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What now, oldest daughter?

June 30, 2014 8 comments

 

I am a lineswoman.  For those of you who know me personally, no worries. I’m not talking sports. I’m referring to quotes.

Lines I have read or heard often come to me when I’m out walking early in the morning.

Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”

The question repeats itself as I walk. I’d read it a few days before in Anthony Doerr’s gripping new novel, All the Light We Cannot See.  It’s asked by an older woman who is challenging  her friends  to take potentially dangerous actions against the Nazis occupying their small coastal town.  We don’t know very much about the woman,  except that she’s in charge of a bakery.  We witness the courage and leadership required to take the action she proposes and then the impact on her friends, the community and the novel’s young protagonist.

Though thankfully no comparable dilemma confronts me, the French woman’s question takes on talons and sticks in my brain.  I find myself asking,  “What does it mean to be, to feel “alive”?

Maybe it means taking a look at my bucket list. Maybe it means evaluating if I need to become involved in issues affecting my life.  For sure, it means cutting any coasting and recognizing that what I  do with my time matters.

“Are you having any fun?”  

Ironic question to pop into my head as I hit the hardest, mostly uphill part of my morning walk.  This quote comes compliments of the movie Quartet, which my husband and I had watched again a few nights ago.  It replays, complete with melody, as I head up the first semi-steep incline that lies between me and home.  Am I having any fun?  Such an important question.  Even now as I do my self-imposed exercise, begin to pant and at the same time hear the chirps of the nearby prairie dogs, I recognize that “fun”  includes things which give me satisfaction, make me feel good about myself and what I’m doing.

That’s when as I round the last uphill curve, the final quote comes to mind, one penned more than a century ago by American philosopher and psychologist William James.  A copy of it was push-pinned into the corner of my office cork board for years: “Seek out that which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive…the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real you.’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maya and me and a surprising connection

June 2, 2014 6 comments

Countless words are being written this week about Maya Angelou by those whose lives she touched with her words.  Count me among them.

A paperback copy of Dr. Angelou’s book of poems, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” has been plucked regularly from my bookshelf, and  I was thrilled to be in the audience when the author read her poem by the same name at our local college.  But it was only by chance that I realized her poetry has impacted me on more than just a conscious level.

The sad news of Dr. Angelou’s passing came across the Internet a few days ago as I was updating my website.  That’s when I saw it.  My unconscious, unintended, but unmistakable connection to the poet and her most famous metaphor.

Years ago when I was developing the oldestdaughter.com website, I had wanted an image on the home page that conveyed the site’s objective of “encouraging oldest daughters to find and foster our own possibilities, free of any limitations that might be left over from childhood  expectations.”

I chose a drawing of a stick-figure female at the moment she flies through the wide-opened door of a birdcage.  Nothing holding her back – she’s being carried by the wind into an open blue yonder, complete with friendly, puffy white clouds.   Uncaged.  Free.  In complete contrast to that of the caged bird who “sings of freedom” denied at the time by a racially locked society.

Before this week I had never thought of my website’s image in connection with Maya Angelou’s poem.  So for the first time, I looked closely at the rest of the drawing to see what else I might have missed.

The opened birdcage sits atop a colorless base covered in lines of grayed words that I can’t quite make out — sort of like a message in a half-remembered dream. Do they form the “sentence” that once kept the red-shirted stick figure “en-caged”?

I was thrust into my own metaphoric journey. What underlying words are written in the psyches of oldest daughters? If/when we push open whatever cage confines us, what songs could we sing?

The poet’s passing caused me to look anew at something familiar.  To catch a glimpse of something I hadn’t “seen” before.  To consider possibilities.

That’s what poets do — it’s what Maya Angelou did for me even as she left us.

 

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