What is Your Legacy?

I haven’t written here in awhile because sometimes I let the daily concerns of life take over my muse.  I have always been a worrier, an old soul, and well, just too sensitive for my own good.  You see, my mother is aging rapidly and I can’t bear to imagine my life without her.  A very special woman recently asked me what my mother is like.  After I listed all her incredible traits and selfless ways, she exhaled slowly and said, “Yes, I am feeling her strong light.  It’s the same light I see in you.  Even though you and your mother are very different people, she has bestowed her light on your life; the very thing that keeps you out of the darkness.  In fact, you told me that no matter how hard things were for you in your life, it’s that positive light that shot you above the fray at any moment in time.” This woman helped me see that my mother’s legacy will remain in me forever; and that when she leaves this earth, her light will always show me the way.

Then I got to thinking about my own legacy.  What will I leave to those who go on without me?  Proudly, I look back on 36 years of devoting my life to educating America’s children.  The first thing I see is my dedication.  I never gave up on a child.  Ever.  Even the most difficult child had something to teach me; and I hope, vice-versa.  The second thing I see is my passion for life.  Because I live each moment to its fullest, I like to think that enthusiasm rubbed off on a few people in my sphere.  So many memories flood my mind of the times I laughed and created new ways to see the world with my students.  Thirdly, I am most proud of what my fourth graders wrote in their end-of-the-year essays, those papers I cherish.  A few reoccurring sentences sum up what I meant to leave the children each and every year that I taught:  “Mrs. Kato taught me the importance of education.  Only an education can open the doors of possibilities.”  (I drummed those words into their pretty little heads until they memorized them.)  I never had my own children, but I will never forget the children who were sent to be in my life, if only for a season.

I believe it’s important for every human being to ascertain their meaning in this life.  We only have one, and there are no rehearsals.  Any action, large or small, that you have created in this life to do something kind for someone else is a huge legacy to leave your children, who will in turn, leave for mankind.  I also believe that one sacred aspect of aging is the ability to look back on a life well-lived and not regret the mistakes.  Every part of one’s life adds up to the greater picture:  what makes you an individual, like no one else.  I guess what I’m asking is, “Have you thought about your legacy?”





A Quick Way to Gain Confidence- Travel Alone

I began travelling alone when I was nineteen.  When my friend, Risa, left me in Europe to begin her Kibbutz life in Israel, I was left alone to finish two weeks in Europe.  Thus, began my love affair with my solo adventures.  After the initial fear of having to free fall in a foreign country, I learned some valuable lessons about myself that have helped me navigate my life.

When I had to find modes of transportation to get to my next destination, I learned to ask for help.  I was so used to relying on Risa, who loved to plan trips, I simply let her take-over so I could simply enjoy the ride.  Asking for help in a hotel or travel office, proved that common sense was my most reliable skill.  Once, I learned how to navigate in my current environ, that opened me up to memorable adventures I wouldn’t have had with fellow travelers.  My confidence grew with each destination, giving me an exhilarating feeling of exploration.  Nothing makes me feel more in the now than being alone on my own journey.

I learned that it’s very important to heed your intuitions.  Just like animals in the forest, we humans must rely on our senses to detect danger.  If a person or a place gave me an odd feeling, I trusted that feeling and fled to a safe haven.  I learned not to feel badly about saying, “No.”

Being alone heightens the senses.  Survival is all about focusing on sounds, sight, smell, taste and touch.  This goes without saying as an alert person is much safer than one who isn’t alert- the perfect prey for any seasoned hunter.  I use all my senses to create when I am alone on my travels.  For example, if I were with a friend, I wouldn’t notice the changing colors in the sky or the varied sounds of laughter in a new place.  These simple pleasures have added so much to my writing and have given me such an appreciation for life, wherever I am.

Being alone in a foreign land, makes it easier to meet the local folk.  So many wonderful people have invited me into their lives; many of those folks are people I still actively know.  I do not believe we can truly learn about another culture unless we experience local customs.

I continue to travel alone as much as possible because I leave familiar things and people behind.  When I do leave my life, I open myself up to new experiences.  These new experiences make me feel young, current and valid.  When we can give ourselves these feelings of worth, then we don’t need to give up our self-control to others.  We maintain our sense of self and move around in the world with a confidence to tackle any obstacle in a new land and in our own lives, as well.

Look Back to Move Forward- A Confidence Builder

I attended a new writing group last night.  One of our exercises was to free write for 20 minutes.  The theme was to confront your inner critic-that voice that keeps us from achieving our goals/dreams.  My conversation was how my wise side would counsel and encourage the side of me that doubts my writing.  I received some feedback that perhaps I didn’t dig deep enough to confront a more self-denigrating voice; that is, that voice in our own heads that tells us we aren’t good enough.

I discovered an amazing truth about myself and my process.  That negative voice that drove me to push through my life on my own is completely gone.  In its place is a more softened version of myself; in its place is something I call wisdom.  I also realized that how we process difficult times in our lives is how we grow fully into our actualized selves when all the hardships are behind us.  We either become better versions or we wither under our own negativity.  I chose to be the better version from the time my father left when I was nine.  I even remember saying to my nine-year-old self, “You don’t need your father to do well in school and become somebody.  Show him that you are strong and won’t let his actions affect how you live your own life.”  As it turned out, my father never understood what it was to be a good father before he died young.  I always knew it was not my fault that he was a flawed human being.  And I have learned to forgive him.

I am not one to look back and beat myself up for any mistakes I made in my life because I tried to learn from them and move on.  However, in last night’s exercise, I learned that I am the strong woman I always wanted to be because of my past and the choices I made to turn my attitude from fear to self-empowerment.  Then a simpler truth hit me between the eyes, a truth I want to pass on to you:

Look back on your life and assess how far you have come.  Look back on your childhood hurts and see how you moved beyond to live a productive life now.  Pat yourself on the back and say, “Wow, I have worked hard to be a vibrant, happy person who loves my life.  I am a warrior, a survivor, and a very self-empowered human being.”  Now, read closely this parting thought and don’t forget it:  “I  did all this myself and no one, I repeat, no one can ever take away the power that is I.  I have all it takes within myself to make my life meaningful, productive and happy.”  And this is where I drop the microphone and say, “BAM.”

Confidence Can Even Come From The Universe

When I refer to the ‘universe’ as a concept in which to gain confidence, I really mean use all of your senses.  There have been so, so many instances in my life when I thought I had been dealt bad luck, only to find out that something better was yet to come.  I called it bad luck at the time because I didn’t use my senses to pick up on why I wasn’t ‘a winner’ in that situation.  When in reality, I didn’t attain a certain goal/prize/job because it wasn’t meant for me in the first place.  It helped that I was raised with the philosophy that everything happens for a reason.  The universe, to me, is when I connect everything around me to an event in my life.  It is something that is out of my hand, yet I know it’s directly related to my journey in life.  The following example may help to clear up what I am trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to convey.

In the year 2000, I applied for a job to consult at the state level.  I was in need of a change in education and thought it would be fun to work in the field for teachers.  If I were hired, I would be guaranteed my position back in the district after two years in the field.  I felt prepared on so many levels.  Several state administrators interviewed me in a panel forum, but I felt confident and self-assured because I passed the verbal and written portion of the exam with flying colors.  I was leaving for Costa Rica the next week, but the job wouldn’t start until the fall.  They assured me that I would receive a letter within a week or two.

Every day that I was in Costa Rica, I emailed my husband for any news.  Nothing.  Then one afternoon, when I was in an internet café, my husband attached the rejection letter.  It was a nice form letter, with no clue as to why I wasn’t hired.  I was crestfallen.  In that moment, a young barista brought me a cup of tea because he saw that I was upset.  When I looked up into that boy’s kind brown eyes, I felt a shift occur.  Like some kind of mystical experience due to a shaman’s secret elixir, it all became clear to me.  I wasn’t meant to get that job.  I was meant for something not yet known.  I dried my tears, hugged the young man, finished my tea, and walked out feeling like a new woman.

When I returned home, there was a fourth grade bilingual position open in the district.  I had been studying Spanish and really wanted to work with the Latino population in our area.  There it was.  Waiting just for me.  I worked in that position for 13 years before I retired.  Within those 13 years, my life was blessed beyond my expectations.  I can’t imagine not teaching those children or knowing their families.  I wouldn’t have written my children’s book or started my mentoring program.  I wouldn’t have made all my magical trips to Mexico and I wouldn’t have known so many incredible people.  I thank the Universe (also God to me) every day for the opportunities that do or do not come my way.  I am confident that my journey is crafted solely for me.






Genetics-Another Component of a Confident Life

I have always been a fierce human being.  Even as a child, I was never afraid of anything.  My mother said I came out of the womb ready to take on the world.  My imagination would take me to many worlds when I thought about the people who atavistically made me; that is, my ancestors beyond the grandparents and great-grandparents I knew growing up.  I knew that on my mother’s side, there was a plethora of strong pioneer women; on my father’s side, his Pechanga Indian grandmother married a French man, and from there they left a legacy of vineyards in the Riverside town of Temecula.  One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t interview my maternal grandmother about her life in detail before she passed over 10 years ago.  I simply picked up bits and pieces of her incredible life through conversations as I grew.  I am so thankful for the copious notes she left for me to find family on Ancestry sites.  My father died young.  Unfortunately, the closeness I yearned for would never come to pass as I imagined it would in my later years.  Again, his mother, my paternal grandmother, left boxes of stories and letters from which I have pieced together her incredibly colorful life.  From her, I inherited my penchant for writing.

The one thing I do know about my heritage:  I came by my independence, ergo confidence, naturally.  On both sides of my family tree, my ancestors were immigrants, pioneers, and native Americans who worked hard to make their way in America.  In short, they were, and are, survivors.

My mother is the oldest of fifteen children.  Her father, a Spaniard, had three children with her mother, then they divorced.  He remarried and had twelve more children.  Within the past two years, we have connected with a few of her half-siblings (many passed on early or live far away).  My life has been enriched immensely to have my aunts and uncles back in my life.  They will be sacred ties when my mother passes because most are my age or younger; and, their loving spirits are akin to the limitless love my mother gave to us.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs reached out to my brother and me within the past few years.  We are heirs to Indian land that our paternal great-grandmother owned.  There are sixteen direct descendants in line to share the proceeds should the Pechanga tribe wish to buy our parcels.  I am thrilled to have a federal Indian number.  I have already begun a young adult novel about the life of an adolescent Pechanga girl who changes the rules for Indian women in the 1880’s.

It is no accident that I was born to run through life with wild abandon, drinking up the waters of wisdom passed down to me from a lineage rife with people who lived their dreams off of the sweat of their own brows.  I have always felt that I was more than what my parents and grandparents contributed to my genetic make-up.  I heard the whispers of ancestors in my night dreams as a child and they are speaking to me louder than ever as I age.  I know they won’t stop until I write the stories.