**This blog was submitted to the AHA Foundation as part of an “I Am Inspired by Ayaan” Call for Essays. The statements contained herein are not the views of the AHA Foundation but instead are a personal narrative by one of our terrific supporters.**
In 2010, I was unemployed, aimless, and recovering from a very brief (yet no less vicious) drug addiction. I was 45 years old. Due to my unique circumstances (i.e. unlimited free time, see above), as well as the support of a very patient partner, I decided to walk the 2200-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Accompanied by my recently-retired and very patient wife, we embarked in early March but, unfortunately, a knee injury ended my wife’s journey after only 350 miles. I continued walking alone.
Occasionally, I would walk or hitchhike into the nearest town and stay at a hotel in order to catch up on world news and get a much needed hot shower. During one of these breaks from the trail, I happened upon a Christopher Hitchens interview already in-progress on ‘The Charlie Rose Show’. I was aware of Hitchens from political talk shows and I immediately guessed (unfortunately and, as it turned out, correctly) that his shaven head was not indicative of something good. This encounter with Hitchens instigated my purchase of his anthology The Portable Atheist where I was introduced to the writing of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Although her selection was one of the shortest in the book, it was the most memorable and, hence, in my opinion, the most powerful. It was clear why Hitchens had placed it at the end; in addition to being the intellectual ‘Grand Finale’ it is also a very simple and effective last word from an honest and wise person. As I finished the remaining 2000 miles (and four months) of my ‘walk’ from Georgia to Maine, I read whatever material I was able to find by Miss Ali.
So how did Ayaan Hirsi Ali inspire me? It was her statement that we are engaged in a ‘war of ideas’ that has inspired me the most. While the idea of a ‘war of ideas’ now seems obviously true; it was nevertheless inspiring to hear it from someone who (like myself) had once held very bad ideas. Moreover, sometimes a clear and direct statement of fact can have a tremendous effect on a developing mind. My dull brain was jogged into the realization that anyone (even myself) can fight in a ‘war of ideas’! Moreover, the most effective fighters in this war would be armed with an academic education and critical thinking skills. Thus, Miss Ali’s writing was directly responsible for my decision to pursue a university education at the age of 45.
Upon completing the Appalachian Trail In October 2010, I returned home and enrolled full-time at The Ohio State University. I am now very close to graduating with a double major (philosophy and psychology) and a minor in Enlightenment history. I intend to use my knowledge to fight the bad ideas of religious totalitarians and Islamic fascists and to promote the Enlightenment ideals of reason and liberal democracy.
At this ‘advanced’ age, it has not been particularly easy [it was difficult to even find the time to write this!] and there has been much heavy (mental) lifting. While I often wish there were more ‘old guys’ (or girls) in this sea of youth, I am not complaining: I love it and consider myself lucky to have this opportunity. I must thank Ayaan Hirsi Ali for providing the initial inspiration; her wise words provided the necessary motivation my feeble intellect needed to get moving. Thank you, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.