I have met a couple of women who have made a notable impact in my life. I need to thank them, and I also need to talk about them.
Both of these women were my teachers, and I met them a couple of years apart. They both come from different backgrounds, look different to one another, and you would also probably never guess that they have much in common when seeing them. But not only did they both teach me the same subject, they also taught me essential life lessons that I have carried with me beyond the realms of the classroom, and hope to retain for the rest of my life.
My relationships with these women went deeper than the subject of study. Between lessons, we had conversations about our personal journeys, past experiences, and how we came to be the people we are. Oh, and sometimes there was tea involved as well.
Although I will only be able to share a couple of anecdotes from my time with them, listening to their stories of loss, failure, and even personal tragedy has permanently altered my perspective on a number of things.
I remember when one of them talked about an accident that almost killed her and had left her severely disfigured. Despite this, she was due to give a presentation a week or so later, and had certainly delivered it, missing teeth and all.
This particular story still stays with me years later because it cements the importance of showing up.
It doesn’t matter what you have been through, and it certainly doesn’t matter what you look like, if you have things that need to be done, and you are fit enough for a task at hand — because self care always comes first — then execute them the way you know best, even if something as crucial and glaringly obvious as facial reconstruction surgery is due in the forseeable future.
The version of this woman that I had met almost a couple of decades later was a fun, empathetic individual who truly didn’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, she herself credited the accident in changing the way she viewed life.
She always seemed very interested in the diverse lives of people she met, and had enjoyed talking about what she learnt about and from them. She was also embracing of opportunity and change. The last I heard from her was when we said our goodbyes during our last lesson together, before she was set to start a new life, in her fifties, with her family across the pond.
A couple of years prior, the other talked to me about how as a young teenager, she was somewhat grudgingly pushed out of her comfort zone at school when it came to picking electives for her course of study. Her father encouraged her to pick subjects in which she had little background talent to fall back on, and that’s exactly what she did. But, the hard work she had to put in to catch up with her peers, and to excel, had led to her making great strides throughout her student years.
Over a decade later from those events, she would find herself in a similar situation. She would wind up in a different country, in a completely different continent where she didn’t speak any of the official languages fluently. She was forced to start from the beginning and learn how to live and communicate as she went along.
Between that time and the time we met, she had worked a number of jobs — some unsuccessfully — and her life could have taken many different paths, until she discovered one where she felt more or less centred.
She once said something to me along the lines of “I was fired many times,” but then made it clear how essential it was in molding her into the person she would become. Under her scholarship, she made sure to engrain in me what she had learnt in her younger years: no matter how much talent I have in something to start off, with consistent hard work, I would be able to accomplish whatever I set out to do. The lessons she learnt during her formative years had in turn shaped mine.
Whether from the words they spoke to me directly, or from the ones they shared with me in telling their stories, both of these women have taught me lessons on resilience, stretching my strengths and even engaging with my creative self. Both of them helped me see that my potential reached beyond what I thought, and that most importantly, I could get there. They saw and treated me as a young woman who had a lot more going for her than what she looked like or possessed materially.
They saw a whole person, even during the times when I didn’t see myself that way. And sadly, many young women may not, especially during the years where we’re still trying to figure ourselves out, and trying to muddle through all the mixed messages about how we’re supposed to be. I need to thank these women for playing a role in my reaffirming my unique personhood.
In a world that tells women and girls that the most important things about them are what can be seen externally as opposed to what they think or feel, it’s important for them to learn to view and accept themselves as whole, complex, three-dimensional people. It’s also important for them to recognise and honour the people who remind them of this. And that’s why I felt that I needed to write this, and that it matters.