“Ya gotta do what ya gotta do to survive”

Meet Barbara

by Kenneth Justice

~“My husband had open heart surgery in 1985….he lived another 16 years” she said

I arrived to the Airport early today for my flight and found the only sit-down café in the terminal….the place was eerily quiet…I was the only customer. I asked the Barista if it was difficult having to work on slow days like this and the next thing I knew she had come over to my table and we began talking for the better part of an hour.

Born in Michigan she moved to Georgia 30 years ago when she found her ‘true love’. It sounds like she was very much in love with her husband because each time she mentioned him…her eyes got a little bit glassy. “Today, January 12th is actually the anniversary of his death” she said, “He died in 2001”.

When I asked her what brought her back to Michigan after being away from here for more than three decades her story turned a tad bit for the worst. Without getting into the private details….I’ll just say that following the death of her husband she got into a bad relationship. And so basically, she came back to Michigan as a matter of running away from the guy.

It wasn’t just a bad relationship either…..after Barbara’s husband died; the relatives in Georgia pretty much abandoned her…..and after one bad thing led to another; a couple years ago she found herself living in a homeless shelter just outside of Detroit.

I can’t imagine what must have been going on in her mind. Here she was a woman in her early fifties, married for nearly 25 years…and a mere few years after her husband died she found herself abandoned by her relatives and living in a homeless shelter….what the hell?

But unlike a Shakespearean tragedy….Barbara’s story is filled with a tremendous amount of hope, courage, and determination.

While she was living in the homeless shelter it was there that she met a woman who would become her best friend. The woman (who has a young child that affectionately calls Barbara ‘Aunt’) and Barbara pooled their money together and got a place to live. Barbara told me how she got the job here at the airport café,

I don’t own a car so I had to walk three miles from my house to the airport in the snow for the interview” she said, “when the interviewer found out I didn’t have my own transportation they turned me down for the job”……however, “A few months later my best friend got a car and that allowed me to finally get hired in at the airport…….but I haven’t told my boss that the engine recently conked out so for the last couple months I’ve been walking the three miles to work every day

Her shift begins at 3:30 AM so she gets up at 1:30 AM to get ready to make the walk to work.

Barbara” I asked, “Holy cow, I can’t imagine what must be going through your mind…. You were married, owned a successful company with your husband in Georgia….and now all these years later you are walking 3 miles in the freezing temperatures of Michigan to work at an airport coffee shop?”

“Well, you gotta do, what you gotta do to survive” she said

When I asked her if I could quote her on that…..it ended up leading to me telling her about my Drinking in the Culture Tour……Barbara doesn’t have an email address but she made me write down her mailing address in order for me to send her a printed copy of this article

We live in a world that can be really tough……I’ll be honest with you. Even though I used to work as a counselor at a homeless shelter; I can’t imagine what it must be like emotionally and psychologically to go from having it all (i.e. a great job and a husband whom she loved) to find yourself in your mid-fifties and living in a homeless shelter…..abandoned by most of your relatives.

Barbara’s story is one I will take to heart, it’s a story I will tell my children because it’s a story that people need to hear. There are so many things in the world that exist to tear us down and break our will and determination……..but like I wrote a couple days ago we must cling to the hope that tomorrow is going to get better.

—) Yes, the economy sucks

—) Yes, a lot of politicians are corrupt

—) Yes, sometimes it looks like the darkness is going to overwhelm us

But we can’t lose hope….perhaps tomorrow the sun is going to shine.

Barbara and her friend are moving to Florida, “my friend is leaving in a couple months and I’m going to come down with my niece after she finds us a place to stay. I think the time is right to make a new change for the three of us” she said….I thought it was beautiful that she referred to her friend’s child as ‘niece’ as a natural manner of her speech. Even though they aren’t blood relatives…..the three of them must have formed a bond while living in that homeless shelter that is even thicker than blood.

So my Drinking in the Culture Tour has begun….and I haven’t even boarded the plane yet…….however I just finished my first cup of coffee.


(p.s. in an unusual twist to my normal blogging routine….the picture above is actually a photo of the real life Barbara whom I met)

(p.s. I’m in Costa Rica right now but Internet is a bit spotty here in Costa Rica at times, it took me awhile to find WIFI this morning, but I will be posting more articles today when I find another café that has WIFI

Categories: Drinking in the Culture

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108 replies

  1. What a fantastic start of your journey and true it is a story that needs to be heard.
    Following your every step Bro.
    And hope her story will inspire others. that it is never to late to start anew. that with hard work we can make it through and how important it is to have friends near you

  2. A beautiful woman with a beautiful spirit. She has chosen to be a conqueror and a survivor, not a victim of circumstances. Our society needs more people like her!

  3. What an inspiring start for you, to meet someone with such a story to tell. Thanks for sharing, so inspiring and really puts life into perspective. Cheers!

  4. Blessings for your journey.

  5. I know when you hear stories like Barbara’s it really makes you thankful for what you have. And knowing that you can’t give up is a life lesson we all need to take!

  6. Beautilful. Thank you. I just wish I had a car to give her.

  7. What am amazing woman! When so many people are coming up with excuses, she’s finding ways to make it work. Please send her the comments as well. We’re all impressed and touched by her story.

    • “Please send her the comments as well”

      I’m so glad you said this because it never even dawned on me to do that…when I get back to the states I will print out the article and the comments….great idea

  8. All the luck you need my friend! Nice start!

  9. I am always curious about what people feel about the idea that “God, puts people in your path”. I was raised agnostically and think mostly scientifically. When you are in an empty coffee shop and the employee is your first story, I think there is a God wink there. As a lover of poetry, I say it means the story is the coffee shop. A place to befriend.

    • Ellen,

      so here’s the deal. last week leading up to the start of my venture I was EXTREMELY NERVOUS!!! I mean, I’ve traveled all my life…but I’ve never had the added pressure that I’m ‘hoping’ to meet people who will talk to me and let me blog about……I arrived to the airport early because, well because I was nervous about this whole Drinking in the Culture Tour…..I’ve been thinking, “WHAT THE HELL DID I GET MYSELF INTO” because the obviously possibility is that I could potentially meet no one who will talk to me….and then BECAUSE I happened to get to the airport early; it was totally dead at that café, I was the only customer and she came over to my table to talk because she was bored……when she began tearing up just a bit while she was telling me about how much she loved her husband….well…..let’s just say that I felt a little bit more peace of mind that perhaps this whole blogging tour is something that I’m supposed to be doing.

      she was very touched that I wanted to write an article about her and perhaps that is the thing that encouraged me the most….when she repeatedly asked for me to send her a paper copy of the article, well……let’s just say I almost cried lol!

    • God Wink if I ever heard one. Be safe Kenneth. We all love you.

  10. A beautiful start to your trip. She sounds wonderful, Kenneth. I thought of my mother as you spoke of Barbara. Their strength is heroic for sure. Blessings for her journey.

  11. Reblogged this on luvsiesous and commented:
    Here is a story about loss of everything, overcoming, and being reborn.

    It should remind you a little of a Job story.


  12. Beautiful story! Courageous woman! Had me crying first thing on a Monday morning!

  13. What a strong woman. It kind of places different perspective on my own life. Safe travels—and I’m looking forward to more stories.

    • “It kind of places different perspective on my own life”

      I left the conversation with her wondering why I whine so much about my own life…..my life isn’t anywhere near what she is going through

  14. You are off to great start. Really was inspired by Barbara’s resilience. Safe journey!

  15. Only Kenneth! 🙂 And apart from sitting alongside you as I listened, another thought surfaced. You allow people to feel safe … you draw them in. Both when you are listening and then when you are telling. It’s kind of cute. And powerful. And rare. And all you do is drink coffee. Gives me hope that my tuppence worth might just … did I say “hope”?

    • Paul, lol…yea I like hope too…..

      ok, let me be straight up with you; I AM EXTREMELY NERVOUS…. do people tend to talk to me at coffee quite a bit when I’m in my home state, surrounded by my familiar culture; yes…but so what? I feel like I’ve put this twenty ton gorilla on my back by telling everyone I’m going around the world and I feel literally powerless; if people don’t talk to me I’m screwed…..but thankfully…before I even got on the airplane someone sat down with me…….is it coincidence…..the hand of providence….I dunno…..but I can’t tell you how relieved I was that Barbara came over to me and was interested in talking……

    • Thank God!! The man is human! So now, ex-Saint Ken, you have monkeys out of your window and livestock on your back. I call that company enough. And should you run short of conversations, your loving eye will capture another beam of light to share. Just remember you are journeying with friends who want to journey with you (so keep the bathroom door firmly shut). 🙂

      And let me be straight up with you. I get so excited when friends and family travel, I google earth with them. And (no stalking going on – honest) google earthed Detroit to Miami to Costa Rica. Reading the comments here I suspect I was not alone. Because that’s what friends do.

  16. An amazing first story, indeed. Barbara is an inspiration. And a reminder that family is not always who you think they’ll be. I can only wish Barbara, and you, the best in your futures.

  17. Kudos to Barbara. You tell her she’s a true hero and a great role model to that little girl. I can’t imagine having to do what she is doing. To every person who ever wondered how they would go on, how they will survive, she is living proof of a bright side.

    I don’t know if she came off as happy or sad, but she sounds like she’s doing what she can to find happiness with the hand dealt to her. I am impressed with her strength and happy she has found “family” again.

    • “I don’t know if she came off as happy or sad, but she sounds like she’s doing what she can to find happiness with the hand dealt to her”

      TK, I’m fascinated that you picked up on this……because that is exactly what I felt while interacting with her. When she told me that her and the friend were going to be moving to florida soon, I asked her if she was excited about that and all she said is “Well, I feel that its time for change”….I couldn’t read her at all as to whether she was happy or sad…..but all I can say is that she seemed at peace

  18. you can never give up on life. It take tremendous strength and bravery to survive like Barbara did and still does.

  19. Incredible. God bless you, Barbara.
    Kenneth, I’m looking forward to reading all of your adventures on this tour.

    • Thank you…..I’m trying to write but its been a whirlwind two days of traveling….multiple planes….rented a car and drove a few hours through the jungle….but a couple hours ago I finally arrived at my first destination so I will be here for three days before I move on to the next city……This morning I was literally sitting on the pavement in a parking lot on the side of the road where I finally found WIFI in order to upload that article…….

  20. A reminder that there are no guarantees, but also that you make what you can of your life as you find it. I believe there are far more people like Barbara than we know, probably the majority of people facing hard times. We see them every day, but they are, in a sense, invisible to us, because those who crack under the strain are impossible to ignore.

    • ” I believe there are far more people like Barbara than we know, probably the majority of people facing hard times. ”

      I think you might be right. she’s the type of person who could be living next door to me and I’d never realize what she’s going through in life.

  21. Special respect for people like Barbara, that stay strong when having every reason to break down. What doesn’t kill, makes us stronger.
    Inspiring start,
    You pick the right spot,
    Enjoy the sun and the moon night! 😊

  22. Amazing story, nice to see that people ”do what they gotta do to survive” We must never give up. Thanks, to people like you who sit at coffee shops and bring us stories like this.

  23. And so the adventure begins…..

  24. Enjoy your trip and what a nice story you shared<3

  25. Great way to start your journey,and an even more blessed journey to Barbara all the days of her life.

  26. Bon voyage. I know that I look forward to your dispatches from the places on your tour. Thank you for this inspiring story about Barbara. She is an example what the power of strength, will and determination can accomplish. May she know ease, peace and love. BTW: I LOVE Costa Rica! I had an opportunity to spend 3 weeks there and I am most definitely going back. Blessings to you on your journey, Lydia

  27. What a beautiful and inspiring story – it makes me feel quite humble 🙂

  28. This is why I’m a journalist Kenneth – stories like that. I want to get into more feature writing, which would focus on stories just like that. I love hearing from people and learning about who they are through their stories because everyone has a story. They may seem ordinary to those folks but to the rest of us, they’re usually pretty extraordinary. Truth is, your tour and the stories you’ll hear and collect is a story in of itself. Those things seem to happen more and more but that’s good – we need to learn from each other because each person has so much to teach – we just need to be willing to listen. Barbara sounds like an amazing woman. I wish her all the best and am inspired by her perseverance. Man – I wish I could go to Costa Rica. I really want to go Ziplining out there lol. It would be so much fun! Can’t wait to hear of your first adventure.

  29. Mda…These facts moved me a lot and dragged me back…where I said it’s an art to know how to lose.
    Barbara through you, give me strength and another lesson as …we should not depend of others, even though there are still people with big hearts. Very impressive story, Kenneth. Thank you!

    • “Barbara through you, give me strength and another lesson as …we should not depend of others, even though there are still people with big hearts”

      right on dana!

  30. Enjoy your trip…you’re off to a good start, that’s for sure.:) I hope Barbara finds a great life in Florida.

  31. Oh my goodness! Kenneth, if this isn’t a “good luck sign” as to how this tour of yours is going to go, I don’t know what is. What a story. One that really touched my heart. I have been in some tough times, and yes, I can relate to some of this woman’s story, but to the extent she went through? No. To be abandoned by family and to be homeless…..oh my God! This woman gives all us the inspiration, that no matter how tough life gets, there is always a way to get back up again. That is….. IF you want to try.

    • “Oh my goodness! Kenneth, if this isn’t a “good luck sign” as to how this tour of yours is going to go, I don’t know what is”

      lol I’m hoping its a good omen for sure!

  32. Hey there Kenneth. I don’t know if you allow awards or not, but I really do enjoy your blog and think it’s awesome. I have just nominated you for “The Versatile Blogger Award” and if you accept it you can find the rules here: http://stacilys.wordpress.com/?p=749
    Blessings =)

  33. I’m excited for you! I think all of us readers are right there with you. Enjoy!
    cate b

  34. Beautiful. Rich. Please keep this journey going. I feel like these are the stories that most Americans are really living these days. They need to be told. 🙂

  35. What a strong woman! Her story is unbelievable, thanks for sharing. Looking to more articles from your tour!

  36. If that is your beginning I smell a pretty good book. a book of sad, glad, bad and mad people you meet along the way . . .

  37. Oh my gosh…I am so excited about your project! Last night, I kept waking up thinking…is it morning yet? I so very much wanted to hear how your first journey went. So, right now I’m pretty tired because I woke up at least four more times after that….and now I am jealous because you are in Costa Rica right now…how cool is that?

    I think it’s quite amazing that on your first day, before you’ve even lifted off, you found Barbara…who, out of all days in the year, met up with you on this day that was the anniversary of her husband’s death. By the raw emotion that is still sitting right there in her universe…you gave her an opportunity to share her pain…her loss…her love.

    My own experience is that once you make your first major life change and live to tell about it…the next change is even easier and way less scary. Barbara has the right attitude…not only will she do fine in Florida…it’s warm down here! 🙂

    • lol….

      well I am in Costa Rica now for sure 🙂 Its so beautiful here…..I have so many pictures..but I simply don’t have time to upload them all….so at the moment I’m only going to be able to upload one pic per day…..but when I get back home I’m gonna see if one of my friend’s can perhaps put them all online for me….

      “Barbara has the right attitude…not only will she do fine in Florida…it’s warm down here”

      and I totally agree!

  38. You really have started well – what a fantastic lady! And since you are going to send her all the comments too, let me just wish her a wonderful life in Florida. Her story needs to be told over and over again as an inspiration to all those who hit rock bottom – so thank you for doing that. And may you meet many more inspiring and thought-provoking people – and may you have wifi wherever you go 😀

  39. what an amazing woman.
    and what a great begining to your tour. Wishing Barbara well in her future.

  40. Great story! What an inspiring person to meet at the start of your tour. I hope this bodes well for the rest. Happy travels to you both!

  41. Sometimes I think I’ve had it bad. I know I have, but sometimes hearing other peoples stories does help you appreciate what you do have or to realize that you may not have had it as bad in some areas. I recently shared in part (perhaps a little vague and veiled by poetry too) some of my story, I don’t know it will impact someone because of my vagueness. I worry it might trigger someone who may have had something similar too maybe. Hopefully not though.

    I’m rambling….

    I know I have a lot more to share about in regards to what I’ve gone thru and why I’m at where I’m at – and where I’ve been. Don’t know if it’s dwelling to share, or if I feel too vulnerable to share right now. I guess I’d let someone else write it, but would want some type of anonymity too.

  42. A great post as usual, Kenneth.

    Hope is the one thing that makes a difficult life worth living.

    The important thing for Barbara, (and people in similar circumstances), is to recognise the positive out of situations and make the most of each small ‘gift’ as it comes her way. Allowing oneself to dwell on the negative and overtake one’s emotions is a sure fire way to drop into oblivion.

    Be of an open heart and open mind is the way to make the most out of any situation. It takes great courage and strength for the ‘Barbaras’ of this world to begin again and it sounds like she’s well on the way to a new life.

  43. Kenneth, your journey is sure to be one that will bring happiness to those lucky enough to share a cup of coffee with you.

  44. Hi Kenneth!

    I wanted to thank you very much for your stories. I am a new subscriber to your blog and find that I look forward to your email notices everyday. 🙂 BC (Before children), I was quite adventurous myself and had traveled all over the world so I love the fact that you are pursuing this journey.

    I will be sure to follow you along the way. Safe travels!!

  45. Wonderful start to this journey, Kenneth. And I couldn’t have said it better than TC Conner above ^ ^.

  46. Wow, what an amazing start to your adventure! Thank you so much for sharing Barbara’s story. I’ve been blogging about kindness lately, particularly the difference between how people treat each other on the internet vs. real life. You are living what I’ve been talking about! Great job, I can’t wait to read your next posts!

  47. Appreciate the update as you promised. Great start, had to share it with twitter world n my few followers on my blog :)))

  48. in an unusual twist to my normal blogging routine….the picture above is actually a photo of the real life Barbara whom I met

    I think it’s a wonderful personal touch that will take this blog to the next level, Kenneth. Granted, I understand not everyone you talk to may consent to being photographed, especially in the future when you return from your tour. But I think deeper personalization will help accent and enhance future posts.

    Excellent post to start off your travels, I say. I’m eager to see what tales you have from bonita Costa Rica.

  49. Wonderful story, great lady. Somehow you were meant to find her when and where you did, so you could tell her story.

  50. This blog earned a Bean’s Pat as blog pick of the day Check it out at: http://patbean.wordpress.com

  51. Once again, another great post. I’m really enjoying your style and am sooooo jealous that you are on this ‘drinking in the culture’ tour. I would absolutely love to do something similar one day, but together with my hubby as a documentary sort of deal. Being that we’re YWAMers it’s no big deal for us to be away from where are roots are laid. Heck, I’ve already done that a few times.

    Anyhow, concerning the post, you spoke of the unjust conditions that so many all over the world find themselves in. It’s devastatingly difficult, especially when you feel so helpless and useless and ‘what could I possibly do for such a huge reality of un-nicenesses?’ I just finished watching ‘Not Today’ last week and was constantly in tears over this sad and sorry state that so many young girls are in in India and many other parts of the world. If you haven’t seen the film, check it out once you get back. It’s definitely worth it.
    Blessings =)

    • Staci,

      i haven’t seen that documentary, but ive watched two different documentaries about India in the past year and they hit on similar themes as what you’re referring to. Its also really sad the way so many people in India are committing suicide because they can’t pay their bills; its utterly awful!

      I’m not sure if everyone realizes quite how much work this actually is! lol

    • “Not today” is actually a movie that was made to bring awareness to and, ultimately, combat the issue of human trafficking (and the situation of the Dalits in India). You can read more about it here: http://www.nottodaythemovie.com/themovie. We’ve just produced a film dealing with this similar issue, being that the World Cup is coming to Brazil this year and the tourism and trafficking is an enormous issue here (and, of course all over the world). We’re in the post-production phase and it is to be released in May this year. That’s a big reason why “Not today” peaked our interest.

      I’m pretty well positive that not everyone realizes quite how much work it is! lol too.

      Have fun drinking in Costa Rica Kenneth.
      Blessings =)

    • “We’ve just produced a film dealing with this similar issue, being that the World Cup is coming to Brazil this year and the tourism and trafficking is an enormous issue here (and, of course all over the world). We’re in the post-production phase and it is to be released in May this year. That’s a big reason why “Not today” peaked our interest”

      what language is your film and where is it being released; only in Brazil or will it be available in the U.S. as well?

    • It’s in Portuguese, but I will be translating with sub-titles. Our desire is that it will be available in the US as well, but we’ll have to wait and see. If you would like to see our first official teaser you can do so here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RdfsWQ-AEA
      If you would like to check out the synopsis, you can do so here: http://stacilys.wordpress.com/ponte-films/. The name of the film in English is ‘Internal Mazes’.
      Blessings =)

  52. Reblogged this on A Mom Looking Up and commented:
    If you haven’t yet discovered Kenneth’s blog, now’s your chance. Follow along as he blogs about the folks he meets while journeying on a worldwide tour of coffee shops. First stop, Costa Rica.

  53. Beautiful Story about Barbara and thank goodness with a happy ending!


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