Be The Change . . . Yadayadayada

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Caroline Watkins
Caroline Watkins

Not to in any way minimize the infamous Ghandi quote, I guess I just don’t know how to do it.

I have been thinking about Mom and Dad a lot lately and their “being.”  They have been gone since 2002 and 2011 respectively. Yet, when I watched a TED Talk by Stephanie Shirley, now 83 and “the most successful tech entrepreneur who you have never heard of,”  I started crying and I don’t mean getting misty-eyed, I mean sobbing.

Only two people know this actually (until now).

The moment brought Frederick Buechner’s poignant words on tears to mind: “Of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”

Well, those tears definitely got my attention. And as I forwarded the talk to those on my “TED Talk Junkies” list, it became clear why they came.

Shirley was a woman before her time; defying social norms; shattering glass ceilings before I was even born; creating millionaires within her all-woman company as well as the opportunity for many of them to work from home. Plus she had a very special needs child. What I realized is that not only would my Mom have loved this woman – Dad would have, too.

Here was the epiphany. My father was a feminist! A man before his time, if you will. He may not have acknowledged it, but he LIVED it. He supported his five daughters in whatever we wanted to do whether it be staying at home with our children or pursuing a career – whenever that may happen to be – as long as we went to college. That, he felt, was one of his greatest gifts to all of us, including his only son.

There was quite a bit he said “no” to, but not when it came to the things I wanted to do that may not have been necessarily deemed “appropriate” for a girl.

In fact, I never felt like “just” a girl. I played football (ok, flag); showed cattle (ok, make that one); guided rafts and traveled across the country and then the world by myself. I have joked that this could have been a function of my being the youngest child in a large family, but I have a “hunch” it was more than that.

Truthfully, Dad and I were never that close until I was in my 20’s. Mom knew more of my inner world than Dad ever did. But that’s OK. I felt loved and a sense of belonging despite my being a relentless “squeaky wheel.” And in keeping with a blog I recently read on the pressure parents now feel to make their kids childhood “magical,” mine really was. Even though it was largely unsupervised. Perhaps that’s where some of the magic came in.

Sure there were the mundane moments when I consumed disproportionately large amounts of Cocoa Krispies in front of The Flintstones and sang at the top of my lungs to really bad 70’s music in the den . . . by myself; and the more” exciting” ones such as driving a car into a neighbors’ fence (when I was, um, four) and losing my front teeth after jumping off of a lifeguard stand. And that was BEFORE the trampoline accident. Let’s just say I have had a lot of dental work.

Nevertheless, I’d like to share, in closing, several lines from one of my favorite poems, “On Children” by Khalil Gibran:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself . . . You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts . . . You may house their bodies but not their souls…You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you . . . “

I think my parents totally got this. They were who they were – and they allowed us to be who we are. And they prayed, without ceasing.

As for my kids? I too will seek to be . . . and I will pray.

God will take it from there.

Thank goodness!

Caroline Watkins