“Love, or the lack of it, is the root of everything.” ~Mister Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Fred Rogers was a life-long Republican. He saved PBS by testifying before Congress. He accepted all people. He cared about the arts, education, and feelings. Imagine the world today if he ran the GOP.
It filled my heart with joy to see kids actively engaged in science and hunting for fossils at Rowan University’s Edelman Fossil Park yesterday. It is such a special place, unique in the world for the scientific history it holds. Walking through a 65 million year old time machine and physically seeing that time in layers around me is something I’m still wrapping my mind around.
An enormous thank you and congratulations to Ken Lacovara, the town of Mantua, staff, students, and volunteers who are working so hard to preserve this natural treasure. What a gift it was to spend the day there with them. I can’t wait to go back. Childhood dream of fossil hunting and being a paleontologist for a day fulfilled!
I once read that if we really want to find our purpose, we should think about what we loved to do when we were 8 years old. I’ve been thinking a lot about 8-year-old me lately, and sifting through the writing I’ve done about my childhood. I came across this piece that I wrote 5 years ago. And it floors me that it still rings so true that I might as well have written it yesterday.
“I grew up in the dirt, literally. There was (and still is) a tractor crossing sign across the street from the house where I grew up. My rural hometown fostered a childhood that involved climbing trees and making mud pies. When I was little, I was convinced that there was a dinosaur skeleton hiding under the ground in my backyard. I enlisted my sister, Weez, to help me dig and dig and dig. All we found was a small mouse skeleton, but I thought it was clearly a prehistoric mouse! Other kids wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or teachers. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still do.
My childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some very positive things about growing up in the sticks. I got my hands dirty in the process of making things. I ate organic food because that’s really all there was, not because it was trendy. Animals were my friends and companions, as much as people. Maybe even more than people. I learned to appreciate the Earth, her majesty and her power. Weather was a way of life, and I still watch it with fascination and wonder.
An article in the New York Times last weekend talked about a movement in this fine and fair city I now call home to bring more nature into the lives of city kids not by taking them out of the city, but by bringing nature to them. Brooklyn Forest, a husband and wife startup, “takes toddlers into Prospect Park to promote learning through creative play like building teepees out of branches.” 7 students were in their first class. Now there are over 200. More people are eager to get into mud these days; I was a pioneer.
There’s something to be said for the slow life, the life we build rather than the life we buy shrink-wrapped and delivered right to our doorstep. Creation builds confidence and bolsters the imagination. It makes us self-sufficient. I’m all for it, for our children and for us. There’s a lot of beauty down there in the mud.”
Doreen Pechey just proved to the world that it’s never too late for any dream to come true. As a child, she loved the ballet and would save up her money to attend performances. Her family didn’t have enough money to pay for lessons nor for the costumes needed to perform. At age 71, she just passed the Grade 6 exam at the Royal Academy of Dance, a record for the company. She started taking lessons 10 years ago at age 61 and continued with her training despite having knee replacement surgery two years ago. We no longer have age as an excuse to let go of a dream. With effort, determination, and love everything is possible. So dust off those childhood dreams. It’s time to make them happen.
10 years ago, I interviewed at a large retail company for a summer internship while I was an MBA student at Darden. It was my top pick for an internship and I was proceeding well in the process. The final step was a psychological evaluation that was supposed to be a formality. Instead, the psychologist dug into my family history for over an hour. She asked me a lot of very painful questions and was very judgmental about my childhood. I stood my ground, told the truth, didn’t crack, and stated how I did the best I could in the circumstances I was born into. I didn’t get the internship, and I was heartbroken. I thought the story was over, but it wasn’t.
A few months ago I received a letter from a law firm. A class action lawsuit was filed against this retail company for discriminatory hiring practices. The HR records had been subpoenaed and unsealed, and it was deemed that I may be due a payment for damages. I confirmed that I interviewed with the company during the time period in question, sent the letter back, and never gave it another thought.
When I arrived home yesterday, I had a letter from the law firm.The retailer confessed to its discriminatory practices, and settled out of court. The letter contained a check for damages. Not a huge check, but one that I can put to good use. I was shocked. I’m still shocked. I actually cried a little. And then I cried a lot. Not out of sadness, but out of relief.
I didn’t realize how badly I’d felt about this incident all these years. When you grow up without enough, you think you aren’t enough. It is a painful fact of growing up poor. And as much as I have grown into a strong, resilient, and confident woman, there is a small part of me who still carries around this slightest feeling of shame. I’ve learned to use it to go further, try harder, and reach higher.
That incident 10 years ago with the retailer brought all of those feelings into clear focus. I wasn’t mad that I didn’t get that internship. I was ashamed and deeply embarrassed because I knew that my family history made them turn me down. I was told I wasn’t good enough because I hadn’t grown up with enough. How hard I had worked for so many years to lift myself up didn’t matter to this company. And in fact it was a black mark against me.
So getting that check yesterday was a nice thing financially, but that is such a small benefit compared to what it means to me on a much more profound level. That is karma. That is the universe righting a wrong. That is the reward of standing tall, and not letting small-minded people get you down. That is proof to me that our authenticity, work ethic, and determination to making meaning of our past does get rewarded. It can take time. It can often take too much time. But it happens. It happens.