As much as people may be interested in those who fill our pop culture, I am interested in ordinary people who live extraordinary lives.
I was thinking about this after reading about the death of Kate's grandma. Is there nothing more holy than a grandmother? I recall a funeral I attended in which the priest talked about holiness and how all grandmas are holy. What makes someone holy? A quiet acceptance, lack of judgmentalism, a listener.
My husband's grandmother lived to the age of 102. She rarely talked about her past, but I heard the story of how she was married at the age of 16 in Czechoslovakia to a family friend. The marriage was arranged so she could come to the US with him. They ended up starting a farm in Northeast Ohio and raising five kids. Did she love him? She didn't know the language, yet somehow she managed. To me, that is extraordinary.
Or I think of my dad. He was one of five boys raised by a single mother. His dad was a gambler who left the family. His mom worked at the local factory, and with the help of neighbors and the Church, raised her Irish boys to be productive adults. An example of rising above circumstances. In the end, her husband was dying of cancer and she took him in to die. Extraordinary.
Another homily that stayed with me (you see, I pay attention in church sometimes....although I would listen better if I had knitting in my hands!) was about saints. The priest emphasized the fact that we shouldn't put saints on a pedestal. What is amazing about saints is that they were ordinary people.
This is why I am interested in reading biographies. I love to learn about what real people have accomplished. Some of my favorite recent reads include:
Endurance - the amazing journey and tale of survival of Shackleton
The Soloist - the story of Nathanial Ayers, a Julliard drop out with paranoid schizophrenia
A Beautiful MindCaught by the Sea - true stories based on Gary Paulsen's life on boats
Becoming Jane Austen
Stalking the Divine - a book about the Poor Clare Sisters (a high school friend, who was a nurse and helped deliver my oldest two kids, later joined this cloister)
The Book of Mychal - "The surprising life and heroic death of Mychal Judge" - the priest killed on 9/11
John Adams (McCullough)
These stories captivate me because of the challenges faced or the historic time period in which they lived.
Although not a biography, I am currently engaged in reading "These is my Words" by Nancy E. Turner. It is written in the form of a diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1181 - 1901 as she settles in the Arizona Territories. Recommended by Sarah, this story is not only enjoyable to read, but helps me understand the struggles the settlers endured! (The love story isn't bad either!)
I taught a knitting class last year and had a discussion with one of my students who has a marine son, now retired. Later, we met and she commissioned a quilt of her Marine Mom tee shirts. I think about some of what she was feeling during the time her son served The worries, sleepless nights, pride, gratitude, reunion.
She is an extraordinary woman (and a productive knitter now!) and we have struck up a friendship. I share with her my worries that my eleven year old son wants to be in the Navy. She shares stories of herself as a support person for other mothers.
And then there is the young widow I recently met. She is beautiful, but so young to have lost her husband to cancer. I met her through a relative and she asked me to make a quilt using her husband's tee shirts. She wanted to give it to his mom for a birthday present. The tees share a story of his extraordinary life. He was a teacher, coach, husband, son.
The young woman was so careful to choose a fabric that was meaningful to her. And, although it is very different from one that I would have selected, it has meaning and beauty to her because of the colors and the butterflies. Her husband loved argyle socks so I appliqued a pair on one of the tees.
I am honored each time I am asked to make a quilt because it represents part of a person's life - part of their story.
There are extraordinary people all around us - can you hear their story?