"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does..." Nora Ephron
Here's kind of a long set up to where I'm going this morning. This week I listened to a disturbing podcast on "This American Life." It concerned the trend in our country of putting people on disability. You might remember when President Clinton ended "welfare as we know it." Apparently it took a bad economy and a few years and a few creative thinkers before the disability began to grow and grow to welfare as we don't know it. It's a way the states have shifted the responsibility (shelling out money) given to them when welfare ended back to the federal government. When unemployment figures are announced, these figures don't include the tens of millions of adults and children who are on disability. There are the usual suspects: businesses closing, malingering, avaricious attorneys, a disability industry that profits from getting individuals on the new welfare. Disincentives to work are built into the program just as they were with welfare.
Then there is the town in Alabama where 25% of the population is on disability. It's a town where the main industry left. It's a town where people used to go from high school or no school to jobs that sustained them and their families. It's a town where people are getting disability because of backaches and diabetes high blood pressure, difficulties working people live with all the time. But in this town, here's the shocker, people can't imagine having sit down jobs they could do because the only people they see with sit down jobs are disability workers. Help wanted ads all require people to be able to stand to do their jobs.
As I was sharing this story with my husband, I realized I had a connection to this kind of thinking. I was the first in my family to go to college. That seed was planted and watered with my mother's milk. Not until graduation did I get it that not everyone was going to college. Some were going to work. My family didn't have a lot of money, but my parents were determined I wouldn't have to experience the problems in getting a job my father had. So off I went, child of the 50s to learn to be a teacher or a nurse. If you are a woman of that generation, you know what I'm talking about. Then we didn't know women could become engineers for example though a very few did. We didn't know women could become doctors or lawyers. In our experience we saw women as teachers and nurses and housewives. What we didn't know existed, we couldn't dream about.
Which gets me back to Nora Ephron's quote. As a child, I read lot of biographies, mostly by men. Then a very important book by a woman adventurer ignited my love of travel. Fifteen years after the end of World War Two, not a lot of twenty year olds set off to Europe on their own. I did, and exploration of the unknown has excited me ever since. What if I'd read books about women scientists. I'm not great at science, but what if I'd been turned on fire by reading Madame Curie when I was young. It's hard to know what is possible if we've never seen that possibility.
So this morning, with a world around me full of possibilities, I wonder how this early kind of thinking limits me still. Do I put on blinders? Do I convince myself I can't do something before I start? Am I telling myself I can't enter an art show, for example, or become accomplished enough to do that though I do have models? Even as I sit here writing, I know there was a time I had no idea how to sit here writing, no idea I could write or would ever find a way to share my thoughts with others in this way. I'm sure there are still possibilities in my world I have no way of envisioning, and I know now it's mostly my thinking about myself in a limiting way that stops me.
Baruch ata adonai...I know I don't let myself go hog wild in my thinking about what's possible. I want to believe if I can imagine it I can do it. I'm going to write down some dreams, and I know I can do them. I've done this kind of thing before. It's time to do it again. Amen