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A Walk in Another Woman's Shoes
by Pati Sands
It was the spring of 1981. I was twenty-two, divorced, and in court reporting school filled with the awareness that "Maybe I could begin again." I took time off to tour the Southwest with my family in a convoy of campers. One night we set up camp on the creek in Sedona and went to sleep. In the morning, we ate a hearty breakfast and headed off to our next destination: Montezuma's Well. We arrived before noon.
When I reached for the handle to open the door and exit the vehicle, I knew something was different. The motion through the atmosphere and the sound of the door opening was as foreign a feeling as motion and sound in water compared to motion and sound in air. The gay chatter of my family and other tourists faded into a soft, electric buzz, like the sound of midnight in the desert during the height of summer.
It was a strain to speak in this dreamy, liquid atmosphere -- to inform everyone to go on ahead without me. I wandered across the path to the well, then on down a forested trail to the ancient aqueducts running beside a stream. As I walked along the path beside the stream, the buzz increased and suddenly I felt pressure in my right hand and a feeling of weight on my left hip and left arm. I sensed I was holding hands with a boy about seven on my right, and cradling a two-year-old girl on my left. There was a notion of long, black hair (I'm blonde) flowing down my back, along with a calm sense of strength and stature of a young woman's active physique clad in an Indian dress, supple moccasins bound at the ankles, cushioning the feet against the damp earth. (I was wearing heavy sneakers and jeans.)
As I strode on in this state I felt myself rising slowly up into the trees, as buoyant as a hot air balloon. Floating about twenty feet above ground, I watched the Indian woman continue on the path towards the village, her hair glistening in the early morning rays, as the first ripple of heat rolled across the plateau. I knew her attention was focused on physical chores ahead of her. I also sensed her concern for her son and daughter because food was becoming scarce: Where will we go? What will we do?
Sharp, animated laughter from a group of schoolchildren slammed me down into my sneakers, and the biting realization that the very same path the Indian woman walked now leads to a rest stop with tourists from all over the world, and our recreational vehicle, full of food. And this vehicle could take me in air-conditioned comfort to my home and a city where computers, televisions and airports can transport anyone to unlimited possibilities.
A keen awareness overwhelmed me of just how much we take for granted, especially in this country, and how we devalue and disrespect our "material world." This insight made me realize that it was my duty to go out and enjoy the life that's available, and pursue the liberty granted by our Constitution. I resolved to strip myself of thinking only in terms of "graduate, get a court reporting job in my town, get a house, get married again," and instead, decided to delay my career and took off across the country with only a car, two suitcases, $700, and no particular destination.
It's almost 20 years later, but in the spirit of that experience, watching an Indian woman walk to her doomed camp, I feel I've only begun to honor an insight and utilize its transformative power. I say "only begun," because although I made huge personal leaps out of my prior environment, I still keep trying to learn more, grow more, give more. Embracing this experience and meditating on it has given me the courage to take risks. I began writing poetry, went to art school in Denver, taught dance and acted in New York. (I still have a recurring role as a court reporter on "As the World Turns.") I also had the courage to put money on a no-name independent film project (Bobby G Can't Swim), which took Best Film and Best Director awards at the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles. Recently, I've accepted a pioneering position of bringing court reporting to the judicial system in South Africa, and teaching the skill to local people.
Had I not known that sympathetic experience with a woman whose life was led in the true sense of one day at a time, I never would have dared to pursue such actions. But the most important gift I received was that it gave me compassion for all people, trust in the universe, and a compelling obligation towards the values of liberty.
I often wonder what causes a transformative experience such as this. Can certain life experiences lead to heightened perception or, perhaps, flights of fancy? Is it like a trained dancer dreaming a beautiful dance and then actualizing it? Does the dance go from dreamer to dreamer until someone pays attention? Is it like an empty, primed vehicle receiving its source of energy from the universe? Does one have to be "prepared" ahead of time? Whatever it is, flight of fancy or heightened perception, it's awesome when nurtured. I'm convinced.
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