The only piece of advice I have given others that I have ever taken myself has been to always have a big dream and a simple plan. This always carries the caveat that at any point either or both can change, but never for a moment be without both.

The scariest moments of my life have been those when I realized I had neither.

After I escaped that forsaken mountaintop in France and returned to Cambodia six years ago, I was broke, and I was broken. I had exactly $14 to my name, I was unemployed, and if I am honest, I began to suspect my dream of sharing my life with my then betrothed was never to be.

The only certainty I had in my life was the trust and faith my adoptive Cambodian family still has in me. I could afford neither the luxury of dreaming nor the time to plan. I hit the ground running, and I did what I needed to do. Within little time, days in fact, I was working again. I said yes to everything, and soon I was able to take care of myself and those who had taken care of me. 

I was so busy, in fact, I wasn’t able to realize something vital was missing. Anytime students, as they do, asked me for guidance, I repeated that sage advice that has always served me so well, but each time I warned them to never be without the big dream and the simple plan, a little reflection of a voice in the back of my head asked, “But what about your dreams and plans?”

I remember the specific day Leni came into my life and changed everything about me. It was my 40th birthday, January 24th, 2011. Within seconds of locking eyes with the tiny, two-year-old riding on my brother’s hip, I knew what both my dream and plan would be for the rest of my life. 

There have always been people who ask why I do what I do. Sometimes, I interpret their questions as earnest judgements not of my sanity but of my ability to care for my better interests. There is no simple way to explain why I have accepted responsibility for a child with whom I share no DNA or legally recognized relationship. All I know is doing so fulfills and defines a part of myself I didn’t previously know existed.

For each decade since entering adulthood, there are a few years for which I cannot clearly account. I no longer know what year I emigrated to Cambodia. It was either 2002 or 2003, but what I do know is I departed America on January 24th, my birthday, and my new life and this journey began the second I landed. With each passing year, as my birthday approaches I become even more grateful than I normally am, and my brain does what it does as it tries to find meaning and make connections where lesser minded Carnivora and Primates see nothing.

Yes, I cried my eyes out last night; I did so again moments ago when I recalled the day Leni entered my life, and I could easily cry again right now if I allow myself to think about the beauty of Monday’s afternoon, when I put my mother’s engagement ring on Manith’s finger. 


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