I’ve always loved books. Some of my earliest memories are of being read to, either on someone’s lap, or by Captain Kangaroo, as I sat transfixed, too close to the black and white TV screen. What drew me in were the stories, the pictures and the characters. Especially the characters. I learned about world from those books: hungry peasants in Europe who made giant cauldrons of soup – with stones; Chinese on the Yangtze River who used birds to dive for fish; Bullfights in Spain – and some bulls who just didn’t like to fight. As I got older, the picture books would fade away, but I would continue be drawn to stories that had interesting characters who could introduce me to new ideas and new worlds.
And then in 5th grade I discovered Biographies. I can picture the section in the library at Shawnee Park Elementary where I would peruse for yet another glimpse into a life I could only imagine. I would marvel at how ordinary people became extraordinary by following their dreams, passions or their way out of trouble.
Fast forward a few decades and I found myself interviewing fascinating women – a biography come to life! These Superbwomen, as I came to call them, gave me just what those biographies did in 5th grade: a sense of awe, inspiration and appreciation for how perseverance, dedication to self and society, and gratitude for the journey make the ordinary extraordinary.
And that is why I am reading biographies again now. In these days where up is down and night is day and nothing is as it should be, I find myself needing to hear stories of people who have faced adversity and found their way through the muck and mire. I am especially drawn to stories of people who survived early political strife in this country. It shows me that we’ve been here before and come through it. It’s not always easy and the path is not always clear. But we get through. I just finished a biography of George Washington and learned that while he was a strong and principled leader, he was also a man who lost more battles than he won, who faced the same kind of political turmoil as today, and who was a slave owner to the end. In other words, a flawed human being.
It’s easy some times to put others on a pedestal, to think “Oh sure, they got through the mess of their day because they were so privileged or righteous or talented…or whatever”. Anything other than being another human being, doing their best with what they have been given and what is in front of them.
If, in years to come, a biographer was to sit down with you and talk about “the COVID days” and how you got through them, what would your story be? Were you stuck in the fear, unable to make decisions? Did you recognize the challenges and find a way to persevere in spite of it all? Were you kind to others or were you singularly focused?
All we have is today. Live your best life TODAY, as if this chapter of your biography will inspire some 5th grader someday. It just might.