A Trip Of Hope

Anita Marie Colbert

© Copyright 2005 by Anita Marie Colbert

My first published article was entitled, The Pain of Knowing. It spoke of a black woman’s awareness of her unusual temperament, that of the highly sensitive person, and the challenges she faced with the nuances of such a complex personality type, coupled with the racial polarities in this country, and the acute knowledge of them as a personal daily reality. I speak of myself and honestly share with you development of an unusual friendship that developed because of my words.

The printing of my article in The Comfort Zone, a newsletter helmed by Dr. Elaine Aron, the author of The Highly Sensitive Person (a national bestseller, by the way) reached a woman in Shasta Lake, California. She was a subscriber to the newsletter, and as an HSP (highly sensitive person) found my article not only intriguing, but sad. She e-mailed me and asked if I would consider a snail mail pen pal relationship with her. I was so buoyed by receiving the first acknowledgement of my work and felt a certain genuineness in her words, that I said, “yes, of course.” Her name was Hope Bower, a white retired school teacher, present day artist, married to a retired school teacher. She was living in Northern California, worlds apart from me — almost ten years my senior and yet we embarked on the sharing of our likenesses and differences, and found a friendship in each other that we share to this day.

As a matter of fact, I visited Hope in Shasta Lake, California in September of 2004 to celebrate my 54th birthday. I had flown only once before, and it was a brief shuttle flight from Washington, D.C. back to New York, where I reside. It was one half hour, and I didn’t handle it well at all. I had no idea the plane moved so quickly before lift-off, and since it was a shuttle, it was a rougher flight than a larger plane would have provided. So, there was more than a feeling of trepidation that I faced in deciding whether or not to take a five to six hour plane flight, alone, to visit a woman whom I had never seen. I truly wanted to know if I could do it — and then more than anything, I knew that I needed to do it. Hope and I had begun speaking on the phone by this time, and had taken to e-mailing each other, purely because we could connect quicker than snail mail. Our snail mail days were over, and even though we had spent so much time writing each other long detailed and honest letters, our first phone call was well over an hour long. Here I was talking to a woman who not only could understand and share my feelings, but respected them and me as well. This was a new thing for me — because being highly sensitive had only been a inconvenience for me up to this time. It was not chic to be black and highly sensitive. Or beneficial. After all, many people in this country experience problems with people for many different reasons, and if you are unable to handle those problems or experience them more deeply than others, you are in for a rough time. For me, it finally boiled down to learning how to not let it get you down by validating it, or making the mistake of giving it credence or importance.

But I regress, and on September 2, 2004 1 embarked at 6:00AM in the morning to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York. On my way to stay with a couple (whom I had never really met or seen) for seven nights, bringing in my birthday with them and sightseeing in Redding, California, Whiskey Lake, a vineyard in Oregon, among so many other places of interest; and experiencing a rebirth of trust in my own ability to be safe, comfortable, and confident and allowing myself to try something new and different.

I can only share with you with complete honesty that I had absolutely no fear when I boarded the flight that left at 8:00AM from J. F. Kennedy Airport and was enroute to San Francisco, where I would take a connecting flight to Redding, California. I did say a prayer before I left home, and then I left it all in God’s hands. It was probably a five hour flight, and although I was offered a business class upgrade for a small additional fee as soon as I walked into the airport, I was so unsure of what I was facing that I decided to keep my own seat as reserved, and the coach section that I was sitting in was so empty, I was able to change my seat and have a double seat to myself I was fed well, and I read, listened to music, watched a movie and wrote in my journal. Looking out the window at the clouds, the mountains, the water — I felt transformed and soothed. I marveled to myself this time, how slow the plane seemed to be going, yet I knew that it was really moving quickly. I felt so calm and serene — as if I was always meant to do this — take a real chance. And, I had yet to get to the small turbo prop plane in San Francisco which would take me on a final one hour journey to the Redding, California airport.

When I got to San Francisco, I had an hour layover, but it turned into two and a half hours. It seemed that my final flight was delayed, and there I was, stuck. My only fear was that my luggage would not arrive, although I had tied a purple bandanna on it so that it would be easily recognizable once I got off the plane in Redding, CA. So, I called Hope’s house, spoke to her husband, Chuck, and told him I would be delayed. I was getting excited. Very excited. Finally, my little plane had arrived and we all boarded. All thirty-five of us! My seat was near the back, and I immediately asked the stewardess for a small bottle of Chardonnay. I was a bit tense, since this plane was so small — and I was also tired and anxious. The wine did it’s trick, and even with the dips during the flight — I handled it like a trooper. And then I was there. Getting off the plane. Walking across the tarmac. And seeing Hope Bower in the flesh for the first time! She and her husband stood at the door, and I knew it was them from a picture that she had sent me. She held a rose in her hand, and I smiled, walked to her and we hugged each other. Feeling like I was a celebrity, we went to pick up my suitcase and after a few panicky moments of being unable to find it, they did. To the car we journeyed, and snuck looks at each other, getting a sense and feel of each other. It was all good, as the young people say.. .and I felt an aura and vibes of graciousness, hospitality and warmth that never went away.

Hope and Chuck live in a beautifully furnished hilltop home in Shasta Lake, California. There is a deck around the entire house, and hummingbird feeders all around. Grouse travel in packs running through the backyard area. They have a recreational vehicle, two cars, and a boat. Not the grouse, I mean Hope and Chuck! These people live most comfortably. Hope, as I mentioned, is an artist — and her beautiful portraits adorned the entire house. I had my own bedroom and bathroom, and felt like royalty in their beautiful, spacious and comfortable home. I slept like a log my first night there (and every night thereafter) — and awoke each day to Hope’s prepared breakfast, and thoughtful itineraries that took me to more places than I can remember. We visited Mt. Shasta, the Shasta Dam, stood on a glass bridge that spanned the Sacramento River. Visited Whiskey Town, where John F. Kennedy last spoke before he was assassinated. I-lad a picnic at a beautiful lake in a park where people were also camping, and I saw a family of deer running through the trees, and it blew this city gal’s mind! We visited friends of Hope and Chuck who owned a horse, and believe it or not, also a vulture! I sat on the horse, and pictures were taken, stayed my distance from the vulture, but got a picture of him also! We took a long visit one day to Oregon, and visited the artsy area where the Shakespeare Festival takes place. There was a wonderful flea market there, besides some great shops, so we shopped, laughed, ate and luxuriated in our finally meeting each other. The festival wasn’t too far from a vineyard, so we stopped in, sampled a bit, and I bought a bottle of wonderful cabernet sauvignon. The drive, the scenery, the company all in all made it one of the most wonderful days I have lived. By this time Hope and I were like old friends, who hadn’t seen each other in a few years. I was as comfortable as I could be, and went to bed early each night, and slept without waking up until each morning.

There is a reason for everything. Who would have believed that a young black woman sharing her feelings about racism would connect with a slightly older white woman who could make her believe in the possibility of friendship with people of different races and the power of that loving connection. To this very day, Hope and I e-mail each other at least once a week, talk every two weeks or so — and send each other cards, small gifts, large gifts, and tokens of a friendship that we will cherish forever. We have found in each other a trust and support system that had eluded both of us with people we had known all our lives. It took a stranger to challenge and blow apart my belief system. I will forever be grateful that she did.

Thanks for taking this small journey with me. It speaks of courage in allowing yourself to trust others — but most importantly, in trusting yourself. Race is nothing more than skin color — the human loving heart and the spirit within each of us can pierce everything in it’s way to find the real truth. That we are more alike than different in every way.

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