Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Year of Chasing Light

Going camping a month ago with the family. I didn't get much sleep, but enjoyed the silence of the desert, watching the ushering in of twilight. The expansiveness of a desert sunrise is calming, being immersed in light--no hindrances or obstacles in view. No sounds, just the immediate eruption of light.
A sunrise is different here in the Middle East. When the streaks of dawn paint the sky, there is nothing that obstructs the view--certainly no mountains, and vertical slopes. There is just a large horizontal expansiveness of light rays that immediately surrounds you, that envelops you. The sunrise is sudden, almost like bursting of popcorn. There is nothing to block or filter its rays; the dawn does not linger. Sunrises in the Middle East just explosively erupt-- shooting out beams and illuminating every crevice and corner of the desert. Experiencing the consuming Middle East desert light has made me reflect on how humans can radiate light. How do we become conductors of light, transmitting it to others? Does our light dreamily streak the sky with residual shadows or enthusiastically ignite the world around us? 

Looking out at the Persian Gulf, toward Bahrain at sunrise.

The sunrise was sudden, with a full illumination in almost a matter of a minute--just an immediate burst of light.
I have pondered much about light this year--in many countries of the world. Here are just a few:

On top of a rooftop in Amman, Jordan--at a house of some new friends. At sunset, looking out onto Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. I have learned to be grateful for people who kindle new flames of friendship. I agree with Albert Schweitzer, "We must be grateful and mindful of those people who rekindle our flame--especially if we have ever lost it." People, friendships old and new, enfold so much light to me.

My son throwing a lantern up on the eve of D-Day on a Normandy Beach in France. I will never forget watching him send the lantern to the sky, in remembrance of  his grandfather who landed on D-Day 71 years before. On the beach that night we connected with heaven. We could have touched the stars on that light-filled beach. Remembering matters, and brings light and peace. Blog post about D-Day eve:

My sons and husband at an Icelandic beach, on the darkest streak of a June night with the waning sun in the distance (It was about 3 am). It is amazing to not be hindered or  limited  by any darkness--at least for the summer months in Iceland. But then the winter months come, and it is time to "measure the light" again.
Growing Light:
Jacques Lusseyran, a blind hero of the French Resistance, who wrote the compelling memoir, And There was Light, was blinded in an accident as a child. In his book he understands the potential for resplendent light in humans--that we can "grow light"--even in bleak shadows or blindness. He writes how he began to understand the light within him, despite his blindness, "Inside me there was everything I had believed was outside. There was, in particular, the sun, light, and all the colors. ...Light is an element that we carry inside us and which can grow there with as much abundance, variety, and intensity as it can outside of us.... I could light myself.... that is I could create a light inside of me so alive...."

He continues, "I could no longer afford to be jealous or unfriendly, because, as soon as I was, a bandage came down over my eyes, and I was bound hand and foot and cast aside. All at once a black hole opened, and I was helpless inside it. But when I was happy and serene, I approached people with confidence and thought well of them, I was rewarded with light." Therefore, we can grow light, steadily and incrementally, until we can light up the world in our sphere of influence. Light can grow. Our relationships can be sweeter, and we are more lovable when we grow light. The world, as it tussles with darkness and light, will be better because we strove to be radiant, instead of casting shadows.

I can't help but think of my father-in-law who was blinded six weeks after he landed on D-Day in Normandy at age 22. Although he lived in complete darkness for the next 67 years of his life, he chose to be a conductor of light--consciously, deliberately deciding to transmit light. In his darkness, he "grew" light,  surprising people with his cheer, humor, music, and love. He was a walking visual aid, a riddling contradiction,  that we can grow light, even in our darkness. He chased away the darkness, refusing to allow the shadows to define his life.  A blogpost about him.: "I might not have sight, but I have insight."

Measuring Light:
There is a need to periodically measure the light in yourself. Where is my source for light? Is it diminishing, and when/where can I retrieve it? How much longer is it going to be light before I need to prepare for the night or darkness?  And sometimes when the light fades away, we need to battle the shadows until the light appears in view. To know where to search for light and escape the darkness is one of the lessons of each individual life. We need to teach our children to sometimes step into the darkness, encouraging them that the dawn or light will be just ahead--giving them hope. The path will become navigable, but sometimes journeys begin at dusk.

A few years ago my husband and two sons were hiking 'The Narrows' in Utah's Zion's National Park with a brother-in-law and niece. They got a later start than desired (although early enough), and the water was deeper than usual that time of year. Traversing across the river took them longer than expected. Transportation in the park is comprised of shuttling from one point to another in a van, and they knew the last van pick up for the hike would be at 11 p.m. My husband, calculating their pace (measuring the emerging diminished light in the canyon), sent my 14 year old son ahead to go two miles with a headlight to inform the shuttle they were coming. Otherwise, they would have to camp on the river without provisions. Although somewhat fearful, he sloshed through the water, first in the dusk, and then in the dark, to reach the shuttle.

Sometimes my son, now 22, reflects on that day when he trudged through the serpentining river alone, with the looming canyon walls surrounding him. He says he conquered something in himself that day. After that trek in the river, battling the shadows, he was never a child again. He knew that he could do hard things. The boy that had first entered the river in the morning had somehow grown years in those hours, especially in the final push to find the light. He began to understand that measured moments count, as you go towards the light.

The group that hiked 'Narrows" that day in Zion's National Park
I have been in Iceland in December and then this summer we were there in June/July. Obviously, the difference in light is stark. In the summer, like youth, you know you know you have endless time. There are no limits because there is no darkness; everything is possible. However, in the winter, you must calculate and measure every moment of light in the day. Determining the distance, measuring the moments of light, and understanding the journey are all critical--especially if you must trek in the darkness. One needs to be aware to have charged batteries and plenty of candles if you get stuck in those measured moments of shadows. Know and have faith the dawn will come.

Living with Darkness and Light:
We need the dark to know and see the light. Francis Bacon said, "In order for the light to shine brightly, the darkness must be present." Thus, luminous moons and stars, bright suns in sunrises and sunsets, and blazing campfires would not be as beautiful if the darkness did not exist. Life consists of knowing both forces of dark and light, but chasing the fireflies that bring luminosity to our souls. To fill our reservoirs with light, and then give back to a world that needs your forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion is casting out the shadows. As Martin Luther King wisely surmised, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." That is the kind of love that can consume or burst on a desert sand dune--filling the entire horizon with a glowing light.

We humans can never underestimate the power of our light to ignite change, give warmth to others, and radiate hope. We can "grow light"--just like acorns become giant oak trees. And if we grow our lights to be as stately and tall as trees, we are even closer to the stars.

Sometimes I only want to know and be in light. I don't want to have my loved ones experience shadows. Yet I know deep down that we must live with these two forces of light and darkness.We must know how to battle the darkness with hope so we can find the light we are searching for. The contrast of light and dark only makes the glowing light more brilliant and dazzling. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Family Bonds and Being Icelandic

Posing in our Icelandic sweaters (we got them at a second-hand store in Reykjavik). They had bundles of them, and it was a great saving.

I grew up as a child making up stories in my head and daydreaming about the characters who I read in books. But the stories from real people's lives were the ones that shaped me more than any other book's plot--especially if I knew it was a story from a family member. I was lucky enough to have both of my grandmothers be some of the best friends of my life, and I never tired of the family stories they unraveled. The educator and author, Neil Postman, conveyed the importance of family stories when he said, "Human beings require stories to give meanings to the facts of their existence. This is why people everywhere ask, as soon as they have the command of language to do so, 'Where do I come from?' They require a story to give meanings to their existence. Without air, our cells die. Without a story, ourselves die." Indeed, stories are my breath of life. They have given me a sense of place--especially when I was young and the world was a vast, unknown territory. I always knew where I belonged because my parents and grandparents told me stories.

This was the pride my father gave to us growing up--to be of Viking heritage. I saw this in a Reykjavik shop, and had to memorialize it.
My husband and four boys at the Saga Museum in Reykjavik--dressing up in the Viking apparel. 
I am half Icelandic. My father has always lauded his Icelandic ancestry to his wide cast of posterity, and we all swallowed his Icelandic pride--hook, line, and sinker. To be Icelandic, in our minds growing up, was akin to having a magnanimous gift. He told us we were strong and resourceful (we knew our ancestors farmed with volcanic rocks surrounding them--often with the icy ocean air billowing around). They rowed in fierce ice storms for days looking for fish, with bleeding palms. Somehow the message of being resilient was transmitted to us through a myriad of stories, from people who did hard things.

Did not our great grandfather Eggert who was an Icelandic ship captain sail to Denmark to bring food when his community in Iceland was starving? What about my great-grandmother, Gudrun Vatnsdal Myres, who lost five of her children before they were two years old, and endured the tragedy of a 15-year-old son be struck by lightning as he worked alongside his brother in the field?  When I was a young mother walking through a crowd, I always held my children a little tighter because I remembered my grandmother's story of getting kidnapped by some gypsies (that was always our favorite story to ask her, and we repeatedly begged her to tell us it again and again). My own life's experiences were somehow coupled with people whom I had never met, but who gave me solace and strength when I needed it.

My dad (in a fisherman's hat, no less) at a recent family reunion (with Icelandic map and flag) in the background. My father, now a grandfather, and great-grandfather, extolling Iceland to his posterity this summer.  We all are still riveted by his stories. Sometimes he peppers them with accents and new details.  
My mom with Naomi her granddaughter. She made this Icelandic dress for her for the reunion.
When my own son was diagnosed with autism or other struggles erupted, these characters in my family story, my people, gave me the courage and pluck to persevere. As a child growing up, and even now into my adult years, I have been asking about the stories of people who are in my cast of characters, in my story. Their stories made my world make sense. I better understood what I wanted to be like, what morals and principles I wanted to live by, and how I wanted to pattern my own life.

In the New York Times article, 'The Stories that Bind Us,' by Bruce Feiler, he reinforces what I have always known by a study of two psychologists: "The more children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned." In other words, family stories and traditions give children a strong foundation--to bounce back when life's journey becomes bumpy and seemingly unnavigable. As Dr Duke and Dr, Fiviush, the two psychologists, suggested, we are able to recoil more easily when we have a "intergenerational self." We know someone before us has faced trials, someone who is linked to us, and our belief, if it ever wavered, returns.

Karolina, my cousin, and her triplets. We hiked up Mt. Esja with them on the first night of our stay in Iceland. We returned at about 3 am--in complete light. No need to worry about water because you can refill at any waterfall that is flowing down the mountain. And if you need a little invigorating nap, you can always take a snooze on the six-ten inch high moss that is alongside the path. Did I mention all the wildflowers?

This summer our family had the opportunity to visit Iceland (I had been there many years before my oldest child was born). But I had always longed to go back and show them the stark, pristine beauty of Iceland--for them to have the connection with their people and widen their "intergenerational selves." We carried our tattered "green Vatnsdal book" in our backpack--a book my daughter and I had compiled of stories, life histories, genealogies, and even poems that had been written by my Icelandic ancestors. In a large bumbling van, we crisscrossed Iceland, trying to discover and understand those people who had once lived there. We visited their farms and drank water from their waterfalls.

As I have become older, I am no longer the small child just listening to stories, but I now know I must transfer them to another generation. I am the reservoir, the keeper of stories, as once the people were before me. The more I know and cherish the people before me, the more I want to share their stories--to teach, strengthen, and deepen life's meanings to my family. I believe that knowing our ancestors and their stories give us not only a stronger commitment to persevere and overcome struggles, but feel a connection with ourselves that goes backward and forwards. To know we were put into a story with people who worked, loved, made mistakes, and hopefully, ultimately found joy, is empowering.

The first day we arrived in Iceland we went to Laugardalslaug--a public pool in Reykjavik. My husband and I wanted to show our children the FIVE hot pools, and one with even salt water in it that we had visited years before. In our eagerness to get out the door, we forgot our towels. Upon arriving, my sons were instructed by a handsome young man that they must quickly go buy some towels so that the dressing room floors do not become slippery. We were ignorant of the public pool rules. You must wash before you go into the pool (clothes off). My sons quickly went to buy some towels. But after our Iceland public pool experience, we could understand their careful scrutiny. The geothermal pools are used all year long, and people come from all over the world to see the Aurora Borealis as snow flutters around them in the pool. You will unlikely never duplicate the public pool experience you have in Reykjavik.

Fast forward two weeks later: We are eagerly anticipating a family gathering with family and relatives, some of whom I have not seen in 28 years. On the last night. I am excited beyond measure, and for my children to meet these people who I have talked about for years (even one of my sons who is named after my relative's father, Olafur, whom I greatly loved). As we all walk in the lovely home, the handsome young man who was at the pool looks at my sons, and they look at him, trying to remember where they have met him in the last two weeks. Suddenly, they all burst into laughter, realizing that he is the one who instructed them on Iceland pool etiquette. We are related.
Fishing in the Reykjavik harbor for cod, much different than their ancestors who often rowed in small boats to get their food supply in tempestuous, icy seas. Although not completely authentic to family stories, its amazing. 

Iceland is a small place, but there were more bonds there than we could have ever imagined. That last night in Iceland we stayed much longer than we anticipated because the sun does not set early in July. There was lots of laughter, and tears--a true glimpse of heaven. All the years erased; it was like none of us had gotten any older. My children said as we climbed on the plane to go home, "I feel like we have just discovered a whole new family. We are home."

The first time I ever went to Iceland, my relative, Olafur, who I would later name our fifth child for invited me into his study. I distinctly remember him looking at me, and then asking, "Promise me you will not ever forget our connections--that we are family." I quickly reassured him and said, "I promise." He then looked at me again, and I will never forget his words. He repeated, "No, I mean promise me." I promised him a second time, and then he seemed satisfied. I hope he would not be disappointed with my promise. I think he was trying to tell me at that moment that staying connected, having strong family bonds, loving and forgiving one another is what this life is about. As long as I am alive, Olafur, I will try to be "a keeper of stories." I will try to keep my promise.

Olafur Olafson and Fridrika Bjornsdottir, with four of my children and me in Baltimore, Maryland where we were living at the time. Circa 1994. It was the last time I saw them. But three years later we would name our next child Peter Olafur after him. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Musical Soiree Anyone?

If the topic of music lessons or choice of musical instruments comes up in parenting circles, many approaches and philosophies can ricochet around the room. Since I have invested many dollars and hours on music lessons--with several different instruments (x six kids)--I have a few strategies and even still, some questions myself. I consider myself an amateur musician, and the aim was not to prepare them to be virtuosos or divas. Nevertheless, after sitting elbow-to-elbow on the piano bench with my kids when they were younger or helping them with instruments (I didn't even know about), I hoped they would somehow absorb the rhythms and tempo in their souls. Consequently, I was always on the look out--searching ways to have fun with music--to not seem tedious and boring. What would give them that spark or kindling to practice--you know, the big "P" word?

A few of them were able to play in some famous concert halls growing up, but none have chosen it as a profession, which is absolutely fine. Yet it was my hope that music could heal their hearts in times of disappointment or loss. And have their hearts swell with joy too, giving them moments of soul-washing elation. From a family history perspective, I would tell them that after their grandpa learned to play the violin growing up, he was blinded a few weeks after landing on D-Day. Playing musical instruments (he learned three others after he was blinded) enriched his life immeasurably. In his two year rehabilitation, he learned to play the saxophone--to help with the dexterity of his hands. And he always had a harmonica in his pocket to play at a playground or gathering. Later in retirement he played the violin in a band for people in rest homes--sometimes for the residents who were even younger than himself. My daughter, at age five below, begged to learn to play the violin like her grandpa. My family history story about her grandpa worked!

This daughter, for the first few months of playing the violin at age five, would practice on the top of her playhouse--pretending to be the fiddler in 'Fiddler on the Roof.' All of our neighbors in Baltimore, but one, thought it was charmingly delightful. But we honored our next door neighbor's request to "bring the music inside"--until she learned to play a little more in tune. It takes a lot of perseverance, fun, practice, and love to get from this

to this! Two of our daughters, Sarah who accompanied her sister on the piano for her Senior violin concert. Sarah now accompanies a musical group for a major US university, just for the pure enjoyment. and plays for for a lot of activities and gatherings in her community.
One of the best ways I have found to trigger motivation to practice myself, (because I am an adult learner of the cello), with my children, and people here in Qatar is to have a musical soiree. It is simply a gathering of people who want to share their musical talents, and applaud others. I have been organizing musical gatherings for years, but with the absence of many musical choices or venues (there are still some wonderful ones, just fewer), we Qatar expats hold our musical soirees regularly. Nothing else on our schedules can eclipse them. We create our own shows, and even make-shift concert halls here. Sometimes in a room flickering with dozens of candles, I close my eyes for a moment, feeling as if I could be in a Paris salon in the 1700's. Other times my living room has transformed to a 1970's cafe with James Taylor.

My husband says one of the best things about coming to live this Qatar expat life is to monthly attend my cellos teacher's house to hear her Baroque Ensemble she has organized--all of the instruments are Baroque and played faithfully in that style. There is even a harpsichord that is the center piece of the living room. My cello teacher organizes a musical salon every month that we eagerly anticipate with professional musicians from mostly Germany, but some from Prague, Bulgaria, New Zealand, and other far off places. Most of them play in the Doha Philharmonic. There are usually only about 50-70 people at the salon with a delicious international potluck afterwards. But we all know we are the recipients of an exceptional gift every month at the Baroque Ensemble. Each child that comes, including the adults, are riveted and transfixed, as the Baroque music permeates us. For anybody who is trying to learn an instrument, it is a catalyst to keep on practicing so that you can transmit the magic too.

At my cello teacher's house, her little boy prepares to pull the curtain for the Baroque Ensemble--in his own living room.

You can see it is a special moment when he will pull the curtain for the enchanting musical wonderland his mother directs. Children and cats wander through the house. There is an occasional ruffle of a child's play. But it is all that more special. We feel like we are perhaps in Bach's home himself.

Katrin, my cello teacher, an opera singer from Germany, and the harpsichord player from South Africa. It is a rare treat to hear professional musicians monthly in someone's home--for the pure pleasure of playing music together. The price? Bring a potluck dish.
To give children a love and gift for music is like giving them another language. As Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish fairy tale writer said, "Where words fail, music speaks." I know that my son with autism has a tremendous connection with music, and did from an very early age. Sometimes his singing has caused people to shed tears with his pure sincerity. That's what music does: it touches The Divine in all of us--not only entertaining us, but giving us holy moments. To understand that golden tongue of music requires practice, encouragement, and I believe, going to some musical soirees where friends and strangers can applaud your efforts. My favorite compliment after any soiree I have hosted is when a parent comes to me and says, "My child came home after the soiree and started practicing for the next one." Soirees have the power to encourage children (and me too) in the journey of learning instruments--plus creating a wonderful community in the process. 

                Here are a few pictures from our soirees in Qatar--lots of magic floating through the air!

A group of teenagers entertaining us, with rousing claps and whistles in the background. A little sister is looking on, in complete rapture.
This family has six kids, and never fails to come to our soiree. The oldest brother is accompanying his little sister on the ukulele. Each month people prepare to perform for the audience in  our living room.  

V. singing a song from Jamaica. Although our living room is not a concert hall, it still takes guts and courage to preform for strangers and friends.

Steve giving the younger generation some Beatles, and after an encore, played some more.

K is an adult learner of the violin. She says that she determined to play every month at the soiree so it prods her to practice.
                                  Here are some video clips of some soirees in our home through the years.

Here is a youtube of our 19 year old son who had an English choir boy voice when he was 11: A few years later he sang this song with his cousin at his grandpa's 

Last Christmas, with my daughter at the piano, playing Christmas songs with our friends from Normandie, France. Do you notice the backdrop of the Christmas tree fabric that I got from Ikea? There aren't many Christmas trees in Doha!

Herman, our good friend from Ukraine, who teaches piano, guitar, and voice here. We always feel so lucky when he comes to play for us--sometimes crooning like Frank Sinatra. He transforms us to different places with his Ukrainian folk songs and can even sing some French songs in French. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Paralympics World Championships 2015 in Doha, Qatar

There was an immediate exhilaration when entering the stadium with 90 flags from different countries at the 2015 World Championships for Paralympics--an opportunity for athletes with disabilities to compete. I am standing with my son who has autism. He too stuns me with his zest and energy for life. Every day he changes my heart, and makes me see things I would not understand without him. 
Ninety countries gathered in Doha, Qatar last week for the 2015 IPC World Paralympics Championships--the last championship before the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. There were 1300 athletes and 210 events--with 54 world records. China came in first with the most medals, 41, followed by Russia with 24. The UK and US tied, bringing home 13 gold medals. It was touted and advertised as an event that would be "beyond incredible." And it was! I could barely tear myself away from the electrifying exhilaration after the first night that I attended. Cheers and tears were abundant in every section where people from many countries mixed together, rooting for every hero on the field--in dozens of languages and accents. We found ourselves wanting to know about every athlete's journey to this competition. Borders of countries blurred, and the world contracted this week in Doha. It felt like we were all on one united team.

Many of the spectators, like us, with our fully functioning bodies, witnessed a most beautiful, humbling sight as we watched the athletes. The Paralympic athletes elegantly ran, raced in a wheelchair, threw a shot put, discus, or javelin, and high jumped. We saw athletes with disabilities who competed with all their grit and determination--people who had not surrendered to disease, injury, or discouragement. The begging question of the night was: If they so resolutely take care of their bodies and continue to courageously perform, I too can do hard things--feats that may seem insurmountable to me at that moment. Their efforts showed a magnificence of movement, whether they received a medal or not. They gave us a hallowed moment, a memory to tuck away and be remembered again and again.

I have seldom viewed such dignity, resilience, and grace. I felt privileged to be there under the same sky together with them and their families. It was a rare night of celebration to view the indomitable will of the human spirit--the refusal to be conquered or defeated. Watching the Paralympic events was the kind of experience that alters your perceptions, and most of all, your heart. But I  am going to let the pictures tell most of the story.

When I viewed this short video that was shown to advertise the event in Doha, I was transfixed and determined to attend. I did not know about all the classifications for Paralympic athletes, and the rigor it requires to ever get a spot on the team. I am sure your heart will be changed as your watch this short clip about a 13 year old boy from Doha:
Here are the classifications for the athletes that competed in the World Championships in Doha for Paralympics:
All disability groups can compete in athletics but a system of letters and numbers is used to distinguish between them.
A letter F is for field athletes, T represents those who compete on the track, and the number shown refers to their disability.
11-13: Track and field athletes who are visually impaired. Blind athletes compete in class 11 and are blindfolded and run with a guide runner. Athletes in class 12 are visually impaired but may choose to run with a guide.
20: Track and field athletes who are intellectually disabled. There are three events for men and women in the London programme - 1500m, long jump and shot put.
31-38: Track and field athletes with cerebral palsy or other conditions that affect muscle co-ordination and control. Athletes in class 31-34 compete in a seated position; athletes in class 35-38 compete standing.
40: Track and field athletes with short stature (dwarfism).
42-46: Track and field amputees. In class 42-44 the legs are affected and in class 45-46 the arms are affected. Athletes in these classes compete standing and do not use a wheelchair
T51-54: Wheelchair track athletes. Athletes in class 51-53 are affected in both lower and upper limbs while T54 athletes have partial trunk and leg functions
F51-58: Wheelchair field athletes. Athletes in F51-54 classes have limited shoulder, arm and hand functions and no trunk or leg function while F54 athletes have normal function in their arms and hands. In the F55-58 classes the trunk and leg function increases

"The Golden Girls," from the UK, with their coach, Paula Dunn. The girls won the T-35-38 4x100 meter relay. This classification means they have cerebral palsy. They smashed the world record in 52.22. Such a proud moment to see these girls and their parents. Unforgettable! 
The Russian relay team for T-35-38. These girls, in my opinion, brought some needed joy to a country that had just heard about the terrible plane crash in the Sinai peninsula. The Russian girls came in second place. Again, so proud!

The Chinese team, who came in third. So proud of each of them.
It was at this moment that I realized that I was cheering for each country, even though I am not from any of them. I cried, with happy tears, for each of those twelve girls on the stage and their families. It was such a jubilant moment.
I stood next to this Chinese couple, the woman who had only part of one arm. Since I speak Chinese, I told her she was very, very beautiful. 
Some Brazilian Paralympian athletes watching some of the closing ceremonies.
The girl in the middle is blind, and ran with her guide who is standing next to her. It was such a privilege to meet and talk with them in my elementary Spanish.
At each medal ceremony there were women in their abayas who carried the medals and flowers on the plates--ready to give it to the athletes.
On the podium for the Men's 4x100 T-35, T-38 relay competition. Germany got the gold.

Gold medal Men's 4x100 relay team T-35, T-38 for Germany. Here they are posed with their coach.

As we looked down from our section, we could see the Men's 100 meter race, with the Women's 400 race for unsighted athletes. To watch these athletes enter the track and field, with their crutches or prosthetic limbs in hand, was a sight we will never forget. The courage and grit that was exhibited in that stadium stirred all of our emotions (and some stray tears) as we watched the human spirit conquer unbelievable feats.
The athletes with the yellow shirts, are the guides for the Women's 400 meter running event. The guides run right next to the unsighted athlete, around the track. There is an obvious, but silent symmetry that unites them.

One of the Women's 400 Meter team, a pair, one is the guide in the yellow shirt, and the other is the unsighted athlete.  Since my father-in-law was blind (he landed on D-Day, and was blinded  six weeks later), my husband and I both teared up at this race. Post about my father-in-law who was blinded: The athletes ran together, in perfect balance of proximity and speed-- staggeringly beautiful experience to see.
A team from Africa, one is the guide, and the other is the unsighted athlete.

At the end finishing line, holding hands, the guide and the unsighted athlete.

Paralympic Women's 400 meter events with guide. To see the pairs of runners, with each pair having a guide to aid the unsighted athlete was an experience we will never forget. They grasped hands, as soon as the race was finished.

An athlete in the 200 meter T-54 race 

Many of the athletes wore their country's flag draped about them.

Samantha Kinghorn, 19, from Scotland, with her parents, elated in her bronze finish, for the Women's 200 meter T-54. Her mum told me Samantha was in an accident when she was 14, and lost both of her legs. She trains several hours a day and speaks to others in the UK about her journey. What a smile! So proud of her!
Amanda Kotaja, from Finland, won gold for the Women's 200 meter T-54. This picture is just after her race. T-54 is a classification that means there is normal hand and arm use. There is no trunk or limited use. Isn't she stunning?

A resolute German athlete after a race.

We were spellbound at the high jump. I will never forget the handsome, young Brazilian high jumper who threw his crutches to the side, and jumped with one leg across the track. He then proceeded to high jump over the bar. It was a portrait of beauty, courage, and grace that will always live on in me.

Another athlete running to get over the high jump.

Such a beautiful sight to see the many people from different countries walking together and cheering each other on.

An athlete from South Africa posing after his race.
One of the signs that were all over the stadium.

A medal ceremony for the winners of a wheelchair race.

The next three shots are of a high jumper that show the grit and tenacity that this event would take for an athlete:

This man has taken off his prosthetic leg, and has proceeded to go over the bar.

Afterwards, I spotted the disappointment in his face that the bar had not cleared, but to me he was a hero.

An adorable UK fan. I have to say the UK fans were in the most the Paralympics. A few Brits came all the way for the Championships, even if they had no family in the events. Check out @PaulaJubillee if you want to see more pictures.

Hollie Arnold, from the UK,  receiving her gold medal for the javelin.

Hollie Arnold. running to her mother. to give her a big hug
As soon as Hollie got off the stand or podium, she ran to her mom to give her a long embrace. We were all a tittle teary eyed watching on.

A night to never forget.Thank you to the athletes and their families who exemplify a human will and endurance that will live long with us. Thank you to Doha, Qatar for hosting such a "beyond incredible" event!