28 Days of Inspiration – Day 27

Nana Asma’u

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Nana Asma’u by Heba Amin

She was an Islamic scholar and set the precedent of modern African feminism.  She had the advantage of being the daughter of one of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful caliphates in the region, but she made the most of the opportunity to empower women.  She leveraged her considerable intellect to create educational opportunities and careers for women that still exist.

She was a princess, but she spent her life educating women – Muslim and non-Muslim, wealthy and poor.  She was an adviser to her father, and believed that seeking education was a religious duty of both men and women and that to deny women this right was to challenge the will of God.

As an educator, she wanted her people to be as educated as possible, and trained other women to help her do this. She wrote instructive poems that the teachers would memorize and then pass on to their students in the villages to which they traveled. These women wore distinctive clothes identifying them as trained teachers, and they were to receive the highest respect while instructing both men and women on general as well as religious topics. As these teachers walked the country-side – enduring harsh environments to do so – they were empowering the citizenry with knowledge in a time of turbulence and war. To be sure, if women were educated they could then pass along knowledge to their families.  Women in Nigeria were literate at a time when universal literacy was unheard of.

150 years ago (she lived 1793-1864), she was leading a cause for educating the masses and specifically women. Those in The West who know of her, recognize her as an early feminist. West African Muslims praise her efforts in augmenting the rights of women to learn and be active members in society.  She chose to spend her life advocating for women’s right to education – indeed, she saw it as a tenant of Islam that women should be educated, and should know how to read.

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28 Days of Inspiration – Day 26

28 Days of Inspiration

Cliff Young

He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 544 mile ultra-marathon.  Hell, he was a potato farmer – what did he know about endurance running?  He showed up one day at the starting line of an 875K race and won.

In fact, he took significant time off the world record for similar races.  He was 61-years old in 1983 when he won this race.  Take a look at my times this year, I haven’t come close to winning a solo race of any distance. He didn’t just win, he CRUSHED it.  544-miles at aged 61.  I’ve spent the past year running races, slowly building up distance from a 5k in February to a half-marathon in October.  I’ve run training runs, pushed myself as much as I can.  Cliff Young ran the inaugural  Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon…and won.  I must be a loser – I’ve been running my butt off this year and I’m struggling to get mediocre times on some fairly modest courses.

The lore will have you believe he’d never run, just strolled up to the starting line – oblivious to the challenge ahead of him – wearing overalls and rubber boots.  A real naif.  He didn’t understand ultra running so he didn’t know he was supposed to run for 18 hours and sleep for 6.  A great story to be sure.  But incomplete at best, and misleading at worst. Take a look at the video below.

So far as I can tell, he really WASN’T a runner and he really WAS a farmer.

But this wasn’t his first attempt; he didn’t just show up and decide to run.  Perhaps in 1982 when he attempted a 1,000 mile effort one could argue he had no clue – after all then he had only trained for a few months.  Upon failing half way through he wrote he and his support team were inexperienced.  You don’t just stroll up to a starting line in work boots and spend 6 days running a 550-mile race without having done SOME work.  In this case he had been training.  He knew the challenge before him.  He had a plan and he worked that plan.

Merriam-Webster defines “Inspiration” as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone.” I tend to think watching the results of another’s hard work and effort toward a goal is far more inspirational than hearing a story that’s been sanitized, cleaned up and repackaged.  Cliff was ridiculously inspirational but not because he showed up one day out of the blue and laid waste to a field of other runners en route to finishing an ultra-marathon, but because he worked his ass off as a 60-year old to position himself to be able to do that.

He wasn’t some rube fresh off the farm who decided to run an endurance course because he had time on his calendar.  He planned this.  He worked for this.  It’s unlikely that a 61-year old man is going to win an ultra marathon, but that’s the inspirational part of it. He worked and trained.  We don’t need to embellish the story; we don’t have to make up or gloss over the reality.  The facts are remarkable on their own.

Be inspired because he had a goal, worked his ass off for it and made it happen.  There’s nothing inspirational about flukes or luck; there’s everything inspirational about someone deciding they’ve got a goal that they’re going to make happen. Cliff’s story makes for a great tell, but bear in mind his wasn’t the story of unexpected glory, his was the story of hard work paying off.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 25

Setting Goals, Working Plans

One of the truisms of New Years’ resolutions is that they’re hardly ever met.  We’ve all heard the maxim that it takes 21-Days to form a habit that sticks.  If I can make my January 1 workout routine stick for three weeks, I’m gold.

Well, it takes about three times that amount of time.  So it’s day 22 and you really don’t feel like going to the gym, by you’ve done it for 21 days so it’s okay to skip a day… and pretty soon you’re not going. If 21 days were the gold standard, I wouldn’t be pumping out Day 25 of my daily inspirations no less than 7 hours too late to get it in on the proper day.

I’ve found it exceedingly important to set goals for myself that require a plan: I’m going to run 46 races this year, I’m going to go back to school and earn an MBA, whatever.  I find that I’m often too conservative with my plans: I hit 46 races in August, meaning I had 4 more months to run races; I finished my MBA a semester ahead of when I planned.  That’s fine though, its the goal that’s important and having a target to shoot at.  Once the goal is set, and I communicate it out to hold myself accountable, there’s only the plan for how it’s going to happen left

I think of it this way: if I don’t already know how to get somewhere, I have to have help getting there – a map, a gps, a friend who does know the way.  If I haven’t built the habit, I need to chart out what I need to do to reach my goal.

When I get those goals set, I start working the plan.  This works great for things I DO want to do, but it’s particularly important when I don’t want to do things.  To this point,  the inspiration to more frequently do laundry or make the bed just isn’t there, but these things have to get done.  I haven’t been able to inspire myself enough to get a goal around these, but I know if I do it’ll get done. I would like to be better about doing things I don’t want to do, and perhaps that will be my next goal.

If you don’t have a habit – remember, throw that 21-day jive out the window – you’re going to need a goal, and a plan to get to that goal, and the commitment to work the plan.  It’s easy to fail, it’s ridiculously easy to back pedal or go off course.  Good plans will help you recover.  A solid relationship with yourself will help you decide if you can commit to a goal – if you REALLY want to achieve that goal.

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 24

Robert Cook

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Robert Cook and Kimberly Dear. Photo from Sobify

On July 29, 2006 a chartered skydiving plane experienced engine failure and began a fall to earth with eight people on board.  The plane crashed, killing 6 of the people on board – one of whom was 22-year old instructor Robert Cook.

According to ABC News, there is an average of five small plane crashes each day, resulting in approximately 500 deaths annually. Obviously the numbers vary from year to year but the over arching theme is that it’s not infrequent a small plane of this kind crashes – it happens every day – nor, sadly, is it infrequent someone dies in a crash.  What is infrequent is that a survivor can tell the tale of someone like Robert Cook.

Kimberly Dear was on the plane to do a tandem jump with Robert, and as such was harnessed in with him.  She reports that when he realized the plane was going to crash, he harnessed her to him, and held her to his body.

A few days after the crash, her father reported to a local newspaper that:

“He said to her: ‘As the plane is about to hit the ground, make sure you’re on top of me so that I’ll take the force of the impact.’

“The plane actually hit, they believe, a power pole or a power line and it went into a vertical situation, and she became a little bit disoriented, but she felt Robert actually twist his body around until Kim was on top of him and when the plane hit the ground.”

“He took the full force of the impact.”

They had just met that day – she was on vacation from Australia and he was on the planet to instruct others how to skydive.   Yet, he made sure she was going to survive the crash.  Who knows, maybe he knew there was no way he was going to survive.  Maybe he thought this was his best chance of survival.  Maybe his training kicked in.  Or maybe, just maybe, he did what he believed was the right thing to do: to protect someone else from as much harm as possible. He voluntarily gave his life – by any account I could find – so that someone else could live.  In March of 2008, the Australian government awarded him The Star of Courage, an honor for conspicuous bravery in times of peril usually reserved for Australians but is also awarded to foreign nationals acting on behalf of an Australian and is ranked second in the Australian civil bravery decorations in the Australian Honours System.

It took years of rehabilitation, and her body was severely broken, but her spine was not.  She learned to walk again and lived her life.  She married and started a family because of this man she had met only hours before a fateful plane crash protected her and allowed her to continue living her life.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 23

75th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg

Last night the Chicago Cubs erased a 108-year championship drought in the 10th inning of game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland.  This effectively passed the torch of longest active championship droughts from the 1908 Chicago Cubs to the 1948 Cleveland Indians.

Just 5 years after the Cubs last World title, there was a gathering of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 50th Anniversary of the battle.  There was consternation as to what may transpire when the some 53,000 veterans of the war – now aged men – from 46 states came together to mark the occasion.  However, according to the event’s Wikipedia page: “the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”

Twenty-five years later, there was one final reunion in 1938 for the 75th Anniversary of the battle.  My dad was a 7-year old boy.  I let that sink in from time to time; that my father was a little boy at a time civil war veterans – however few – still carried with them a time when the fate of this country was less than secure.

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 On July 6,  John W. Cooper (91), a Confederate veteran of Largo FL., and Union veteran Daniel T. Price (91), of Marion, IN., and David T. Weaver (95), a Confederate veteran of Muldrow, OK passed away at a local hospital. photo from newspapers.com. Veterans’ stories from civilwartalk.com

The ensuing 25-years reduced the number of gathered civil war veterans from 53,000 to  about 2000. In 1913 there were about 8000 Confederate soldiers in attendance now there was an estimated 8000 total living veterans of the war – only about 70 gathered had actually fought at the battle of Gettysburg.

The veterans average age was 94 and they began arriving June 29 in 12 special Pullman trains.  Not on veteran died en route to the gathering, but two or three died before the celebration closed and five more passed away making their way home. It was apparently important for them to be there, at that place, one last time.

And this gets me to my point: it’s important to us as human beings to share experiences with others, it’s important to us to have goals and to have a meaning beyond ourselves.  It was somehow spiritually important to these men 50-years after fighting each other to come together and recognize the nation that remained.  It was important to share this common bond with others, even those who were on the opposite side of the conflict, and it was more important to share it than it was to have been on the victorious side.  It was more important to come together than to be “right.” 2000 veterans of 8000 still living – that’s a commitment beyond oneself.  90-year old men coming together for closure and for the historic record.  Above all, the healing for the good of the county – just one more time. For me, this event stands for the proposition that despite differences, despite having faced each other in anger, several times over the course of that 75 year period, these men gathered together to reflect on their service to their respective armies, and to bond together as brothers once again.  Time sometimes does heal old wounds, but the desire has to be there – as it was here.

It’s important to take those steps while you can.  By the end of August 1956, 7-champions after the Cleveland Indians had last won the World Series, the last of the civil war veterans had passed on: the last verifiable Confederate, Pleasant Crump, passed away on the last day of 1951, and the last surviving Union soldier Albert Woolson passed away August 2, 1956.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 22

Witold Pilecki Auschwitz Prisoner 4859

Unless you’re a particularly studious student of the second World War, you’ve not likely heard the name Witold Pilecki.  He was a Polish solider who was executed in 1948 for espionage and his story was largely supressed by the Polish government until 1989.  If you’re particularly astute, you’ll remember the Communist hold on Poland collapsed in 1989.

“The underground army was completely in disbelief about the horrors,” Storozynski explains. “About ovens, about gas chambers, about injections to murder people — people didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating.”

NPR Story September 18, 2010

While his trial was largely a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome, he after all WAS a foreign agent if you’re a 1940’s Stalinist – he remained loyal to the Polish government in exile – and given that the Stalinists did take over Poland for the better part of 50 years, if that had been all Pilecki had done I would still consider him to be an inspirational character; giving one’s life for the greater good while resisting injustice is always going to be a call for selflessness and to be better, which is a good reason despots wish to quash such rebellion.

But he had a greater role in the history of the 1940’s and indeed arguably saved the lives of millions of people.

Pilecki created a plan by which he would be incarcerated in the Auschwitz concentration camp and would then report back what was happening. It was through his work the world outside the Nazi diaspora learned that these were in fact not internment camps, but rather death camps.  While he was there, he joined an underground movement, built a radio transmitter built from smuggled parts, reported to the Polish resistance what the camp was, number of prisoners, conditions, and more. After three years of backbreaking work, he managed to break out of Auschwitz, with documents stolen from the Nazis in his possession.

I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.

— After the announcement of the death sentence, Bartłomiej Kuraś, Witold Pilecki – w Auschwitzu z własnej woli, „Ale Historia”, w: „Gazeta Wyborcza”, 22 kwietnia 2013.

Consider that he was a highly skilled operative who used his skills to build morale among the prisoners, and to provide the Polish government the information it would need to first defeat the Nazis, then the Communists, with the hope of returning to power.  When it became clear that the post-war would not see the return of the exiled government, he was ordered to cease his information gathering on the Communists and escape – orders he declined and was ultimately arrested.   He was tortured, but never revealed information on his fellow operatives.

Clearly he was a patriot of Free Poland, but because of his heroism, the world learned of what was happening in Nazi Germany, and galvanized the world against such heinous acts…by volunteering to be imprisoned.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 21

Patrick Downes & Jessica Kensky and Adrianne Haslet-Davis 

On April 15, 2013 their lives changed.  While at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, then recently married and Boston area natives, Patrick and Jessica were there to enjoy the day.  It was that day they became victims of the Tsarnaev brothers first bomb in their bombing attack.

It was that day Adrianne fell victim to the second bomb in the attack, opening her eyes to find her left ankle and foot missing. A professional dancer, she was looking at her life’s work and direction irrevocably changed in an instant

This year they demonstrated ridiculous resilience when Patrick became the first marathon bombing survivor to come back to the race and finish it on foot.  Through it all, Patrick and Jessica have stayed together and become stronger.  Three years after the attacks, Jessica is still undergoing surgeries. He’s lost a leg.  She’s a double amputee.  This is still a fresh wound for them both. Adrianne also lost a leg and took up running because of her injuries – not in spite of them.

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Patrick raising his arm to approach the finish line.  From the NY Daily News.

Patrick didn’t know it, but he finished the race at just about the time the bombs first went off that fateful day completing the race in 5:56:46

“[When I first started] learning how to use the blade, I made a pact with myself that I would at least try to run. I [thought], ‘Gosh, this blade is so difficult to use,’ so I decided to make it a challenge that I would overcome.” Adrianne Haslet-Davis 

Adrianne too was at the 2015 Boston Marathon, as a dance performer at the finish line.  This year it took her about 10-hours to run her race. Less than a year after the bombing, she performed on Dancing with the Stars.  From the beginning she knew she was in for a challenge.  She accepted it, and worked on advancing.  She did not quit.

Neither were runners previously but have used their life experience.  All of them could have easily succumbed to the ease of “giving up.”  They could have easily have made excuses for themselves, to feel sorry for their condition, to allow themselves to hate the Tsanaevs for what had happened to them.

When you focus on hate, you don’t allow yourself to grow, to change, to rise above.  All three of these people have risen to become more powerful, more inspirational than they were before.  Patrick was running to raise money – $250,000 – to fully endow a scholarship for disabled students.  Adrianne was running to raise money for Limbs for Life, a charity for providing prosthetics for those who cannot afford them.

There is nothing routine about completing a marathon.  There is nothing routine about experiencing life changing circumstances, and resolving to accept the challenge.  There is nothing routine about accomplishing goals and then setting them higher.  It takes mental fortitude, resilience, and commitment.  And ANYONE can do it, but not everyone does.