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I was thirty-six years old when I shaved my head and announced I was going to South Africa, alone.

Some called me a hot shit, others called me nuts, but most if not all remarked that they admired my courage on both counts.

I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and visiting Benson’s Wild Animal Farm – a short car trip away, so the seed of my desire to see Africa someday, was planted very early. The older I got, the more this desire grew.

But like a bonsai tree, the seed was planted in too small a container. It was cared for and nurtured, but its roots were stunted and its branches were pruned, so it never had a chance to reach its full potential.

Until one otherwise ordinary day in early summer two thousand and five.

For whatever reason, that was the day something shifted and split my stunted tree of desire down the middle like a peach tree overbearing fruit, collapsing under its own weight. Something was telling me it was do or die time, and I couldn’t bear to watch my lifelong dream lay there dying still ripe with possibilities.

I made up my mind and committed to making it happen. I was determined to do something worthwhile somewhere in Africa, so I got to work researching volunteering opportunities. I’d been saving my Christmas bonuses for ten years, and I finally had the funds. I was as ready as I would ever be.

I settled on volunteering at a private reserve in South Africa. My “job” would be to help monitor their lion population. I would be working alongside other volunteers from around the world gathering and reporting vital information for the protection and preservation of lions. My wildest dreams were about to come true. I envisioned myself a twenty-first century Joy Adamson who alongside Jane Goodall, was my idol and a role model for me from a very young age.

In these pictures, the vet had just darted the dominant male, Inkanya, so that he could attend to a potentially serious wound I had noticed the day before on our drive.

When I first arrived in Africa, I had an overwhelming inexplicable feeling I was coming home. On that day, while holding this wild lion’s paw in my hand, I had an overwhelming feeling of no longer being in my body. For the briefest of moments, I was this lion; his paw was my paw pounding the red earth, born free and running free.

When I then placed my hand on his side and felt the rise and fall of each inhale and exhale it became impossible for me to breathe. I only realized I was holding my breath when a few errant tears escaped flowing freely down my face, causing me to come back into my body to wipe them away.

I was moved to tears on a daily basis while there because I never wanted to leave. I was living my dream and I never wanted to wake up. I couldn’t bear the thought of knowing it would all be over too soon.

Weeks after returning home there would come a day when I would catch my husband staring at me and ask, “What?”

He would shake his head almost imperceptively and say, “Nothing. You’re just still not home yet are you?”

“To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.” -David Whyte Consolations

Maybe that’s why it never felt like my traveling alone to Africa was something that required courage. I was never afraid, so I didn’t think of myself as being brave. The only real courage it took was to return home knowing that I would most likely never return.

Same with me buzzing off all my hair before I left. I had shoulder length hair at the time so several people remarked on how much courage it must have taken to do something like that, but honestly, I just felt like it would be a cool thing to try at least once in my life. I figured what the hell, I was going to Africa, so the timing felt perfect. I knew it would grow back, so I wasn’t afraid. The only time I felt like I needed a little shot of courage was when I’d catch someone looking at me with pity, assuming I lost my hair to chemo, and I’d feel it my duty to let this stranger know that was not the case.

It wasn’t until recently when I started writing this blog, or more to the point when I started publishing this blog, that I ever felt the need to summon genuine courage.

I don’t read the words in David Whyte’s wonderful book until the prior week’s post is finished and published and I am free to move on and open the next invitation, letting the next word have its way with me.

“To be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.” -David Whyte Consolations

I’m never more so than when diving into the deep end in search of sunken treasures, hauling long-buried stories to the surface for closer examination to see what if anything is of any value.

I am writing about things I fear, about things that disturb me, about things I’ve previously been unwilling to speak about knowing it will hurt, not just myself but perhaps others. But I am willing to risk it. I am willing to be split open if it means something I say might be of benefit to someone else.

When I imagine I’m only writing these essays for strangers to read, the fear evaporates, and the writing suddenly requires no more courage than pulling out a sliver. But knowing that my family and friends are reading what amounts to my diary, requires the kind of courage needed to jump out of a plane in a hail storm or run with the bulls wearing a red cape.

So far I haven’t had much feedback from strangers about my blog, but many people I know and love have expressed kind words of support and encouragement which must be replenishing my dwindling supply of it because right now it’s what’s keeping me going.

For some reason, I had it in my head that with each blog post I published I would become less afraid and feel less vulnerable, and to some degree I do. But since not everyone I know has been as encouraging, I’m still terrified every time I hit “publish” knowing once I do there’s no going back and I must live with the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.

My parents have known about my new blog for weeks now and either they have decided not to read them, or they have, and they decided not to reach out to me. I could easily find out, of course. All I have to do is pick up the phone and reach out to them instead. So now I find myself asking, then why haven’t I?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself every day, and I still have no good answer. Except to say that I feel so exposed and so vulnerable, too vulnerable, that I fear I may be hurt in the process.

As long as I don’t reach out to ask what they think about it, about me, then I can continue to supply acceptable excuses for them.

I’m sure they’ve just been too busy to check it out, or maybe the computer hasn’t been working right, or they can’t get the page to load, or maybe there are problems with the internet being down. Who knows?

What I do know is once I make that call, once I know for sure, I fear I may be paralyzed by what I hear.

Maybe it’s better not to know. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Or maybe I need to dig a little deeper and find the courage to find out.

“On the inside we come to know who and what and how we love and what we can do to deepen that love; only from the outside and only looking back, does it look like courage.” -David Whyte Consolations

I know who I love, what I love and how I love. And I know what I can do to deepen that love – its the part that requires me to keep writing. Because it’s true, from the outside looking back, it does look like courage.

And, more importantly, it feels like courage. It feels like the first crucial step up the mountain, and I aim to get to the top no matter how hard and treacherous the climb.

I may stumble and fall, but I will get back up and keep getting back up until I make it to the summit. From there I’ll be able to look back at my life with pride.

A few weeks after I’d returned home, I learned that Inkanya had died. My new friend from England who was still in South Africa had written to tell me that he was killed while trying to escape the seventy-thousand plus acre reserve. He had broken his neck while attempting to jump the too high fence in his bid to be completely free.

Inkanya was no cowardly lion. He courageously followed his heart even as it ended his life.

I guess I will have to summon some of that same courage and pick up the phone.




About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

12 Replies

  1. Linda

    I love you Amy. Please don’t be afraid. We all Love You♥️♥️♥️

    1. Thank so much for your unwavering support, Linda! Love you!

  2. Jeff

    You are one of the most courageous people I know to be writing this blog! Keep up the great work! Love you!!

    1. I could never do this without your support, your encouragement and your love, Jeff. Thank you. I love you!

  3. Sharon

    I am so proud of you Amy. You have touched my heart, my soul, my mind, and my intellect. How beautifully courageous that not only are you speaking your truth but sharing it with strangers, as well as family and friends. You have taken a tremendous risk. I believe, wholeheartedly, that it’s a risk worth taking. In the end, growth, love, and beauty will be the outcome. By sharing your stories and who you are, the future will be brighter for your family, as well as for the families of strangers. Love you dearly. Your soul sister. Sharon

    1. Thank you so much, Sharon. This means more to me than you know. Love you dearly, too, soul sister! -Amy

  4. BettyAnn

    I am reading each of your blog posts with amazement of your courage. I’m sure sharing your feelings are very therapeutic for you, but also for me. Thank you for your openness and honesty. You are an inspration. ❤

    1. Thank you so much, Betty Ann. My goal with this blog is to help people see that we’re all in this together, so if my words help people in some small way, then that means everything to me. Love you!!

  5. Jessica Harmon

    I love your courage. I keep thinking I should do something similar and always find excuses not to. But you have started and you are awesome! I am eager to continue reading your posts. You are not alone and you are loved!

    1. Hi, Jessica! Thanks so much for your kind words of encouragement, love you too!

  6. Betsy

    Amy you are a great writer! You are brave and fierce and I couldn’t stop reading. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Thank you so much, Betsy! That really means a lot to me!

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