This edition of ‘A world of inspiration‘ is brought to you by the late Evelyn Hannon, better known to most of us as Journey Woman. Evelyn was the founder and chief editor of JourneyWoman.com, the world’s largest online travel resource for women, and was once named as ‘one of the 100 innovative thinkers of this new century’ by TIME magazine. Evelyn shares with us a compelling story of an American student she met during an extraordinary voyage around the world. It also shows that inspiration can be found all around us and that we do not have to be remarkable, fabulous or famous people in order to inspire others.
Her Generosity of Spirit
I’ve been introduced to some pretty incredible women as I’ve traveled the world. In Ireland I met fabulous Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In India, the volunteers in Mother Theresa’s orphanage walked away with my heart, in a London bookshop I chatted with famous American feminist, Gloria Steinem. These women were all role models I’d admired long before we stood face to face. I ‘expected’ to be inspired by them.
I never expected to be inspired by Mary, the attractive American student, forty-seven years my junior whom I met at sea.
We were both on board the MV Explorer, a ‘university’ ship circumnavigating the globe, carrying 750 students along with their teaching staff in a program called, Semester At Sea. The ship sailed for twelve weeks with stops in 14 cities in four continents. As a reporter I’d been invited on board for half the journey and was expected to leave the ship in India.
A week before we arrived in the port of Chennai, 23 year old student, Mary surprised me with her offer.
‘I want you to stay for the full journey. Please share my cabin. I have an extra bed.’
‘Why would you want an extra person in your cabin, especially someone your grandmother’s age?,’ I countered.
‘You should experience the full journey’, she said matter-of-factly.
How could I resist? I took Mary up on her kind offer yet it was with a great deal of trepidation. After all, we hardly knew each other. Would she regret her decision by journey’s end?
I needn’t have worried. Mary gave up half her cabin space along with her full privacy and never ever complained. Not once.
Living in close quarters with others you learn a lot about them. We talked well into the night about her love of medicine and her desire to help those less fortunate than herself.
As I saw it, Mary’s generosity was overwhelming, not only to me but to many others on the ship. While her peers were on deck sunbathing and flirting with each other, Mary was volunteering in the infirmary, helping the staff and lightening their load. As the MV Explorer took us to India, Vietnam, Japan and China, Mary joined some of the ship’s excursions to local hospitals where she, again, charmed patients and orphans in her own quiet way.
One day I came back to our cabin to find my roommate in tears. She’d just learned that her mother had undergone serious surgery. Mary was ready to fly home but her wise mother asked her to stay on and complete the journey. I witnessed first-hand the strength this young woman mustered as she offered mom encouragement from afar.
There is a belief in Japan that if you have a special wish, you need to fold 1000 origami cranes and by the time you finish this task, your wish will be granted. Mary made such an impression on her shipmates during our voyage that other students came forward to help her fold these cranes and together they asked for a return of her mother’s good health.
It’s been a year since we sailed around the world together. My young friend recently came to visit before she enters medical school. Her mother is well and Mary is excited about beginning the healing work we both know she’ll love. I remain inspired by her altruism, quiet strength and large-heartedness. It was my good fortune to meet her.
About this week’s guest writer
In 1982 (at age 42) when few women were doing it Evelyn Hannon put a backpack on and went out into the world solo. An early adaptor on the web, in 1997 she began telling her travel stories online on Journeywoman.com. Now approaching 70 she is considered the guru of ‘how to’ in women’s travel. Her mandate is to inspire women of all ages and at all stages of their lives to travel safety and well, and to connect female travelers around the world. TIME Magazine named her ‘one of the 100 innovative thinkers of this new century’ for the work she does on behalf of ‘women travelers.’