03-23-19 – Paty Jager – All Feelings Are Universal

Friday, August 5, 2016

How a War Changed My Life by Judith Ashley

A version of this post first appeared at

Judith Ashley is the author of The Sacred Women's Circle series, romantic fiction that honors spiritual traditions that nurture the soul.

In 1994 I attended a William Glasser Conference in Ireland. There I met colleagues from the Balkans. The Balkan War was raging and their once peaceful lives were in chaos. When asked what The William Glasser Institute could do, they said they needed everything.

Funds were donated and used to purchase diapers and formula and other necessities like soap and shampoo that were in short supply.

A group of us went a step further and organized a small conference on the shores of the Adriatic Sea in Rijeka, Croatia. We paid our own way and raised additional monies to cover expenses for those who could come. In addition we volunteered to lead workshops and support our colleagues however we could. Our group was received by the Mayor of Rijeka and one evening the government minister for prisoners of war and torture victims spoke to us.

I had a chance conversation with a professor at the local University. He invited me to speak to one of his classes. I also led a group discussion with a small group of women who’d braved Serbian fire as they drove up the Dalmatian Coast from their homes in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik had been bombed that morning.

Jagoda Tonsic-Krema and husband - Scotland. Jagoda presented
Our evening activity (a boat trip to a nearby island) was canceled when Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, came under fire (we were about 50 miles away). I went to breakfast in the morning and found colleagues I’d had dinner with missing. No one talked about where they were.

They’d just vanished—called back to the war.

That morning we were ordered to leave the country. We were an easy target and to kill ten US, Canadian, Irish citizens along with Croatians who were leaders in their country was seen as too tempting. While we understood that our being there actually put our colleagues more at risk than if we left, it was not easy to say good-bye, leaving people we’d come to know and care about in a few short days in danger.

The Mayor sent his van and driver to take us across the border into Slovenia and on to Bled. Traveling through border check points where the guards were armed was an event I’ll never forget. We were in Bled for a couple of days waiting until our flights back home left.

Sitting in an airport waiting for a flight with military tanks on the runway, armed soldiers carrying automatic rifles patrolling the concourse—I’d never had any of those experiences.

When I reached my home I was compelled to do something.

This is my Circle of Life. While the flowers are silk, everything else is natural (well, actually the silk flowers are made from the spinning of silk worms).

Because of that trip I’m very aware of how quickly deep and abiding relationships can form in times of trial. I still hold in my heart many of the people I met over two decades ago. I still feel an instant connection when I see any of them at conferences. One of my favorite experiences was at the Edinburgh, Scotland conference when most of the women I’d met in Croatia were there. Tears of joy, of gratitude on both sides—they’d rebuilt those lives that had been so traumatically disrupted.

There are so many aspects of that trip that were life-altering.

Hearing firsthand the experiences of people who became friends. Hearing how their lives had changed. Hearing the pain and resolution to not just survive but to overcome the challenges they now faced.

Seeing people create a life out of chaos. Seeing people find a point of light, of optimism in the darkness that surrounded them. Seeing the displaced rebuild some semblance of their former life.

Touching the edges of suffering through compassion and empathy. Touching and hugging knowing their healing powers. Touching and connecting with strangers who quickly became friends.

The sights and sounds I experienced fifty miles away from an active war zone changed my life. Even more so I seek to understand another’s point of view, to find a way through disagreements to solutions. Seeing the cost of war leads me, even more than before, to seek peace.

What life altering event have you undergone?

How has it changed who you are?

What have you done to honor that experience and that transformation?

You can learn more about The Sacred Women’s Circle series on my website.

Follow me on Twitter: @JudithAshley19

I’m also on Facebook

© 2016 Judith Ashley


Sarah Raplee said...

Your post is moving and hope-inspiring, Judith. Thank you!

Marcia King-Gamble said...

What a memorable moment. Thank you for sharing. Love the story of The Circle of Life!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Wow, Judith. Your story is beautiful.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks, Sarah. One of the things I remember so vividly over 20 years later is how right it felt to be there at that time. Never felt afraid because I just knew this was where I was supposed to be.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for stopping by, Marcia. Currently my Circle of Life is on my front door. I love walking up to my house and seeing it there. My time in the Balkans (two trips) was always amazing even though I'm fairly certain I was on a security watch list. But that's another story.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks, Lynn! Sometimes we need to face adversity ourselves and see how other people rise above their circumstances. My Glasser colleagues showed the power of his ideas every minute of every day. You can learn more about Dr. Glasser at my blog.