Mar. 21, 2022

MY TEACHER--MY HERO, THE REASON I BELIEVE IN MYSELF.

 In 1990, I became the first woman to travel the length of The Great Wall of China. I finished my journey in winter, when snow made it extremely-difficult to travel because it was impossible to see what lay hidden below the snow’s frozen white crust. Each winter, my thoughts take me back to The Wall, back to being alone on China's most magnificent and ancient--man-made structure. And-- I always remember Ms. Mabel Moore-- my fourth grade teacher who totally-believed in me and my Great Wall Dream.

On the last day of school, Ms. Moore placed the much-loved Geography Book in my hands. At the time-- I was nine years old-- yet my wise teacher realized the seriousness of my Great Wall Obsession. As if anointed to be the Architect of my Fate-- Ms. Moore encouraged me to pursue My 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. Remember, you-alone will be responsible for sharing your Great Wall Experience with the World.” My teacher made it sound so easy--like riding a city 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, my teacher 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 newspaper article about Chinese Leaders’ granting permission for you to travel China’s Wall.

I never forgot how you loved that Wall. I’m so happy for you and-- I promise to be with you each step of the way.” I hugged my teacher’s fragile body and marveled at the still-vibrant mind of my long-ago friend.

Our goodbye was touching and very-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. Recognizing my voice, the nursing home receptionist 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 the exact day she died. When I learned Ms. Moore died the very day I completed my Great Wall Adventure--I wasn’t surprised.

Like finishing the final mile of my journey-- I felt satisfied and-- at peace. Ms. Moore didn’t need to hear about my Journey. Faithful to her promise, she’d been with me—each step of the way."

"The Great Wall of China inspired me as a child, challenged me as an adult, and empowered me as a woman.”  Sally Miller