One of my many roles in my 25 year career as an academic librarian, was being chosen as the United Nations Librarian at both the University of Utah and University of Colorado at Boulder at the beginning of my career. I enjoyed this role because I was raised by parents who wholeheartedly believed that girls need a good education to impact the world in any meaningful way, and the United Nations has always supported that goal financially. As a UN librarian I learned that education was the best predictor of whether women could advance in less developed countries.
Ask the famous freedom fighter Malala Yousafzai. As a young girl, Ms.Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for her non-traditional behavior, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
Little did I know then that I was also talking about some rural pockets of poverty and ignorance in our own country.
This week I read a POWERFUL memoir of a woman who advanced from no early schooling until age 17, to a PhD from Cambridge University in the UK. By writing EDUCATED: A Memoir, about her extreme battle to educate herself and in that way find her true Self, Tara Westover is educating the rest of us in how hard some girls and women must fight to simply NOT follow in their mother’s footsteps.
Tara learned from a very early age that she would have to fight for everything she would ever have, first with her father and then with her older brother. Growing up in a violent and severe fundamentalist Mormon family in rural Idaho she eventually discovered:
“Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” pg. 197
The battles Ms. Westover fought for her own education, freedom and independence nearly killed her a number of times, yes in this very country of ours. The extreme courage and intelligence she expresses so well in this memoir is an inspiration to all worldwide who strive everyday to simply be themselves and breathe free.
There are so many brilliant ideas and lines in this memoir! To paraphrase just one:
Guilt is never about them. It is fear of your own wretchedness…
How refreshing to be surrounded by women at all stages of personal development like I was the other night! It reassured me once more that the soul surgery I have done on myself, which then led to the creation of my various books on midlife transformation, was truly not in vain.
Often we need to feel our deepest pain before we are willing to risk the painful process of growing up. Breakdowns can empower us to grow into our highest self. A few years ago I presented a talk to a group of unemployed people in their middle years. When I was finished, the first person to raise her hand asked me, “Do you believe we have to hit bottom in our lives before we truly begin to change?” My answer at the time was, “I did.”
The fact is that most of us will not begin to change until we become uncomfortable enough to admit defeat. Most of us need to be absolutely convinced that the “plan” we’ve had for life is simply not working. The way this usually comes about is through major life changes that demand our complete attention. Divorce, serious illness, the death of a loved one, and long-term unemployment, especially in our 40s and 50s, seem to be the most common events that lead to the end of our naïve belief that we have control over everything that happens in our lives. And these events become ever more common as we age. These unforeseen and often unforeseeable occurrences can inform us in no uncertain terms that changes in our plan are now in order.
Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.
We may first try to defend against the onset of pain and confusion by denying or ignoring this sudden lack of certainty or security in our lives. We may seek to escape into bad relationships, drug addiction, religious faith, or even artificially extreme feelings of independence, as we defend against our need to include others in our lives.
Eventually we may discover that, even though it seems completely counter-intuitive at this tough spot in life, accepting and embracing the chaos and uncertainty we feel surrounded by is our first, best step towards peace. Stop, sit down quietly, and begin to feel the enormity of this apparent crisis, which may also be one of the most important opportunities of your adult life. Can you trust in the power of your own psyche to survive this crisis and in that way heal itself?
Know that this is the beginning of your own personal rite of passage into older adulthood. This is the natural, normal stage of human development studied by psychologists since Carl Jung, when he experienced it himself. Recognize that you are not the first to feel chaos and uncertainty in your middle years. You are in a well-documented transition period of personal change, growth, and human evolution. And the best way to move through this life stage smoothly is to embrace the new information and knowledge you will be given.
By allowing this in, you have the ability to access the unique instruction this moment has for you. Instead of attempting to run from it, embrace the uncertainty. Begin to believe this moment is giving you access to your own unique brand of power, one you may have never known or acknowledged before. Begin to see that you alone know, somewhere inside, what needs to happen next. Spend the time necessary to listen to the small, still voice within, the one you may have been ignoring for decades. Recognize this voice—perhaps for the first time—as your inner guide, brimming with accumulated information and wisdom. This source knows where you need to go next. It will instruct you in how you must change, grow, and evolve into your best self in this moment. The sooner you begin to believe in its power and trust this valuable inner resource, the sooner you will follow its instructions and find more structure, certainty, and peace in your life.
I really do try to stay positive. I have even been occasionally accused of being pathologically optimistic. Yes, me! I know complaining isn’t particularly useful, but after four and half years of trying hard to find a few good friends here, I need to talk about this issue.
First of all, I am a master at spending time alone. I have a healthy appreciation of solitude. I love to let my mind wander wherever it wishes without any outside distractions. I have kept a journal since junior high and lived alone most of my adult life. I am fundamentally a loner who has spent years learning how to welcome special relationships into my life. I now have an amazing partner. We connect very well, and I love talking to him about just about anything for hours. But I also need a few like-minded friends….
Friends who write and appreciate good writing and art. Friends to talk about films with or gardening or what birds they’ve been seeing at their feeders lately. Friends to share my hopes and fears with, to talk about philosophy or psychology or history with. Friends I respect and who respect me. Friends who understand the solemn bonds of friendship. Friends like I still have up north in Fort Collins.
I cannot find friends like that here, and I have really tried! So many here come and go with the seasons, others work all the time and don’t have time for friends. Many are older with serious health problems, and most apparently already have their friends and don’t want anymore. Yes, there seem to be as many excuses as people I have met.
Please don’t respond to this post with, “I haven’t had any problem making friends here.” If that is your experience good for you! I need friends who are there for more than small talk. I don’t just want to talk about my husband, or the weather or finding services here. I seek a higher level of discussion exemplified by this blog. I seek those who think about deeper issues like meaning, life, death, philosophy and psychology. Please let me know if you can relate to this plea. Perhaps we could be friends.
There’s a great hashtag on Twitter today: “Start over in 5 words.” Yes, I know, we can’t usually erase all evidence of the many stupid things we’ve done and start over, but just for this one special day let’s try it! And since I seem to be stuck in “life review” lately, Why not?
I can think of literally a million stupid things I’ve done. Ah, let me count the ways I have proven my own stupidity… but then, many have done the same to me. I see my twenties as a whole world of stupidity now. How was I ever SO NAIVE? I got taken advantage of in just about every way possible, mainly because others could get away with it! They must have been amazed to find such a apparently smart and yet stupid girl. I, of course, blame this on my parents (hahahaha…) Unfortunately the stupidity didn’t stop there, as you will know if you have ever seriously looked back at your life from your sixties.
This brings us to my favorite reward for decades of aging: SELF-COMPASSION. Get into to it and you will see that you weren’t really all that stupid, just inexperienced in life. You didn’t see any of that coming! Hell, you didn’t even know yourself back then. We were all messed up in our twenties and probably lucky to just survive them. Reward yourself for your survival and the fact that you now thrive in a whole new world of loveliness. At least we learn in life and can now celebrate the rewards of so much self-struggle.
Forget your mistakes for this first day of a whole new year and celebrate your lovely survival to enjoy this day!
As I prepare to pen this final post of the year 2018, I would have to say my heart is filled with gratitude. My life has been blessed with a wonderful family who all still live. My Dad, at almost 90, is as healthy as I might hope for, and my Mom, although she struggles everyday for clarity, is as generous and loving as ever.
My brother who lives in the woods in a lean-to, loves his life at age 65. He knows exactly what it means to live “wild and free.” Talks with him always remind me of Henry David Thoreau. He shares his own version of genius with the rest of us.
My sister is an international star in the field of long-term care, who else to manage my parents’ many health concerns? Diane knows what she’s talking about when it comes to end-of-life issues. She teaches us all what she knows.
And finally, as I look out over our majestic fields of snow, I love where I live with my favorite people and pets. The sun struggles to come out and warm our passive solar home today, reminding me everyday how dependent we are on its power and warmth.
I am forced to ask everyday: How did I ever get so lucky?
I watched an amazing film last night, and this question came from it. “The Children Act” is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. My gift to you this holiday season is to tell you that you must see it. There is nothing simple about this multi-layered plot, which investigates the complex emotions of human existence and relationships. Emma Thompson also delivers one of her best and most heart-felt performances in this film, which caused me to begin to ponder, when in my own life have I truly felt wild and free?
I have known only fleeting moments of “wild and free” most of my life. At the time I called these glimpses “zen moments” when everything seemed exactly as it should be. I loved that feeling of finally being in the right place at the right time to experience this golden moment.
Then, in a shocking revelation last night, I realized that it is only now, in my sixties, that I regularly feel both wild and free. Now I can finally stop thinking about how others might judge me, and simply make my own choices. Everyday I again choose to be me, feeling safe and nurtured enough to reveal my authentic self, handing myself more freedom. What a refreshing way to live…
I gave myself freedom in the past few years. That’s pretty wild, isn’t it?