Thursday, August 26, 2010

Walker's Way

So, it’s official. I just began a bonafide, full-time, salaried position as Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA. Wow! I feel so incredibly grateful for this blessing. After an entire year of searching for a job (I just completed my 100th application a few weeks ago,) it feels like I can finally fully breathe again. I will continue to work on Haiti advocacy efforts at 85% time and will start to integrate work on Central America at 15% time. I’m excited to get to use my French, to learn Creole and more Spanish and to advocate for the anti-poverty initiatives in which I believe. To show my great appreciation for a year’s worth of support and prayers, I want to send these words out to the Universe, God, family and friends: Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

A few weeks ago, Mark and I were also able to take a vacation up to Maine, to celebrate our 3rd anniversary and revel in a little R&R before the start of the new job. During our trip, we and my mother visited my great uncle, Richard Walker, at his retirement home outside of Portland, ME. This past year has been a hard one for Uncle Dick, as he lost the love of his life, his wife of 62 years. Talking with my favorite great uncle helped put my own last year into perspective. No matter what kind of challenging transitions and job searching I have had, it pales in comparison to the loss of a beloved spouse. Uncle Dick showed us picture after picture of Sally, telling stories of their many adventures together in raising three girls, leaving the family business to pursue their dreams in ME and making a new home by the ocean. He has such love for this woman. I held Mark’s hand a little tighter with each story, thankful that my husband is still with me for the journey. 

93 year old Uncle Dick and his beloved wife of 62 years, Sally Walker 

What I love about Uncle Dick is that despite his own loss, he is still able to contribute. In fact, his whole being seems to gravitate towards this. As he gives us a tour of the grounds, he points out little projects here and there that still need his full attention. “Those benches over there need to be redone, so that’s my next project,” he tells us. Or, “I still need to check in on Henry in the care unit, he’s been having a rough go.” Uncle Dick finally brings us to his favorite place at the home, a beautiful distant view of the ocean. He explains that it used to be impossible for the residents to actually walk down to the ocean, without having to climb over boulders and bushes. Then he says with that well-known twinkle in his eye, “Follow me, my friends.” 

He leads us down a new walkway through the woods, saying jolly hello’s to everyone we pass by name. We come to a special bench, a resting place on the path. “Now, we finally have a way for us old geezers to walk down and see the ocean up close,” he explains. He points to a small sign over the bench that reads, “Walker’s Way.” It takes us a few moments to realize that this walkway is named after Uncle Dick, after my mother’s family name. He suddenly looks a little shy and explains that is wasn’t his idea to put up the sign, just to build the path. I marvel at my uncle, who at 93 years old, is still finding ways to blaze new trails and give of himself.

Liz and Dick Walker at "Walker’s Way" in Piper Shores, ME 

Afterwards, we head back to Uncle Dick’s apartment, where we are able to ask him questions about his older brother, my grandfather William, their sister Bobbie and their parents. Uncle Dick tells us about growing up during the Great Depression, of how his own mother (who has sometimes been branded a bit of a tough cookie through family lore) was the glue that kept everything together. When the Depression struck the hardest, and his parents were uncertain if they would be able to keep their house or feed their 3 children, Marian Walker took matters into her own hands. Marian was wonderful with flowers, a true botanist. After some unsuccessful attempts at selling flowers and seeds, she decided to try writing. She finally amassed everything that she knew about gardening on paper, drove herself to the New Jersey train station, took the train by herself up to New York City, and began knocking on the doors of every Gardening Magazine in town. An unknown, jobless house wife was somehow able to convince these magazines to publish her articles, through her own sheer conviction. My great uncle explains that this income was what saved the family through the worst part of the 30's. Despite her sometimes tough exterior, Marian Walker was a survivor and a provider.

My great grandmother, Writer, Artist and Botanist, Marian C. Walker 

This story inspires me. Political analysts have sometimes likened our current economic plunges and unemployment rates to those of the Great Depression. I don’t believe, though, that the majority of us truly understand what it must have felt like to live during the 30’s. Of course, current immigrants and those living in poor, rural and urban neighborhoods do. Many of us, though, take a lot of what we have for granted. However, I believe that both the Depression and the current economy are proof that no one is too smart, educated or wealthy to be immune from potential loss. Therefore, every job and paycheck is a blessing. Our houses, cars, food, water and clothing, they are also blessings. AND, no matter how hard it gets, loss always presents a new opportunity to grow…to try something new… to give.

As we hug Uncle Dick goodbye and wave a final farewell, I start to think about this next stage of my life. The truth of the matter is that my new job might just be a temporary gift… an impermanent step on a long pathway of learning. My husband, my family, my convictions, they are the cornerstones. Thank you, Marian Walker, for teaching me that perseverance can indeed save the day. Thank you, Uncle Dick, for showing us that it is always the right time to clear a path for others. And thank you, Mom, for guiding me towards the greatest gift that I will ever need to survive in this crazy world: faith.

My mom, Liz Walker, Me, my husband, Mark, and Uncle Dick