I experienced an early trauma at the age of seven, when my family and I abruptly left our beautiful home atop a mountain in Funchal, Madeira Island. It was the middle of the night during a heavy storm. With hushed voices and a sense of urgency, we boarded a dinghy at the Funchal harbor. I saw through the sheets of rain a ship waiting several hundred yards away.
In Lisbon, we boarded a larger ship sturdy enough for the transatlantic voyage to New York. Eleven days later, my father exclaimed, pointing at a large green monument: “A Estátua da Liberdade!” (Statue of Liberty). We had arrived in the Land of the Free. Three days by train and we arrived in California, where I have resided since.
It was not until I was a teenager that I understood why we needed to leave our home, family, friends and belongings in haste: My father, Higino Costa, was a respected, popular journalist who spoke truth to power. Dictator António Salazar put a price on his head when he refused to publish inaccuracies about a vote.
As a frightened young girl, my initial experience of this country was very unpleasant. Unlike the warm hospitality of the Portuguese people in my homeland, Americans made me feel like an alien from a distant planet. Kids mocked me, my beautiful, colorful clothes hand made by my mother; my food; and my speech.
One day, when I was about nine, feeling upset and discouraged, not knowing where to turn for support, I suddenly sensed what I later understood to be the presence of an angel. I felt her warm embrace as she whispered in my left ear in a sing-song (like a lullaby):
“Everything will be all right. Everything will be all right.”
I immediately felt at peace. Since then, that memory has brought me comfort.
As a teenager, I was mesmerized by Perry Mason, and especially loved the courtroom scenes. Occasionally, a man sitting at a little desk near the judge would speak: the court reporter. Little did I know then that I would become one. I thought that I wanted to be a nurse and for two years carried 18 units of courses in Biology, Bacteriology, Chemistry, Microbiology, Nursing I and II, and Psychology. But an experience in a morgue made me realize I did not have the stomach for blood or cutting into people.
A few months later, my then-boyfriend introduced me to court reporting. In November 1975, I signed up for a night course at Oakland College of Court Reporting (OCCR) and never looked back. I practiced diligently and eventually bypassed the rest of my class.
In those days, the California Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) written knowledge test consisted of both the English and professional practices portions and was offered the same weekend as the dictation exam, twice a year – in San Francisco in May and in Los Angeles in November. In early 1979, I missed the last qualifier offered for the May CSR by seven points and was crushed. I had wanted to take it in San Francisco to avoid the expense of traveling to Southern California.
A week later, David Heranney,* my mentor and favorite teacher at OCCR, posted a flyer about a Certificate of Merit class [now RMR] that he was offering for working CSRs, with dictation up to 300 words per minute. After months of diligence and hard work, I passed the next qualifier easily. Then, I decided to take the RPR the weekend before the California CSR and ended up passing all legs of both exams, the first time.
As a freelance reporter, I accepted every job that I was offered to gain experience and reported in all the courts [municipal, juvenile, superior and federal] in five counties in the greater Bay Area of California, as well as at depositions and public hearings. Twenty years later, I managed the San Francisco office of a national court reporting firm for over five years, and transitioned into sales for ten years.
Yet my passion is to educate, encourage and mentor court reporting students and reporters, and to educate the legal community they serve. Details on my Career, Consulting, and Reporting Internships pages.
On a personal level, that initial experience with an angel expanded into a deep exploration of spirituality. Since I no longer had any interest in Catholicism, I studied other spiritual practices: Meditation, Buddhism, Shamanism, Reiki, Native American traditions (i.e., smudging, sweat lodges, shamanic journeys), Mindfulness, crystal healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (aka Tapping), HeartMath, Nonviolent Communication, and others.
At times throughout my life, I have felt conflicted, as if I were living two lives: On the one hand, working in the linear, uncreative legal field with myriad deadlines and rules, and on the other having wonderful adventures in my personal life. I worried that those with whom I worked would judge me for my eccentric interests, so I only shared my spirituality with a few close friends. In meditation, I explored: How can I be true to myself and still do the work I love?
Self-acceptance is a fundamental human need. As long as I accept and love all that I am, it doesn’t matter what others think. The truth is that we cannot control other’s thoughts, beliefs or actions, but we CAN control how we choose to respond (or not respond). Being committed to personal and professional development, I continue to learn and grow, do my best to let go of thoughts or beliefs that create disharmony or stress, and forgive myself and ask others for forgiveness when I fall short.
Read more about my career, publications and speaking engagements HERE.
* I dedicated my ebook to David and “pay forward” his time, energy and positive wisdom with every reporting student and new reporter I meet.
Copyright Ana Fatima Costa. All rights reserved.