understood even.

Fluorescent bulbs lighting the way, I searched for the musician with the magic ability to translate my feelings into sound. The music grew more intense, staccato notes flying, and then he appeared: a man in his early thirties on a small stool, in a tuxedo and white bow tie, playing his cello. His dusty, ragged shoes on outturned feet belied the rest of his polished presence. His eyes were closed and his lips showed a slight smile. His shifting facial expressions reflected the mood of the music while his bow alternated between quick, sharp movements and long, luxurious strokes allowing the strings to sing with emotion. He had positioned himself out of the flow of pedestrian as though a handout wasn’t his intent.

I felt lucky I didn’t have to buy a ticket to enjoy this concert. I would have gladly shelled out $100 at Carnegie Hall to hear him play. Yet here he was, providing a stimulating score to a half-awake sea of commuters rushing to get where they needed to be that morning. Not that this seemed to register with any of them. Alone, I stood and bore witness to this man’s gifts unfolding before me.

I wondered about him. Perhaps he was a renowned musician seeking a spot away from a critic’s ear to test out a new piece of music. Did he care that no one stopped to listen or seemed to care? Maybe he just loved the acoustics and how his sound filled the underground passageway. Transfixed by his music, I eventually checked my watch and realized I had to hustle to catch the train uptown to get to an impending appointment.

The cellist and his music evoked something within me on that otherwise ordinary Tuesday morning commute. I thought about the person I’m striving to become as it struck me that this virtuoso didn’t change his tempo if he felt someone’s presence, or even crack an eye to see if anyone was noticing him or recognizing his gifts. He didn’t seem to be seeking money or even applause; he appeared to play for himself and his love of the music. I admired him.

Too often, I find myself looking for external validation. With one eye open, I look to others for the answers to questions that only I know: How am I doing? Am I doing it right? Am I good enough? Am I pleasing you? Too much? Too little? Who should I be? I’ll do anything, but please just see me and love me for who I am. The cellist played. He simply was.

Like the punch line to the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the key to self-transformation is the same for the cellist and for me: “Practice, practice, practice.” I’m working on soothing the needy little kid within me, so she can relax and stop trying so hard.  I’m striving to know my gifts regardless of how others assess them. I’m attempting to blaze my own unique path for happiness and fulfillment. And I’m trusting myself more to just close my eyes, smile, and play for the pure joy of it all. While I may have a positive impact on others, it can no longer be my soul…err…sole goal.

The repetitive patterns of life, such as commuting back and forth every day, can serve to numb a part of oneself, or it can magically transform you if you slow down, tune in, and let life’s vibrations heal you.

To the cellist who played by the ACE line at the Port Authority subway stop on Tuesday morning: Thank you for your beautiful music in such an unlikely place. You are an inspiration, and your talent is extraordinary! You might have thought no one was paying attention as they scrambled to get to their trains, but I was. You and your gifts made a real difference to me. Thank you.

Leap of Faith: What I learned at the start of my summer vacation

I got goose bumps just watching as Michael and Madelyn hurled themselves off the dock and into the icy water of Lake Hopatcong on Memorial Day weekend to kick off the official start of summer 2013.  Their polar bear swim has become an annual tradition, typically taking place any time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. But I can’t remember a time when the water was this cold in northwest New Jersey.

“Come on Aunt Cindy, jump in with us,” Michael begged as they revved themselves up for the great leap.  “Ask me again in August,” I said, shaking my head. “You two are crazy!”

Madelyn, my nine-year old niece, took a running start down the dock and jumped without a moment of hesitation. She emerged with a big grin. “It was awesome!” she said. Stopping at the edge to gauge the temperature, Michael, my ten-year old nephew, needed a little egging on from his sister and me before he finally launched his body through the air and into the shimmering deep.

With wet heads and towels tightly wrapped around their goose-bumped bodies, they celebrated their accomplishment, dancing around the dock and high-fiving each other, euphoric, exhilarated and thrilled with themselves.

Watching them, I thought: When did I stop leaping? When was the last time I risked it, made myself vulnerable and jumped into metaphorical icy waters only to emerge ebullient and energized?

With age comes wisdom, certainly, but it can also bring an abundance of caution or a little too strong a commitment to comfort that can rob one of life’s little crazy bits, also known as the best parts. It’s easy to rationalize our way out of jumping.  “Why would I want to be wet and cold when I can be warm and comfortable here on the dock?” I thought. “I have a week full of meetings. I can’t risk getting sick.” Here’s what I forgot: with big risks come big rewards.

Even when I was younger than Madelyn and Michael, risk-taking was never my strength. I failed every hearing test I ever took between kindergarten and third grade. My concerned parents took me to a specialist, who ran a battery of tests, and announced my diagnosis: I would never be a gambler. Unless I was 100% certain of hearing the tone, I wouldn’t raise my hand. Even by kindergarten, the fearless, wild kid within me had learned that safety and security trump taking risks. For the rest of my childhood and well into adulthood, I would have to push myself to override my safety precautions to say, “Risk it, Cindy! So what if you fall flat on your face? Do it anyway! The payoff will be worth it!”

As I got older, I stopped pushing so hard. I became a little complacent in my safe, routine existence. I feared change, failure, looking foolish, getting my feelings hurt, feeling too vulnerable.  I tucked my heart away to keep it safe from injury. I started dreaming small. Then I turned 40 and it just hit me that playing it safe wasn’t working. I wasn’t all that happy and I wasn’t even safe. I wasn’t fully alive.

So here is my comeback, two years in the making so far. I’m asking myself the big, hard questions — what do I want for my life, what’s going to make me truly happy? I’m excavating through layers of fear and learning that great strength comes not from playing it safe but from being vulnerable and takings risks. With a little help from friends and family and teachers like the amazing Michael and Madelyn,  I’m in my running start, dashing headlong, knowing that nothing will stop me from making the leap, or the joy and exhilaration that follow.

I feel so lucky to have Michael and Madelyn to instruct me on the pure happiness of truly living.  In return they can always count on me to be standing on the dock, egging them on to embrace their vulnerabilities and take the big jump, and serving, incognito, as their lifeguard and biggest fan, looking out for their safety, documenting their courage, then wrapping them in warm towels and celebrating their accomplishments.

Next summer, I just might be convinced to put on my bathing suit and with a running start euphorically leap with them into their annual kick-off to the summer of 2014. 

Want to see more pictures from Memorial Day? Go to http://smu.gs/15iKP70

Passion for the Game

On May 18, 2013, my dad was elected into Roxbury High School’s inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame. Since my parents were in Florida, they were unable to attend. Michael, my younger brother, and I presented and accepted this incredible honor on his behalf. The following two posts are the speeches written for the occasion. 
 

As a history teacher at Dover High School, I thought it might be fitting to start with the words of President Calvin Coolidge, who said, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Roxbury Athletic Hall of Fame committee, and Gael’s fans everywhere, my name is Michael Morgan, and I am honored to introduce the next nominee, my father: Bob Morgan.

Physical activity and sports were always my Dad’s passion. From as early as he can remember, he loved being a student of whatever game was in season. Through discipline, hard work, practice, outstanding coaching and great teammates, my father became a “triple threat,” excelling at football, basketball and baseball during his time as a player at Roxbury High School from 1958-1961.  

His accomplishments were impressive at the time and seem even more so in retrospect. As a three-sport athlete myself, I’m in awe reading the list of my dad’s achievements. Let me brag a little about him: My dad earned 12 Varsity Letters during his four years at Roxbury, playing varsity football, basketball, and baseball as a freshman all the way through to graduation.

Football 

Football was my dad’s lifetime love – from playing to coaching to cheering me on, to watching college and pro ball on TV. There isn’t a fall weekend that goes by that football isn’t front and center. My dad played quarterback, linebacker and punter during his days as a Gael. When he was a sophomore, he led his team to win the Group II Section 2 title. He was also named 1st Team All Morris County in both 1960 & ‘61 and second team all Group II, as well.

While these accolades were impressive, that isn’t what sticks in my dad’s mind when he talks about his Roxbury football career. Instead, it’s his coaches and the support that they gave him. These men made a tremendous difference in my dad’s life and served as the models for his own style as a coach. Bob Schiffner, his head coach and mentor, was a father figure and lifetime friend. Rich Mirschak, the backfield coach, was relentless with his conditioning and “peeloffs.” My Dad never forgot Rich’s adage, which served him well throughout his life: “Perfect fundamentals result in perfect execution.”

He remembers beating the Gael’s archenemies – Dover and Hackettstown – with thousands of fans cheering his team on. On a personal note, I want to share a little irony with you: my dad was very supportive of my own athletic career with the Hackettstown Tigers, and rarely missed one of my football, basketball or baseball games. He also rooted me on when I served as head coach of the Dover Tigers’ football and basketball teams. Underneath it all, though, I knew he had to fight through his own hatred of both of those former rivals to cheer me on. And while I don’t think he would list tiger as his least favorite animal anymore, Blue and Gold always pumped through his veins and still does.

My dad went on to play football at Syracuse University for Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, where he was linebacker. As a senior, he started during six games, and his team went on to play LSU in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. My Aunt Judy remembers watching the game and seeing my dad on television. He played with a pretty special group of teammates at Syracuse. My parents enjoyed watching the movie The Express, which featured the Hollywood-version of his teammate Ernie Davis’s life, tragically ended too soon. And my dad cheers as his teammate Coach Tom Coughlin leads the Giants to victory each Sunday afternoon – that is when we’re lucky.

Basketball

Even though football was my Dad’s lifetime love, believe it or not, basketball was his favorite sport. Don Manning was his coach, as well as his fifth grade teacher. When he was a senior, their team won the championship, and he set the high school scoring record with 1,029 career points. He remains Roxbury High School’s second leading scorer. He credits his unselfish teammates with this accomplishment. Scoring over a thousand points was something of a family tradition, which my cousin Lisa Fiorello, Jim’s daughter, and I both followed during our high school basketball careers. My dad would tease the two of us that while our numbers were impressive, when he did it, they only played 18 games a season and there were no three-pointers. While it annoyed me at the time, of course he had a point, and now that I’m older, it helps to put his record into perspective. He had to average nearly 16 points a game every game for four years to break that record! Pretty amazing. When my dad was teaching me the fundamentals of basketball, we were competitive with one another. We would play tough games of one-on-one, horse and any other game you could think of. When he would win, my mom would often shake her head and mutter under her breath, “Bob – you really are the Great Santini.”

Baseball

My dad was darned good at Baseball too. He pitched and played third base and his team won the Jersey Hills Conference in1958. He was so good that he drew the attention of pro scouts at an early age and they followed him throughout his high school career. His coach, Andy George, taught my dad discipline in hitting and fielding, as well as how to handle the pressure of the game.

Teaching & Coaching

In addition to being an excellent baseball coach, Andy George also changed my dad’s life when he hired him to teach Physical Education and Health at Roxbury High School. He was honored work alongside his good friends and his former teachers and coaches. He also coached football with Jim Fiorello. He fondly remembers their long meetings, which resulted in great success. Their coaching philosophy was on always doing things the right way and never taking the easy path. Teaching great players and athletes always made coaching challenging and enjoyable for my dad. Beating Montclair with a curl/pitch and going to state finals twice against Union are two vivid memories for my dad. I can still remember him wearing a “Beat the Farmers” t-shirt when he mowed the lawn years after those big games.

In closing, I come back to Coolidge’s quote, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” My dad got so much out of being a Roxbury Gael. And, while I know there are lots of Gael’s fans here tonight, I would be challenged to find a bigger Roxbury fan than my dad. He gave his life to the Blue and Gold – as a player, a teacher, and a coach. On behalf of my dad and my entire family, thank you for recognizing and honoring his tremendous achievements and commitment to Roxbury High School.

Finding my Father

On May 18, 2013, my dad was elected into Roxbury High School’s inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame. I accepted this incredible honor on his behalf. 

On behalf of my Dad and my entire family, I reluctantly accept this great honor. I’ll explain that ‘reluctantly’ in a moment but first I have a question: How many of you have seen ‘Remember the Titans?’

Show of hands.  If you have, you may remember the little blonde girl in the stands cheering on the Titans and her dad, the coach. I was that little girl – the coach’s daughter. My dad and Gael’s football had a big impact on my life.

At 12 months old, I loudly clapped after the organ played a hymn during my Christening, which I was told disrupted the sanctity of the entire ceremony. Embarrassed, my mom explained to her friends that I didn’t know the difference between the Roxbury band and an organist. When I saw my first play at 4, I cried at the intermission until my mom told me that it was “half-time,” a concept I was much more familiar with. When I was 7, I remember an all-important conversation with my dad when I asked, “What exactly is a Gael?”

Elusive

One of my favorite writers, Norman McLean, said, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” When I learned that my father would be inducted in the Roxbury Athletics Hall of Fame, I couldn’t have been more proud, but I also realized I knew very little about his days as a player. Never one to live in the glory days of the past, my Dad never mentioned his accomplishments. I think I even remember my brother and me kicking around his 1,000 point basketball in the yard until my mom came out and said, “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”

When I read the newspaper clipping that detailed some of his achievements, I thought, “Who is this man?” 

So I went on a quest to find the Roxbury star athlete who had eluded me, and better understand this foundational part of his early life, which helped him to become the man he is and the Dad that Michael and I know and love.

I made some phone calls. First I called Gary Irwin, who helped to make this special night happen, to tell him Michael and I would come and speak on behalf of my parents who unfortunately couldn’t get back from Florida to be here.  He said he had to rewrite my Dad’s bio because it didn’t highlight enough of his achievements. “That’s your Dad,” he said, “incredibly talented and way too modest.”

Strong

Next I called my Aunt Judy, my Dad’s middle sister, renowned for her memory.

“Aunt Judy,” I asked, “tell me about my Dad when he was in high school. How much did sports mean to him?”

“Sports was everything to Bobby,” she said. “When our father died, your dad was only 6 years old. He was raised by three women – your Nana, your Aunt Joan and me. We lived in Kenvil, which was a working class town. At that time, no one from Kenvil had broken into Roxbury athletics.”

I was beginning to learn where my dad — Bobby — got his toughness.

She remembered the family going to see their first football game. My dad was 10, and Roxbury was playing Dover.  There were thousands of people in the stands; Roxbury won, 14 to 12, and my Dad’s life was changed forever. He fell in love with football that day, and for the next eight years committed himself to being the best Roxbury athlete he could be. Playing quarterback for Roxbury that day was Bill Tardive. His family would take my Dad under their wing and Bill — known to me as Uncle Bill — would become a lifelong friend.

The Natural

My next call was to Frank Darling, one of my Dad’s teammates, a quiet, soft-spoken man who played receiver.

“Bobby Morgan was some player, boy,” Frank told me. “He was a natural. He did it all, Cindy. And he was a guy with a lot of achievements.” Frank and my Dad were close through high school. He remembers their pre-game ritual of eating tuna fish sandwiches at my Nana’s house. He also remembers a line from a newspaper story about the team that ended up serving as their tagline.  “Bobby Morgan always threaded the needle, and the needle was Frank Darling.”

One rainy Saturday afternoon, Aunt Judy remembers the local newspaper calling the house to get her mom’s reaction to my dad having broken the Morris County record for throwing the javelin.  She was baffled.

When my Dad got home, she asked him, “Where were you after school? Did you throw the javelin in a track meet?” He sheepishly responded, “Yeah. I did. Baseball got rained out so they asked me to come to the track meet. How did you find out? I didn’t really want anyone to know.”

Humble

When my Dad had 30 points to go to break the 1,000 point mark in basketball, he had been on a hot streak, so Nana, Aunt Joan, and Aunt Judy all went to the game hoping he would do it that night. Unbeknownst to my Nana, the cheerleaders had bought her a corsage and were ready with a special ceremony once the record had been broken. He only scored 28 points that night, and they had to pop the flowers in the refrigerator until the next game two nights later when he accomplished the goal. I asked my Aunt Judy if she remembers my Dad being frustrated that he was just two points shy. She said, “No way. He just felt badly about the flowers!”

Aunt Judy described her brother as humble and self motivated. He hung a tire in the back yard and tossed footballs and baseballs though it every night after practice. He always gave credit where credit was due. He didn’t love the spotlight; he preferred no fuss.

“Bobby was sensitive and had a big heart, but he didn’t easily show it to the world,” she told me. ‘Instead, they saw his toughness.”

I spoke with my Dad a few weeks ago, reassured him that he deserved this recognition, and asked him what he wanted me to say on his behalf. He said, “Be sure to thank the committee. Tell them I appreciate this special honor. With the exception of my time at Syracuse and the army, I spent my entire life in Roxbury. So this means so much.” He continued, “Please congratulate the other honorees,” and he went on to brag about each of your accomplishments.

Be sure to mention Jim Fiorello. He was my close friend and mentor for many years.” And with a laugh he joked, “Tell him that I can still probably benchpress more than he can.”

Proud

He got serious for a moment, and talked about his pride in growing up in Kenvil. Before his time, no one from Kenvil or any other town outside of Succasunna played Roxbury athletics. He was an outsider and had to work that much harder to break in. Hailing from Wharton, Coach Schiffner, another outsider, gave him a shot to play. He got lucky, he said. Once he broke through, many others would follow, including several of the other honorees this evening.

Not many of us knew Bob Morgan as a player. We know him as a teacher, coach, friend and Dad. I asked him if he was a different man when playing each of those roles. He paused and answered, “Nah. Who I am is who I am.” Dad’s motto was simple: work hard, lift weights, be dedicated and smart, don’t make mistakes and put your best effort out there. That’s what he was taught and that is what he hoped to pass along.

The Teacher

Who I am today is very much a reflection of my Dad, and all that he taught me. He instilled in me a passion for competition, taught me to be tough and how to “handle” the pressure of winning and losing gracefully. He made me believe I could achieve anything I wanted as long as I dedicated myself to it fully. He showed me how to think strategically and how to bring out the best performance in others, which would serve both Michael and me well in our chosen professions. I owe so much to my Dad. I feel honored that through this experience of accepting this award I have come to know him a little more deeply, and I hope you have too.

Just a couple of nights ago after he had a couple of beers, I asked him if he ever thought about the old days. He reluctantly admitted, “On Sunday mornings in the summer, I illegally hit golf balls on the old Roosevelt Field, where I played football, and I feel home.” I have little doubt that on those hazy summer mornings, he can still feel the roar of the crowds, see the great players that came before him who shaped his life and those who would follow, wearing the Blue and Gold and upholding the legacy of Roxbury Gael’s athletics of which he was so proud to be a part.

While I couldn’t recognize a single lyric, strangely, my heart knew every note.

After watching the sun come up, Yande, my Balinese tour guide, fellow photographer, and new friend, and I drove through northern Bali, planning to take pictures at a lakeside temple that had recently flooded. As we turned onto a desolate country road, strutting roosters and two sleeping dogs loitered on our path. From a distance I could see a hundred or so children dressed in red and white uniforms standing outside their school’s courtyard. Yande pulled over, rolled down the window and talked in Balinese to a man smoking a cigarette on a motor scooter who stood outside the school’s entrance. I watched and listened to their conversation for clues to what was going on. Once again during my time on the island, the part of my brain that understood language was useless, yet I could tell we were welcome and that was all I needed to know. Yande motioned that I should get out of the car.

Moving Beyond Landscapes

Music, laughter, and the smell of incense filled the warm, humid air that rushed into the car. Yande explained that a wealthy Korean family had donated a great deal of money to this poor country school. Today, the children were honoring their generosity with a traditional Balinese celebration, including dancing and games. For my first 10 days in Bali, I had been shooting gorgeous landscapes; yet it was the people I was dying to point my camera at. This might be my chance, I thought as I wandered to the entrance of the school, trying hard not to be noticed.

I watched the children perform: the young girls donned their best Balinese satin and lace dresses while the boys had warrior paint on their faces and carried spears to accentuate their ferocity. The dancers’ classmates showed their support, erupting in thunderous applause and whistles as the music stopped, then hugging and patting the performers on the back.

The Real Bali

While this magical moment was unfolding, I shook off a little anxiety. I longed to be invisible. I was a tall, white woman in a land where everyone was much shorter and darker in complexion. I didn’t want to be noticed and I certainly didn’t want to distract from the special moment for this important Korean family. Still, I couldn’t hide. This was the real Bali, and I had to capture it on my memory card.

The Korean family looked so incredibly happy and proud as they wandered around the front of the school watching the children dance and play. Their son took video to document the moment. The kids loved the camera and seemed to relish the attention. I shot quickly, worried that at any moment Yande and I would be asked to leave.

After the dancing, the children would walk to a field on the edge of the lake to play games and continue the celebration and we would follow, Yande explained. Plus, he wanted to show me the flooded lakeside temple, our original destination. We watched the dancers, many of whom were still in their make-up and now dressed in their school uniforms, sprint with excitement to the field racing their classmates. Some girls walked together holding hands while a few boys walked arm in arm. There was a gentleness and love in these children that I had also seen in the Balinese adults I had met.

Let the Games Begin! 

The first game began. To win, they needed to eat a cookie that was attached to a string hanging above their heads. They couldn’t use their hands, which were tied behind their backs. First the girls went and then the boys. The children who weren’t playing cheered their classmates on. Smiles and expressions of determination abounded.

While I was shooting the competition, the Korean man made eye contact with me, nodded and bowed his head ever so slightly in my direction. Then he motioned for me to follow him. I thought for a moment I would be asked to leave. He kept pointing to a ceramic bowl. Then I saw what he was showing me – inside the bowl were 10 live eels. The man pointed to the eels and then to a row of glass Sprite bottles on a table a couple of feet away. He threw his head back with laughter. Even with no common language, I got it instantly: the kids’ next challenge was to grab the live eels and put them in the Sprite bottles.  Even more importantly, I understood his other message: I was welcome here, and free to take as many pictures as I liked. In fact, he seemed thrilled I was there to share in the fun and help them celebrate. Ah, the power of communication without words. Relieved, I joined him in throwing my own head back and laughing.

Five Little Words

From the moment of my arrival, the kids had watched me cautiously. It was clear they were fascinated with my long lens and camera and maybe with my white skin too. This part of Bali wasn’t on the normal tourist route. Who knows how many Westerners they’d come into contact with. After eating their bagged lunches by the water’s edge, three girls worked up the courage to approach me. “Hi!” said one brave girl. I answered back, “Hi! Are you having fun?” She smiled and nodded her head. I expected her reply to be “Yes!” but instead she enthusiastically replied, “Ok!” Then she and her friends ran away. They probably didn’t know much more English than Yes, No, Hi, Bye, and OK, with little idea how to use them, Yande said. Really, though, that was plenty. We communicated with one another with gentle ease. At times, a group of kids would motion for me to join them. They wanted me to take their pictures as they showed off tree climbing abilities and their best smiles.

They were innocence in motion. Without an ipad, iphone, ipod, video game or TV in a 20-mile radius. No texts, tweets, status updates, calls, or any other distraction. And their play was gentle, no balls thrown violently, no shaming of kids who weren’t as fast, agile or competitive, and no recognition of what material items they didn’t possess. They were simply kids playing together, and living life to its fullest. I relished the pure joy of the moment.

After leaving the celebration, I was lost in my thoughts as Yande and I drove across the island to have lunch at a beautiful Balinese rice field. Before I’d left America, I was nervous about not knowing the language, and wondered how I would communicate with locals during my two plus weeks on Bali. Yet my morning had been rich with communication with the Koreans and the Balinese school children.

How had it happened? It was subtle and universal. Gestures, head nods, smiles. Music, dancing, laughter and an incredible range of facial expressions that cut through language barriers, or religion or country of origin.

Opening My Heart

I love words. But I hadn’t needed them that morning. To understand and be understood, I had learned, sometimes it’s necessary to just shut down the language part of my brain, open my heart, be present, and have a little trust and faith that the people around me would get it. Despite our differences, we were all more alike than not. We were all connected and living in the present moment.

I couldn’t help but feel grateful for it all – the children, the celebration, the welcome, the understanding and connection, the rich education I was getting here and in my life in general. When I hugged Yande goodbye that evening after the sun had set, I was choked up and overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t know how to say goodbye or express my sincerest gratitude for all we had shared together. Instead of fighting it, I simply put my hands together at my heart and bowed. It was the Balinese gesture for expressing thanks and appreciation. Without words, Yande returned the gesture.

Thinking of a trip to Bali? Have Yande be your tour guide! Details about Bali Photography Tours can be found at:  http://www.yandeardana.blogspot.com/