For some reason, that made people nervous. It made people mad. Was I doing something dangerous? It forced me to ask myself, Is trying to have a relationship with God daring? Maybe it is.
When I was 45, I was married again, with two children and living in England. I consider moving to a foreign country to be a very daring act. It wasn’t easy for me. Just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean we speak the same language. I didn’t understand that there was still a class system. I didn’t understand pub culture. I didn’t understand that being openly ambitious was frowned upon. Once again I felt alone. But I stuck it out and I found my way, and I grew to love English wit, Georgian architecture, sticky toffee pudding, and the English countryside. There is nothing more beautiful than the English countryside.
Then I decided that I had an embarrassment of riches and that there were too many children in the world without parents or families to love them. I applied to an international adoption agency and went through all the bureaucracy, testing, and waiting that everyone else goes through when they adopt. As fate would have it, in the middle of this process a woman reached out to me from a small country in Africa called Malawi, and told me about the millions of children orphaned by AIDS. Before you could say “Zikomo Kwambiri,” I was in the airport in Lilongwe heading to an orphanage in Mchinji, where I met my son David. And that was the beginning of another daring chapter of my life. I didn’t know that trying to adopt a child was going to land me in another shit storm. But it did. I was accused of kidnapping, child trafficking, using my celebrity muscle to jump ahead in the line, bribing government officials, witchcraft, you name it. Certainly I had done something illegal!
This was an eye-opening experience. A real low point in my life. I could get my head around people giving me a hard time for simulating masturbation onstage or publishing my Sex book, even kissing Britney Spears at an awards show, but trying to save a child’s life was not something I thought I would be punished for. Friends tried to cheer me up by telling me to think of it all as labor pains that we all have to go through when we give birth. This was vaguely comforting. In any case, I got through it. I survived.
When I adopted Mercy James, I put my armor on. I tried to be more prepared. I braced myself. This time I was accused by a female Malawian judge that because I was divorced, I was an unfit mother. I fought the supreme court and I won. It took almost another year and many lawyers. I still got the shit kicked out of me, but it didn’t hurt as much. And looking back, I do not regret one moment of the fight.
One of the many things I learned from all of this: If you aren’t willing to fight for what you believe in, then don’t even enter the ring.
Ten years later, here I am, divorced and living in New York. I have been blessed with four amazing children. I try to teach them to think outside the box. To be daring. To choose to do things because they are the right thing to do, not because everybody else is doing them. I have started making films, which is probably the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done. I am building schools for girls in Islamic countries and studying the Qur’an. I think it is important to study all the holy books. As my friend Yaman always tells me, a good Muslim is a good Jew, and a good Jew is a good Christian, and so forth. I couldn’t agree more. To some people this is a very daring thought.
As life goes on (and thank goodness it has), the idea of being daring has become the norm for me. Of course, this is all about perception because asking questions, challenging people’s ideas and belief systems, and defending those who don’t have a voice have become a part of my everyday life. In my book, it is normal.
In my book, everyone is doing something daring. Please open this book. I dare you.””
© Harper’s Bazaar