In the last month I welcomed the impossibility of publishing here every day as I have for the past ten years. Maybe you missed reading the articles daily. I missed the process of writing them. Maybe because of the publishing choices I make we have developed a connection, even though we never met.
Anyone who publishes wrestles with the question of whether what they say matters. Even as it changes how we think and is a reliable outlet for our curiosity and desire for understanding how things work, including ourselves, feedback is important to a writer. (More on this in a later post.)
We just celebrated Independence Day in the U.S. and to me independence is important to connection. A couple of years back, I wrote a short article on the meaning of independence, which I revisited below.
I come from several generations of independent women.
My great grand mother, who was with us for 100 years, saw all kinds of things happening in her life time. Horse carriages becoming steam cars, and so on, from long gowns to shorter and shorter skirts and pants for women.
She buried the family china during two World Wars —it surprisingly survived the bombing to shatter in thousands of pieces when a faulty cabinet came down crashing half a century later. She died of old age, after taking care of her estranged husband, who came back home in his late years, to die among familiar faces. She was as sharp and witty as she had been in youth, to her last breath.
My grandmother was still with us until March 2011. She was almost 95, bent physically, yet hardly any worse for wear spiritually. One could see it in her eyes. She was curious and incredibly articulate, despite not having had a higher education. A seamstress, she focused on the details of life, patiently stitching the stories with us.
Back in the day, you would promptly label her a real beauty. Her eyes, her smile, her patient nod said —I see you, I'm grateful for having had so much time with you all. The Christmas before she died, I brought my mother over to visit, and upon taking leave, as I leaned over to kiss her goodbye, she whispered “thank you for bringing her to me.”
Those are the kinds of conversations you never forget. Would I be so graceful, immobilized on a chair? I have a couple of sepia photos where she's wearing her brother's suit, complete with hat in one and cape in the other —a fun thing to do in front of a camera. She never wondered what if? She was.
My mother has always valued her independence. With the optimism of someone who lets life use them wholly, she raised her children, earned a few degrees, worked in five careers over her lifetime, and taught herself to read philosophy and poetry. She's been teaching yoga for thirty years.
We crossed paths and exchanged views at so many phases of her growth, and mine, that it almost feels as if we met each other over and over, just like in The Time Traveler's Wife. I didn't inherit her purple blue eyes and her thirst for adventure. I have learned a lot more from her than from many a professor in University.
Which brings us to me. I pretty much did the opposite of what I was supposed to do —classical studies, instead of getting a degree others would term useful, Liberal Arts and linguistics in University, and an open ticket to the US as soon as I had enough savings to make it a go.
I worked insane hours for a few dollars, endured long commutes that would make me barely enough to pay the bills, to go after the work I knew would give me a good grounding, and the people I looked up to as mentors. I signed up for more hours, programs, learning, and doing than anyone else —taking degrees in every industry I've worked in, and continuing to see every opportunity as a perfect setting to push through my perceived limitations without fear of failing.
Which at this point in my career makes me unemployable.
I've been thinking about what has made us, what we have in common, four generations who lived under such different circumstances and times.
I've been thinking about the meaning of independence for us. And it is this:
- the ability to touch and be touched by another individual
- the desire to understand and learn
- the wonder for life and its adventures
- the gratefulness for who we are
- the magic of connection with people
- the poetry in the mundane
- the curiosity for novelty
- the self deprecating humor
- the service to others
- the need to be, first and foremost, who we are
- the agility of thought
To be who we are, without apology and without pretense. With the knowledge that we have but one piece of the story of what makes us, and the joy of inhabiting that piece. That, to me, is the meaning of independence.
Happy Independence Day.