I CALL THEM "EARTH ANGELS".
I believe in Earth-Angels. My life has been a series of connect-the-dots and, each time I listen to the little voice inside, another Angel appears to guide me, to connect me with the next dot. My book is filled with Angels. Just like my number-one Angel—my father—my Angels are impossible to forget:
My fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Mabel Moore, placed the Geography Book in my hands on the last day of school. At the time, I was nine years old, yet my wise teacher realized the seriousness of my fascination. As if anointed to be the Architect of my Fate, Ms. Moore encouraged me to continue the Dream by issuing this challenge: “Grow up, finish school, then go to China and travel The Great Wall. Find all the answers—to all the questions—I couldn’t answer; discover the many secrets hidden there by its builders. You will be responsible for sharing your Great Wall Experience with the World.” My teacher made it sound so easy....like riding a bus across town.
Forty years later, when the complicated plans were finalized and I was just two weeks away from the first-ever journey of The Great Wall of China—I reunited with Ms. Moore. I found her in a welfare nursing home. Reduced to a wheelchair and barely able to move, she responded to my voice by slowly raising her head and looking in my direction. Weak and unable to speak above a whisper, she said, “Oh, Sally, it’s really you. A sweet nurse read me the article about your plans to travel China’s Wall. I never forgot how you loved that Wall. I’m so happy and I promise to be with you each step of the way.” I hugged the fragile body and marveled at the still-vibrant mind of my long-ago teacher. The goodbyes were touching, and also teary. I promised to call her when I finished my journey.
Seven months later, after completing All The Wall (the official name of my adventure), I returned to Beijing. I could hardly wait to call the nursing home and share the news of my Great Wall journey with Ms. Moore. The nursing home receptionist, recognizing my voice, placed me on hold. The next voice I heard was that of the facility’s director. With deep sadness I learned Ms. Moore, my inspiring fourth-grade teacher, had “slipped away” during her sleep. I asked exactly when she died. Then---I learned it was the very day I completed my Great Wall Adventure and….I wasn’t surprised. Like finishing the final chapter of a book, I felt satisfied; at peace. Ms. Moore didn’t need to hear about my complicated journey. Faithful to her promise, she’d been with me—each step of the way.
Follow-Up: And, my daddy was also with me on my Great Wall Journey. His death, almost three years before my Great Wall Adventure, appeared to end any chance that his thoughts would be with me as I traveled China’s Great Wall. But fate, leaving nothing to chance, chose me as the person to receive the clothes my father was wearing—including his shoes and socks—when hospital attendants placed him in a hospital gown. Twenty hours later, my father was dead. Naturally, my mother insisted I return his clothes so she got everything in his pockets. Somehow, she forgot to ask about his socks. But it didn't matter. I had no intention of giving them to her.
Almost three years later, when I started my Great Wall Journey at Jiayuquan—and, seven months later, ended it at Shanhaiquan— my father was with me. Next to my skin and covered by thick jogging socks, I wore the last pair of socks my daddy had worn on his feet. I made sure my daddy traveled The Great Wall of China with me—each step of the way.