I've been introduced to some pretty incredible women as I've traveled the world. In Ireland I met fabulous Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In India, the volunteers in Mother Theresa's orphanage walked away with my heart, in a London bookshop I chatted with famous American feminist, Gloria Steinem. These women were all role models I'd admired long before we stood face to face. I 'expected' to be inspired by them.
I never expected to be inspired by Ariane, the attractive American student, forty-seven years my junior whom I met at sea. Till today I consider her one of my mentors. She taught me the true meaning of generosity.
We were both on board the MV Explorer, a 'university' ship circumnavigating the globe, carrying 750 students along with their teaching staff in a program called, Semester At Sea. The ship sailed for twelve weeks with stops in 14 cities in four continents. As a reporter I'd been invited on board for half the journey and was expected to leave the ship in India.
A week before we arrived in the port of Chennai, 23 year old student, Ariane surprised me with her offer.
'I want you to stay for the full journey. Please share my cabin. I have an extra bed.'
'Why would you want an extra person in your cabin, especially someone your grandmother's age?' I countered.
'You should experience the full journey', she said matter-of-factly.
How could I resist? I took Ariane up on her kind offer yet it was with a great deal of trepidation. After all, we hardly knew each other. Would she regret her decision by journey's end?
I needn't have worried. Ariane gave up half her cabin space along with her full privacy and never ever complained. Not once.
Living in close quarters with others you learn a lot about them. We talked well into the night about her love of medicine and her desire to help those less fortunate than herself.
As I saw it, Ariane's generosity was overwhelming, not only to me but to many others on the ship. While her peers were on deck sunbathing and flirting with each other, Ariane was volunteering in the infirmary, helping the staff and lightening their load. As the MV Explorer took us to India, Vietnam, Japan and China, Ariane joined some of the ship's excursions to local hospitals where she, again, charmed patients and orphans in her own quiet way.
One day I came back to our cabin to find my roommate in tears. She'd just learned that her mother had undergone serious surgery. Ariane was ready to fly home but her wise mother asked her to stay on and complete the journey. I witnessed first-hand the strength this young woman mustered as she offered mom encouragement from afar.
There is a belief in Japan that if you have a special wish, you need to fold 1000 origami cranes and by the time you finish this task, your wish will be granted. Ariane made such an impression on her shipmates during our voyage that other students came forward to help her fold these cranes and together they asked for a return of her mother's good health.
It's been five years since we sailed around the world together. My young friend recently wrote to tell me that she has completed medical school. Her mother is well and Ariane is excited about beginning the healing work we both know she'll love. I remain inspired by her altruism, quiet strength and large-heartedness. It was my good fortune to meet her.