What Have You Done That Others Have Not?
Almost two years ago a friend posed this question on Facebook: What have you done that you think none of your friends have done?
I responded with two different things, and I was later invited to provide more detail so that my stories could be included in an edition of the National Court Reporters Association's Journal of Court Reporting. What an honor! I drafted the stories below and submitted them to Monette Benoit, who then published them in the April 2019 edition of the magazine.
Here are my stories:
I Lived Aboard a Mercy Ship for Ten Years
I was a homebody. Nobody who knew me as a kid would have said, “Yeah, Diana’s going to leave home at eighteen and take the world by storm.” I wouldn’t have said it either, but I surprise myself sometimes.
January 1981 found me clambering aboard the M/V (Motor Vessel) Anastasis as she lay at anchor in a Greek harbor. I had quit my job, sold my car for airfare, and loaded a pea green duffle so full that it probably weighed more than I did. I have since learned to pack only what I can carry comfortably, but I digress.
The huge white ship was the property of Youth With A Mission, a nondenominational Christian organization. Manned by an all-volunteer crew (which included entire families), the goal was to get her seaworthy and outfitted as a hospital ship. There was much to do. The ship had been abandoned by her crew when they had finished their final voyage, and Youth With a Mission had purchased her in Italy for scrap value.
Everybody worked hard, but I had no skills to contribute in either the engine room or on deck. Not to worry, though. I was put to work in the dining room, and between meal times I armed myself with a butter knife and scraped thirty years of gunk from dining room table edges. Later I was moved to the housekeeping department, where my tools consisted of not only ammonia and bleach, but hammer and chisel. I was tasked with removing stubborn rust from within some very disagreeable toilet bowls.
We sailed away from Greece in the spring of 1982. Our hearts rejoiced as with tingling hands and beaming faces we felt the sea move beneath us for the first time. Our first stop was Malta, our isle of registry. After that we passed through the Panama Canal (wow) and headed to California. We filled the ship with food, agricultural goods, pre-fab housing, dental and medical supplies, and we were off to Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico. There had been a great earthquake there and help was needed.
I met my first husband aboard the Anastasis and married at the tender age of nineteen. Though they were each born in California, my two daughters knew only the ship as their first home. I value the international flavor that ship life brought to their early years.
During our years on the ship we traveled to Tonga, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and various places in Mexico. During stints ashore I learned to battle rats, tarantulas, centipedes, toads, and unusual bathroom conditions—usually with a child under each arm.
The ship work has grown and evolved over the years since we left her. The Anastasis has long since retired, but other vessels have taken up the baton. Now sailing under the banner of Mercy Ships, these hospital ships travel to places in the world where medical care is scarce. Doctors focus on such life changing surgeries as cleft lip and palate, club foot, benign but life-threatening tumors, fistulas—all free of charge.
My ten years of living and serving aboard the M/V Anastasis enriched my life in ways that I am only just beginning to appreciate. Though my personal contribution to the ship’s effort was small, the footprint the Anastasis left upon my heart knows no bounds.
I went to jail for refusing to testify against my own husband
How does a court reporter and jail volunteer wind up in court and in jail? The answer is tricky—especially because I was the first person in the history of my county to be incarcerated for failing to testify against their spouse. First. Person. Ever.
March 2013. I’d never been more frightened in my life. I was a law-abiding court reporter. Four months earlier my husband had gone off the deep end and landed himself in jail. He was in trouble, and deservedly so. However, as so often happens when people hit rock bottom, he sought help, got his act together. A good man was emerging from the ashes, and I told the prosecutor that I didn’t want to testify against him. Yes. You guessed it. I was the victim of my husband Larry’s crime. That throws spousal privilege out the window in my state.
“You needn’t come to court,” said Larry. “I’ll plead guilty and spare you the witness stand.”
“Not to a felony,” said I. “We’ve asked for a plea.”
I often tell people that the last place you want to be is “in the system.” We found ourselves “in the system,” and the system worked as it was designed to. The prosecutor prosecuted. The judge made the hard decisions. They sent me to jail because I wouldn’t, couldn’t, testify.
Nerves and emotions still frayed from the original bad act four months prior, I found my experience in jail to be highly traumatic. Yet, it was not without its silver linings. The full story is too long to recount here, but I’m pleased to say this much: I emerged from our county jail with no charges and no record. My husband and I renewed our wedding vows and have since celebrated our twentieth anniversary.
My time in jail showed me that I’m tougher than I think I am. I chose to learn from that experience, to allow my empathy to expand. I somehow found the strength to write it all down and publish my story, and now I’ve shared it with you. I’ve learned to make the proverbial lemonade and to don the author’s cape. Look out, world. I’m just getting started!