The SEVA Foundation
This past year has been the most exciting, energizing, fulfilled year of my entire life. In high school, I always talked about how I wanted to travel the entire United States as soon as I finished school. The US Trek has opened the doors to that tremendously. The Trek has stretched the word "travel" to a whole new level for me. In the past, travel has always meant to go and see cool things and meet cool people. The Trek has been just that, but multiplied by a hundred. It has let me see almost every part of the country, and travel with the coolest people ever; the Trekkers rock, and always will. It has also given me an outstanding introduction to organizations and community leaders all across America. It's hard to describe in words how much the Trek has meant to me.
Time for transitions
Just one year ago, I was walking to the podium to get my high school diploma. Filled with excitement and overwhelming happiness, I accepted my diploma on that hot day in June. Graduating was definitely one of the happiest times in my life. I closed a chapter of my life then, and moved on to the next. For a while, I thought a lot about the past; I thought about high school and the friendships I cherished through those years. Then my life just got crazier than I ever imagined it could. The US Trek adopted me and opened its arms in acceptance. My life changed forever.
The US Trek has given me memories that I will never forget. I remember driving through South Texas with my fellow Trekker, Stephanie. We shared a moment of tears talking about the struggle with cancer in our families. There were times when Kevin and I would stay up all hours debating religion, spirituality and many other things. Just the conversations alone within the past year have a very deep and meaningful place in both my heart and my mind. As I sit here writing my very last dispatch for the US Trek, memories run through my head like wildfire. Otis Redding is playing in the background on my computer, and I'm both sad and feeling content with the past year of my life. I don't think I have quite processed it, but maybe it's not time. Maybe I'll never completely process the experience. But I can say with every drop of truthfulness in my heart and in my mind that I have no regrets, not a drop. I wouldn't exchange this experience for anything in the world. No paycheck, no fancy car could ever surpass the amount of happiness and fulfillment the Trek has brought to my life. It's truly a life-changing event that I will talk about to my grandkids and for generations to come.
Throughout the past year on the Trek, so many things have gone through my head. It took time to just get used to the Trek lifestyle of sleeping in cars, pulling an all-nighter writing, eating in the parking lots of grocery stores, and watching the sun set and rise in the same drive. It definitely took a certain amount of adaptation, but before I knew it, I was a "Trekker." Everything started becoming easier and easier. The things in the past that seemed like obstacles became routine. Flat tires, no Internet connection, no food and no place to sleep soon just became another day on the Trek. All these things seemed to build our characters the more and more we did them, like when Stephen and I had the most solid and comfortable sleep in the car on a February night in Detroit.
The Trek soon became a personal quest for a hero, leader, and a role model. I was researching about all these amazing people in history and learning so much about them. It was so inspiring and energizing. I look up to everyone in history for the good things they did, from Rosa Parks to Russell Means to Cesar Chavez. But would I call them my heroes? Maybe for a short time. But were they the type of people I could call a hero for the rest of my life? Were they the type of people with whom I could feel content with every decision they made? Could I forgive them for their mistakes, and be happy for them in their times of success? These questions, as well as many others, came up as I trekked along the open roads of this country. I began to wonder if I was ever going to find a "hero". It seemed that every person I thought was going to be my new hero turned out not to be.
Then after reading, writing and talking a lot, I came to a conclusion. I found somebody that I respected, that I could talk to and turn to for advice, who fought for justice and rights. Somebody who created positive change for people of all races, ages and sexes. Somebody who never judged people because of their backgrounds, but for the people they are. That somebody is a man by the name of Mark Tilsen; he's my hero, but even more importantly, he's my dad. Throughout our hardships as a family, he has always stayed real and stayed true to both his three kids and himself, as well as everybody with whom he worked. He has shown me what respect means, what love is and what family means. He made sacrifices when they needed to be made. He raised three kids on his own, something that many men don't do. He was essentially both my mom and dad. He played both roles, and he did it so well. He was also just a friend, and somebody to hang out with when times were rough and we were feeling down. He raised us three kids and managed to create positive change on so many different levels.
He coordinated, fundraised, participated in and organized countless protests and benefits for a number of different causes. He's not a talker, but a doer. He's the type of person who would organize a huge benefit and raise money for family farmers and indigenous peoples. But he we would also be the one to knock on your door to make sure you had food on your table and clothes on your back. He's a businessman, an activist and advocate for justice, as well as the best dad in the world, all in one. I'm not only happy to be his son, but honored. His charisma and conscience on so many different issues never cease to amaze me. He did a number of things, from fighting for the Black Hills for the Lakota people, to helping raise money for family farmers in America, to helping create a college on my reservation (Oglala Lakota College), to raising awareness on environmental and social issues. The list goes on and on; I could sit here and name a million other things he has done. My point is, he is and will always be my hero, for so many different reasons, including respect, love and peace, just to name a few. Just remember, the people that you look up to, love and respect for the people they are and for the things they do, are often the people closest to you.
The anxiety is building up as I'm coming to the last few paragraphs of my life on the US Trek. So many emotions are running through my head that I want to laugh, cry and smile all at the same time. But as a Trekker, I will leave you on a positive note, rather than a sad one. This past year with The Odyssey's US Trek has been doing something that isn't routine. It's not a commonly traveled path. Some people we met on the Trek didn't care what we did, some didn't take it seriously, and some people didn't even call it work. But we Trekkers aren't trying to live by the guidelines that society or the government set. We have been trying to live by the guidelines we set as Trekkers. There's stuff on our website that people will like, and things that people won't like. Remember, it's about perspective; history is about perspective, and so is the study of current events. I want our work in this past year to be a conversation starter, because we have so many controversial topics on our site. We just hope to create consciousness among our readers about all these matters, ranging from environmental to social to economic issues.
People talk about revolutionaries. Through the website and the work we do, I personally hope to create "conscious resolutionaries," rather than revolutionaries. By this, I mean people who are consciously creating resolutions for society. Maybe some do it by being a teacher, while others do it by participating in protests and organizations. We are all capable of becoming revolutionaries, but sacrifices must be made. Consciousness is the key to the future. This shows the power of education. What we did this year was an attempt to help people to educate themselves, and to work towards a higher level of consciousness.
I can't leave without thanking everyone who helped us complete this Trek, from the countless volunteers we had in our office in San Francisco, to the many people who opened up their homes to feed and house us. The kindness of strangers is so overwhelming, I can't even begin to explain. Also, I have to thank all the schools, students and anybody else who has used the site, because the readers are the ones who truly empower us Trekkers. Knowing that you're reading and using our site is what truly makes the US Trek worthwhile. And I can never forget the wisdom and charisma of our Executive Director and amazing leader, Jeff Golden; you rock, Jeff! Thank you for all that you do and have done. OK, this is starting to turn into an Academy Awards speech.
So, I guess this is it; this is "bye" to the US Trek. Thank you all for participating in peace, and love to you all. Just remember the words of Chief Seattle in 1854: "Humankind has not woven the web of life, we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves. All things connect."
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Links to Other Dispatches
Rebecca - Learning about life by living it - with gusto!
Daphne - The Odyssey Trek: A cult of the BEST kind!
Irene - Baby, I was born to run (all over this country)
Jennifer - To America the beautiful and the friendly
Neda - So what exactly is a "trekker" anyway?
Stephanie - Make the Trek part of who you are
Stephen - Have a little faith and it will get you through