In the spring of 2003, my sister was getting activated to go to the Iraq War. I was a senior in college at the picturesque University of Iowa, living with three messy boys, taking photojournalism and online media, and sort of taking it easy. In February of that year, I had already gone to Waterloo where Devon lived with her son and boyfriend – the boyfriend had already gotten activated and was in Iraq and my task was to help my sister pack up her then nine-year-old son and put him on a plane to go live with my parents (who at that time were in Alabama…long story).
Together we packed his things into a brand new suitcase and went on to pack the house, “I may as well rent while I’m gone – I don’t need the house sitting empty,” she said. So in a couple of months, after her Army reserves unit had finished preparation for more than a year in the hot, dry desert, it was time to go to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri to actually see her off on her very last weekend in country. But I couldn’t get in the car. I couldn’t make myself get out of my bed and drive down there to say goodbye. I was sad that she had to go. That her son had to live without either parental figures. And I was mad at myself for not going.
For weeks – maybe months – there was a pair of books sitting in our kitchen. One, The Journey is the Destination, was a compilation of journals and artwork by Dan Eldon, a photojournalist who had been stoned to death in Somalia in 1993. The other was his biography, The Art of Life, written by Jennifer New, an Iowa City author. That weekend, I poured over the journals and read the entire biography. When the story reached the point where Dan died, I cried. And I went online to learn more. I felt like someone had lit me on fire. I was inspired. Now, I am no slouch of a gal – I’ve always done well in school, have been involved in lots of activities and have been fairly outgoing. But I don’t remember ever feeling this overwhelming desire to go out and ACTUALLY DO something with my self and my life like I did that weekend. Dan was someone like me. He didn’t know what he was doing all the time. He didn’t know what direction he always wanted to take. Yet he still did good things for himself, the people around him, and the world. I wanted to affect change in this way – this way that seemed more possible than any other way before.
My plans were already set for the next six months – I was headed to Toronto for an exchange program/magazine internship. When I returned, I had a better idea of how I wanted to change the world. My aunt picked me up from the Amtrak station north of Chicago and I told her “I want to start a magazine about inspiration. I want it to be easier for people to find stories that sparks something in them as Dan’s story sparked with me. I want to help people inspire other people.” She liked this idea. So did I. I just didn’t have any idea how I was going to accomplish it. Start a magazine? C’mon.
I figured if I was going to change the world, I should learn a little more about it. So after graduation I looked into ways to travel, researching the Peace Corp, the possibility of working on a cruise ship, being an au pair, or teaching English in another country. Luckily, with a little help from a friend (thanks, Ted), a teaching job in China fell in my lap. I hadn’t thought about China before, but okay. I jumped up and down excitedly. Let’s go.
It changed my life, as I think international travel tends to do. I will always think fondly of my year traveling around China and Southeast Asia, and in some ways I think it helped me understand Dan’s story a little better – someone with a mom from Iowa and a dad from London, born in Britain and raised in Africa most definitely had a unique perspective on the people of this world. I hoped I had gotten even an 1/8th of this perspective in my travels. When I returned to the US, it was time to figure things out again. I remembered my plan to start a magazine, but it didn’t seem realistic. I applied for jobs and began waitressing and working at the local newspaper in the town my parents now lived, Decorah, just 12 miles from where I grew up. Then, with a little help from an editor (thanks, Rick), my soul mate fell in my lap. (That story will have to come in a later blog).
Meeting Benji changed my life, as I suppose meeting your soul mate tends to do. I told him my idea about a magazine on our first date, and he said something so simple yet so perfect. “Let’s do it.” Just more than one year later, we got married. One month after that, the first issue of Inspire(d) Magazine rolled off the press.
The plan was still the same – tell stories of real people who are affecting change in some way – but the scope was modified slightly and perfectly. Instead of the massive task of inspiring the world, the nation, or even the state, we wanted to inspire our neighbors. These people wouldn’t be just “real,” they would be your friends, family, co-workers. And if they can do something good in this world, why can’t you?