(This piece originally ran in The Orange County Register May 23, 2012. Reposted by permission.)
Kids aren’t the only ones who need the wisdom of others. Grown-ups continue to change, grow and pass through different life stages. We benefit from people who are further down the path of experience.
Last month, I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, where along with fellow Newport Beach columnist Shelly Volner, I spent the entire weekend laughing, crying and being filled with the courage to continue pursuing my dreams.
One keynote speaker, Ilene Beckerman, deeply touched me. As she spoke, I hung on her every word. No stranger to life’s pain, Beckerman lost her mother when she was 12, and was raised by her grandparents. Later in life, she had six kids of her own, and lost one at two years old.
She did not begin writing until she was 60. Beckerman, now 77, has authored five books. Her latest one, The Smartest Woman I Know, is about the lessons she learned from her grandmother. When I returned from the conference, I wrote to her:
Dear Ilene, I wanted to send my sincerest thanks for your moving and inspiring speech at the Erma Bombeck workshop. There is something in you, beyond your beauty, talent, creativity, wisdom, honesty and humbleness that makes me appreciate you so much.
…You are a role model for me. Not because your life is a perfect fairytale, but because you are so human. You have experienced pain as well as joy, tears, laughter, birth, death, gains and losses. And you have embraced it all with poise and humor. This adds to your voice as a writer, a woman, a friend, a mentor.
I bought books from several authors at the conference and on the plane ride home to California I picked, like a kid with a bag full of candy, what I wanted to read first. I chose The Smartest Woman I Know and, like a treat, savored every word, every drawing. I fell in love with Ettie and missed my grandma Sylvia Feinberg something fierce.
She wrote me back appreciatively and said, “Your e-mail knocked me out.”
Beckerman is not the first woman to move me in such a way. In college, Professor Werner was my favorite. I took three classes from her. She told us stories of being orphaned during World War II and how UNICEF saved her life, feeding her soup and giving her a coat. As an adult, she learned Swahili, and spent each summer in Africa as a UNICEF volunteer.
The first real boss I ever had opened a school for kids with special needs. She earned her Ph.D. at the age of 72, and well into her 80s she went to work every day an hour early to lecture the staff.
You will know when you have found a role model, because you will not want to be just like them, but be motivated by them to be the best version of you.
— Jill Fales
Jill Fales writes the weekly “Mom’s Voice” column for The Orange County Register. Inspired by the faculty at the 2012 EBWW, she’s now working with Greyden Press on publishing her first book, My Laundry Museum & Other Messy Gifts of Motherhood.