Monday, April 11, 2011

Pride & Purpose

There's a stirring in my soul these days. It's a reminder of how, once upon a time, I wanted to do something important. I wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, some way. I wanted there to be meaning behind what I do every day. I wanted to set and attain goals.

My son, of course, is the most important thing in my life and raising him is making a difference in the world and gives plenty of meaning behind what I do every day. And while I hope that someday he looks back and is proud of how his Mama loved and raised him, I also want him to be proud of who I am as a person and the things I accomplished in this world.

Initially I thought I would be earning a PhD in Social Psychology. Researching gender issues and actively working toward a society in which calling someone a "girl/boy/man/woman" was merely a descriptor and no longer carried with it all of the biases and beliefs we have about what those labels mean - how a person should act, dress, speak, etc. But as with many things in this world, I discovered that the sheer amount of bullshit I would have to wade through in order to get to the point of being a difference-maker was just too much. I feel the same way about politics right now - I know how I would like things to be, but there's just too much opposition out there to actually be able to make a difference.

I've been spending a lot of time recently with a friend who has been through some of the worst things many of us could even begin to imagine. She came out the other side of it as this amazing, compassionate, beautiful person who, without even trying, has the ability to inspire others to make better choices, to live fully and without apology, to face darkness in our lives and in ourselves head-on and to make something out of it. She has been making a difference in people's lives through her blog - simply by telling her story and its accompanying happy ending (not the right word, as the story isn't over and never will be, but that's the best I've got) in such a real, from-the-heart, nitty-gritty way that it's impossible to look the other way and not be touched by it. She is an incredibly talented writer and her husband and I are encouraging her to transform her writings into a book when she's ready, because it's just too important NOT to be shared with the world. She will continue to make a difference in the world with each passing day, in addition to the difference she makes raising her daughter with pure love and gratitude. To read her blog and the story she tells, please click here. If you decide to read through the archives, I suggest you have a box of tissues handy and no important place to be.

The stirrings within me to find a new purpose have been strengthened by getting to know her. I don't have a story to tell. But it has made me look at my life and ask "What am I really DOING every day?" The job I get paid to do does make a difference in the lives of anonymous children every day. I help schools raise money and promote literacy among their students. I directly help to put about 500,000 books into the hands of kids every single year. That's a pretty big number. But at the end of the day I am still working for a major corporation that, despite its sunshine & roses mission statement and lipservice paid to literacy partnership and promoting reading, is still out for profits, is still responsible to its shareholders, and still makes company decisions based on the bottom line. I hate that, but there's nothing I can do about it. It's not the greediest corporation in the world, but it's not a nonprofit either. So I stay, because I need to get paid.

I started to think about what my talents are, what my experience can be used to accomplish, and what types of things I would feel good about doing and would have personal meaning to me. Since moving to a rural area, my love of nature and wildlife has been rekindled in a major way, something I have not felt particularly passionate about since I was a child. I have only lived in this house since November, but in that time I have seen several species of owls including a Great Horned owl that hunts in my yard every night and a Barred owl that visited us right around Christmas. One morning I woke up to find a Blue Heron standing in the little pond on our land. There are eagles, falcons, hawks, rabbits, squirrels of all colors, woodpeckers that think our house is a giant tree, deer - you name it, I probably have it in the land behind our house.

Our Christmas owl. He was much bigger than he looks here.

The Blue Heron that stopped by for a visit.

I am not a birdwatching enthusiast, despite all appearances to the contrary. But spring has just begun and I started wondering what other animals and birds I would see as the weather grows warmer. I thought about how neat it would be to name them, and how much my son might enjoy that as he gets older. This reminded me of the children's author Thornton Burgess. I read many of his books when I was little and my favorite thing about him was that his inspiration for the stories he wrote came from the animals he saw every day on his land. 

That land was willed to the Mass Audubon society after his death, and was transformed into a wildlife sanctuary called Laughing Brook. I can't even tell you how much time I spent there as a child. There was a staff who cared for animals that had been injured in the sanctuary, rehabilitated them, and those who were unable to safely return to the wild were kept in large outdoor enclosures where visitors could view them as close to their natural habitat as was possible. It was my favorite place on earth. Floods, fires, and financial woes have all contributed to the demise of what was once a thriving nature preserve. I have returned to my memories of it many times in the last decade or so and have been frustrated by my lack of ability to DO anything about it. 

But now that I have a son who I am raising somewhat close to the area where I grew up, it has become increasingly important to me to share with him the things that were close to my heart in my childhood. Laughing Brook is one of those things. And it has been suffering. 

I realized that I might actually be able to really help. I have helped raise literally millions of dollars for schools in my territories. I have sales skills for days and days. I have strong networking connections all over New England. So I contacted Mass Audubon and told them I want to help. I told them what I have to offer. All I need from them is a dollar amount. I said "Tell me how much money you need to restore the place to what it used to be. Then tell me how much money you'll need every year to keep it going." I will get that money for them. I will make it happen. 

And hopefully sometime in the not-too-distant future, I will make the drive to Laughing Brook with D. I will tell him all about how I used to go there all the time with his Great Grandma. I will tell him how Shawnee the coyote was my favorite animal there and how I used to sit for hours and talk to her whether she listened or not. I will tell him about walking the Chipmunk Trail and counting how many chipmunks I would see. I will tell him about how Laughing Brook was forgotten for awhile and how no one came to see it anymore. 

Shawnee the coyote. Taken from Hell's Acres blog.

And then I will tell him how his Mama helped to bring it all back to life so that children just like him could enjoy it the same way I used to. And how proud I will be to have done it. 

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Anonymous said...

i LOVE this idea! Good luck, and let me know if you want me to post anything on my blog for you! :)

Natalie said...

Thank you. I've really been thinking a lot about all the things we talked about, and feeling motivated to get started.

Wow... That is such a huge thing for a non-profit... raising money is just so freaking hard, especially right now. What an amazing goal!

It's funny how much alike we are. I feel like so many people in this world just want to get through day to day. I've never been satisfied with that. I don't just want to do something, I want to do something passionately, something that will really make a difference. Unfortunately that makes most jobs pretty sucky.

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