Colorado Cowgirl discovers a wider world
By Renee’ French
Patti Dillon grew up the daughter of Franklin Dillon, a cattle rancher on the prairielands of southeast Colorado. A journey to Pueblo, with a population of around 100,000, was an annual event reserved for buying clothes at the beginning of each school year. A couple of decades and an equal number of foreign adventures later, she now lives in a community in Northern California. I asked this affable auburn-haired woman how that transformation happened.
“When I left my Dad’s ranch at 18, I rode a motorcycle out to California. Coming to the West Coast could have been a very expanding experience for a young person, but I got married soon after, got a steady job, mothered five girls, and, well, I never rode that Harley across state lines again. I was content with my life, but I wasn’t very exploratory.
“It’s almost unbelievable to see my life now, when you consider the person I used to be. I felt at home with animals, but I literally could hardly speak to people. If my school friends could have seen me playing my guitar and singing in the plazas in Guanajuato, Mexico last year, they wouldn’t have believed it was the same person they had known. I didn’t realize that I had been living in such a small box until I met someone who had bigger dreams for me than I had for myself.”
While Dillon still had daughters at home, she went one evening to a presentation at the library by a local non-profit group that had organized a service trip to Thailand (http://ccns-inc.org/). The videos of smiling-faced, barefoot kids doing art projects with the volunteers, and the abbreviated version of a puppet show they had performed abroad were impressive and represented fascinating possibilities beyond Dillon’s experience. What impacted her even more, however, was the depth and honesty of the speakers.
“The people who had gone on this trip talked not only about the exotic location and the help they offered the poor, but about inner changes they had experienced. I guess the timing was right for me; I was ready for some inner changes myself.”
Dillon ended up getting involved with the group that had organized the Thailand trip, and has since joined them in doing relief work in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, teaching English for Burmese refugees in Thailand and art classes for Syrian refugee children in Turkey, and helping build a clinic in a remote Cambodian village, among other service projects.
“Travel can teach you so much about being human. When you visit foreign cultures you see that people have thought about things differently than you have in your culture, and have come up with different solutions to the same predicaments. Getting a chance to meet people from different backgrounds has made me less judgmental. I’ve come to understand that we are all products of our environment, and if I had grown up in the places I’ve visited, I’d dress and eat and think exactly like the people there. But beyond those kind of differences, I’ve found a commonality among people that exists beneath all that.
“When I was visiting a Sufi monastery in Bosnia, my women friends and I met some local college girls. We were thirty years older than they, lived half-way across the world, spoke different languages, but we as women experienced a camaraderie with them. That we had all put on head scarves to enter the temple probably helped us visually to see how alike we were. We ended up taking a bunch of selfies together, all of us with glowing smiles.”
Interspersed with details about places she’s been and activities she’s participated in, Dillon kept returning to the idea of the exploration of inner life, as well as outer life with her family of traveling companions.
“We are diligent about researching flights, train tickets, and house rentals so that we can minimize our confusion in unknown cities, but we are equally attentive to examining our inner landscape, and knowing the potential pitfalls we could run into there as well. For example, will my impatience or my need to feel important land us in some unfortunate entanglement?
“Many organizations do social work, but what makes this particular group so special is J Jaye Gold, (http://justingold.net/), the man who founded it.” Dillon looks pensive, and a little challenged to find the right words.
“It’s hard to convey, but I feel like I’ve been touched by magic.” Her eyes twinkle, and with an impish smile she reveals to me that she knows “a wizard.” “I’m talking about real magic. Not making a lady levitate on a stage, or pulling a bunny out of an empty hat, but the kind of magic created by a real Wizard of Oz. My wizard has shown me a courage inside me that I didn’t know existed. I’m discovering warm, sweet feelings, too. I think I became sort of numb to my emotions after my dad died.” Dillon winks as she confesses, “I was sort of like the scarecrow, too. I had a brain, of course, but never having ventured far from home, I was pretty uneducated about the world. Not only have I learned a lot of history about all the places I’ve now visited, I’ve also explored a lot of unexamined concepts that were sparked by my experiences.”
When I asked Dillon if the man who has led her to these inner breakthroughs is well known, she smiled again and whispered, “He doesn’t hide behind a curtain, but he doesn’t advertise himself, either.
He looks like a regular guy if you’d meet him on the street. He wears jeans and T-shirts, he likes to shop at Walmart and Costco, and he enjoys a good game of poker and a hearty buffet. But beneath appearances, he’s an angel. He knows what love is. Not just conditional love, like I’ll love you if you give me something I want. He has a heart big enough to encompass everybody. And he’s teaching me to be the same.”
Her eyes twinkle again, and I feel inclined to believe her.
If Dillon’s story intrigues you, you can hear her talk about her life’s trajectory at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbYu2koUM8M