Against all odds. I recall a Phil Collins song by that title. I even recall a video from back in the day when MTV actually showed videos. Phil Collins’ song was about a love lost and an empty space left behind in one’s heart. The song, when it first came out didn’t really speak to me. I hadn’t known of love lost like that. I still don’t relate to the song in that originally intended way. However, the title has always been a part of my everyday mantra. Against all odds I have made it thus far. In thinking about my writing up my memoirs, I had once considered such a title. Alas, I am not going to go in that titular direction. The other night when Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar Award for best supporting actress she gave a heartfelt speech in which she noted
“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is due to so much pain in someone else’s,…”
Such a sentiment spoke to me. I overcame my starting point in life’s rat race because others sacrificed and others also stepped up to the plate. Perseverance, a sense of resilience and stamina can take one far even when life starts off in poverty-stricken dire situations. However, a helping hand and open heart can also ease one’s path. I was lucky to have such a mother that cared. Jared Leto noted in his Oscar award speech that his mother, who had a been a high school drop-out and single mom, “encouraged her kids to be creative and work hard and do something special.” It was nice to see such homage paid those who in their sacrifice helped pave our paths going forward. My mother similarly taught me that there was no sense in giving up, you keep fighting till there is no fight left and then you come back and fight some more.
I have had many situations that were fraught with “against all odds” moments. Those moments have been too numerous to recount and some are too painful to relive. I will share one difficult 24 hours in my life a long time ago that is funny in retrospect but which help set the stage for how I would go about life.
Many years ago, I was a high school student in Barcelona, Spain. How I made it there is a story onto itself. The journey I underwent in leaving Spain was a harrowing story that in no way could be done justice herein. I was very poor growing up. Even when I went to an elite boarding school and went to study abroad in Spain, I was poor. My mother was extremely poor. Somehow, we managed to get by. I learned how to make 10 dollars go a long, long way each week.
The school year in Spain ended and it was time to go back to the United States. I was specifically to go back to my high school to attend my graduation. We all said teary goodbyes in school as people left on different days and went on different paths home. It sort of felt like a Real World episode where one by one they leave, until one remains in the house looking forlorn and longingly at the posh living quarters.
I got up the morning of that last day in Spain at an ungodly hour. I did not wake my Spanish family up as I had said goodbye the night before. I grabbed my large two suitcases and hauled them into the tiny elevator in the building. I stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked and kept walking. I was taking in the scenery for a last time. Yet that was not why I was walking and stumbling about with two huge suitcases. I was walking about because I barely had any money left. I somehow had to make my last $40 cover my remaining expenses in Spain as well as cover my journey back to my high school which was 45 minutes outside of Boston. It seemed like an impossible task. What was I to do? I had no other means of getting money. I was seventeen years old and still a bit naïve which sometimes passed for bravery. I walked and walked as far as my New York legs would take me. I made it to Passeig de Gracia and got onto the metro. By walking I had saved myself a bit of cash but was sweating up a storm. I sat in the train for 30 minutes just dripping profusely. I got off the train and then had to walk another 5 minutes to the airport. I just wanted to scream, cry or throw myself onto my luggage and bury my face deep into its lumpiness.
I kept going, however. I kept going as I always had and always would. While at the airport I bought a small bag of chips to calm my knotted stomach hoping that the flight would have a good meal. After the 6 hour plus flight, I went through customs and immigration and searched the area over for anyone that was familiar. At this point I had about $25 left. My brain kept asking itself how I would be able to get to my school without going beyond my limited funds and perhaps not even use it all. At that time I realized that I had no idea how I would get from my school back down to New York. I had not worked that part out either. That $25 was looking mighty small. I found a telephone booth and called my mother collect. She was going to work on getting someone to pick me up at school to bring me back to New York although she was no longer there.
As I scoured the baggage area I saw someone I recognized. I had not seen them in a long time –a year to be exact- but I ran over and exuberantly reintroduced myself. They were heading to my high school with another person. I followed them like a puppy dog and got into the cab with them. I don’t remember the conversation at all. I do recall feeling relieved and anxious as I looked at the meter. I finally reached my old dorm room, found my old roommate and collapsed onto the floor. I unpacked my clothes for the night and rummaged through my handbag. I had $5 left. That was truly unbelievable.
Graduation day came and my family arrived and drove me back to New York. I applied for summer jobs and used those remaining $5 for my bus ride to and from the job interview that I aced. After my first day at work I had a $1 left. I have no idea how I survived leaving Barcelona. I recall stroking that dollar bill and feeling a grand tightness in my chest. That $1 may not seem like much to anyone but it meant the world to me. That $1 meant I was strong and could beat all odds.
When Lupita Nyong’o gave her acceptance speech she ended it by stating “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Word!
When Jared Leto accepted his award, he ended by saying “I just want to say ‘I love you mom, thank you for teaching me to dream.” No truer words have been said.
Good Night all and Dream Big Dreams.
Other thoughts on against all odds