I tried to shout her name, but all I could squeak out was a raspy whisper.
Was I dreaming? Was I awake? I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that about four hours earlier, we (The U.S. Women’s National Team) had emergency landed in Cheng Du, China due to a mechanical problem with our plane. The airport was closed and we were not allowed to stay there until the airline could resolve the problem the next morning. There was no ground transportation, so all twenty or so of us grabbed our personal bags and our equipment bags and headed out of the airport on foot about three quarters of a mile to the hotel.
Even at two in the morning, I found myself cracking jokes to ease the anxiety of walking through what seemed to be some sort of red light district to what seemed to be the abandoned wreckage of a ghost hotel. The doors and lobby were gutted wide open and the staff was a skeleton crew, if that. Seemed fitting since we shuffled and ambled our way from the empty, dusty road right through the front opening of the building. Zombies. Not looking for flesh, but for a soft bed and a few hours of shut eye.
We pair up, get our keys and find our rooms. No need for a shower or a change of clothes. No need to brush our teeth. Without bottled water, it’s too risky to rinse from the tap. We settle onto the top layer of covers and manage to fall asleep. If even for an hour.
I wake suddenly in a panic. I sense that someone is in our room. That weird eerie feeling you get when someone is watching you, but you can’t see them. But I see something. From behind the drapes, I see a figure. The drapes move ever so slightly and I can hear sounds from the outside. We are on the bottom floor of the “hotel” and suddenly I realize that our window (that was once closed) is now open giving access to the vagrants just outside our room.
“Salima!” I say one last time.
“What?” she finally whispers back.
I point in the direction of the window and we both realize that no one is dreaming. We are in Cheng Du, China and there is someone in our room. Behind the curtain.
My heart is racing and my muscles are all hot and twitchy. I grab the nearest weapon, which happens to be a running shoe, and take aim. I cock my arm back and launch the shoe at top speed right at the curtain. I pick up the second shoe and take another shot. Direct hit. The curtain moves wildly and something scampers out the window and down the short wall to the ground.
About five minutes later, we move our petrified bodies over to the curtain to discover that the window is indeed open. We grab our bags, knock on our coaches door and sit in the hall for the remainder of the night.
Why do I tell this story? I tell this story because there are people who tell the stories and there are people who write the stories. We need both kinds of people. I like to tell my stories. Most of the time, I tell my stories because it’s the easiest. I know my stories. I know my life and I know my process. It comes naturally.
But something I have been incredibly humbled by is getting to tell other people’s stories. I usually am not the one who knows the whole story or much of the back story, but it is a huge honor for me to get to tell even just a bit of someone’s story. To give their story words, wings. To send that bit of struggle, that bit of triumph, that bit of growth or resolution out into the world is a complete honor.
I never get tired of people who reveal themselves in story. I never get tired of hearing people share their stories. I never grow weary of knowing that opening up and talking about the hard stuff gives us power. We talk about the scary stuff, we reveal the things we think are too much for other people and we discover that when we shine light on those areas, they no longer have power over us. We can be released from their grip and then….
Then, we can begin to share our power with others and shine light into their lives too. Our power comes from our pain.
I am honored to tell stories. My greatest joy comes not from telling my own stories, but from telling the stories of others.
Stay tuned for more stories of courageous people who share their lives and their stories with me.
Categories: Volleyball Life