On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
Usually, my hiking companion picks the day and time for our hike, sets the pace, and determines the turn around point. But for the 35th hike of the year, my hiking buddy, Ligia Teodorovici, graciously granted me the honor. That’s how it came to pass that I met Ligia at the Appalachian Trailhead in Smithsburg, Maryland at 8 a.m. on a hot and humid Sunday morning. With an early morning start, I was hoping we could beat the heat and humidity (we didn’t) and that I could get home in time to eat, shower, pack and leave for the beach by 1:30 to celebrate my 64th birthday (I did!)
Having not seen Ligia in many years, I jumped out of my car, gave her a big hug, and said, “I can’t believe I haven’t seen you in 8 years!” Ligia replied, “Well I’ve seen you. I attended the Business Pitch Competition at Hagerstown Community College when you pitched Prime Time for Women in 2018. I loved it. You were great and I have been following Prime Time for Women ever since.” Wow…how unexpected and wonderfully validating! Thank you, Ligia for making my day!
It was super fun to catch up with Ligia, who I first met in 2013. Back in the day, Ligia worked as a social worker for the Department of Social Services, and I was the Community Outreach Coordinator for Hospice of Washington County. We worked together on several programs designed to support families so that children could remain in their homes. I hosted the events while Ligia presented the content. I remember thinking, “Ligia is so darn competent!” It was amazing to watch her do her thing. With compassion and understanding, she managed to address the concerns of participants while conveying a sense of optimism and hope. As we walked and talked, I was not surprised in the least to learn that Ligia, still at DSS, is now the Director of Kinship Care where she supervises and guides a team of social workers committed to advocating for vulnerable children.
Having known Ligia only through work it was super fun to learn about who she is and what she loves outside of the important work that she does. As we crossed the field of wildflowers, I asked Ligia about her family. She talked about her two children, Eden and Connor, of whom she’s exceedingly proud. Her daughter, Eden, who is starting the college application process, is a senior and top-notch student in the International Baccalaureate Program at North Hagerstown High School. Her son, Connor, just got his drivers permit and is looking forward to studying computers at the CISCO IT Academy at Tech High. I remember those days of assisting my kids with college applications and white knuckling the arm rest of the passenger seat as they practiced driving. I know Ligia is up for the challenge…but I’m still going to pray for her!
The woods were wet, and the air was HUMID due the recent storm the day before! There weren’t many wildflowers, but we did see Queen Ann’s Lace on the edge of the trail and in the powerline field. Mostly we saw lots of mushrooms and marveled at their diversity. Some were teeny tiny white ball on stalks so slender they appeared to be floating in thin air and others looked exactly like Smurf houses!
After taking Ligia’s photo by the lichen-covered rock wall, she stood perfectly still, concentrating on the sounds, sights and smells around her. Ligia, who is an active member of Girls Who Hike, loves that the leader of this group, Charissa Hip, leads a meditation on each monthly outing. As we stood there in the quiet woods, we heard a piliated woodpecker, felt the humidity, smelled the moist ground beneath us and noted the different colors of lichen on the wall. Then Ligia said, “You can even taste nature.” Meditation is a skill and like all skills it takes consistent practice. Honestly, I didn’t taste anything but, like Ligia, I’m going to try to be more mindful and embrace the practice of intentionally using all my senses to appreciate the natural world more fully. I love learning from the amazing women I get to hike with!
It was super humid…did I already mention that? Crossing the powerline field, we could see the moisture hanging in the air, our own personal cloud! Despite the humidity and the fact that Ligia was breaking in new hiking boots, she decided to continue down the trail. As we hiked, Ligia talked about her desire to get fit in both mind and body, which she said led to her decision to work with Tina Fraley, the owner of FitMinded Living. According to Ligia, Tina’s strong background in fitness and mental health and the fact that Tina has navigated the same path that Ligia is now travelling, makes Tina the perfect guide. With Tina’s encouragement and support, Ligia is striving to be physically active and eat healthfully every day. More importantly, Ligia is learning a lot about self-care and self-love. As Ligia said, “I am working toward my goals without striving for perfection and I am retraining my brain to stay positive.”
Ligia’s story reminded me of a similar lesson I learned 44 years ago. At 19 years of age my mother said, “Bernadette Marie (and when she called me by my whole name, I knew I had better listen), you are always going to have a weight problem. Don’t wait to love yourself until you reach some ideal weight. Love yourself right now!” That simple affirmation that I was lovable just as I was changed my mindset forever. I stopped weighing myself and started loving myself. I stopped dieting and started eating three meals every day. I stopped eating on the fly and gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted if I sat at the table. I sometimes wonder if my mother knew what a gift she had given me! When we reached the spot where the tree angles across the trail, Ligia confidently and proudly struck the “strong woman” pose. There’s no doubt that Ligia has the strength it takes to achieve her goals. With support and encouragement and her newfound tools of self-love, gratitude and living in the moment there’s just no stopping her!
We made our way down to the stream at Warner Hollow. Once there, we took some photos and a much-needed rest. We both knew we would have to walk back faster on the return trip because Ligia was going to attend the funeral of a dear friend later in the day. We wound up talking about grief and loss and sharing personal stories that touched our hearts. We also shared tears and hugs, with the hope of halving the pain and doubling the support. Sharing our grief felt comforting in a way. I’m not much of a scholar but in the moment, I fully understood the words written by William Shakespeare, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
Of course, what goes down must come up! “Uh Oh” said Ligia as we trudged back up the steep incline, “this is going to be tougher than I thought.” Luckily Ligia had two things to help her back up the hill…lots of water to drink and me providing endless chatter to distract her from the difficulty of the task ahead. I told her all about Prime Time for Women’s upcoming fundraiser, The Grandma Gatewood Hike. Then I blabbed for a long time about Total Immersion Swimming, my latest exercise routine, which under normal circumstances would have probably put Ligia to sleep.
As I was running out of things to talk about, I asked Ligia all kinds of questions about her childhood. Ligia is a first-generation immigrant from Romania who grew up in Clear Spring, Maryland. Her parents are industrious, hard-working people who successfully navigated a new culture and mastered a second language all while raising three children and working outside the home. After moving to the U.S., her father, who had been a large animal veterinarian in Romania, first managed an orchard and later worked for the Department of Agriculture as an animal inspector. Her mother, previously a nurse in Romania, attended Hagerstown Junior College, received her RN degree and then obtained a job as a nurse. Ligia understands, from first-hand experience, the struggles immigrants face today. We agreed that regardless of where people are from, what language they speak or the color of their skin, everyone wants the same basic things: acceptance, good health, and the freedom to pursue their dreams.
Ligia ran out of water and was starting to run out of gas! I was confident Ligia could make it, but she made me a little nervous when she said, “I feel like I can’t breathe.” Yikes, I thought, this isn’t good. Ligia reassured me, “I’m not short of breath, it’s just that the air is so moist I feel like I’m drowning. I just need some more water.” I could hear the cars on the road, so I knew we were close to the end of our hike. Still trying to distract her, I pulled out one of my favorite questions, “Hey Ligia, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?” “Hmmmm,” she thought, “Two things: First, listen to your mother and second, know it is not your job to rescue everyone or to be everything to anyone.” There was so much wisdom in her words I knew there must be a long and interesting story to go along with this advice. But I didn’t ask any more questions because Ligia really did need some water. I left her on the trail, ran back to my car for another bottle of water and then met Ligia as she triumphantly exited the woods! I’m not sure but I may have heard “We Are the Champions” blaring from the sky above! Or perhaps I was just imagining it. Either way, Ligia accomplished her goal and inspired me in the process! Thanks, Ligia…on our next hike, we’ll pick up the story where we left off!