More than a quarter century ago, I met a plump, henna-haired woman named Elen who’d been born in Bethlehem. We commuted from Ann Arbor to the International Institute of Detroit. The hour-long trips in each direction provided a bit of micro-detente as we discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations, the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam.
When she was fourteen, Elen married a man more than thirty years her senior. At that time, she neither read nor wrote. Her mission in life was to serve her husband, have babies and take care of them, cook and clean. When her family immigrated to the U.S., she was still illiterate.
But American culture seeped into her bones. Elen decided that someday she wanted to work outside the home, to bring money in, and to help provide for her sons’ education. Though she only broached the subject once or twice with her husband, his response was extreme and negative.
Elen didn’t give up.
Quietly, in her twenties, Elen taught herself to read and write. In her early thirties, she passed her GED. She started taking college courses. At all times, Elen did everything her family expected her to do, putting her husband’s and sons’ needs before her own. Still, little by little, step by step, she earned her BA.
When we first met, Elen was in her forties and working toward an MSW. Her speciality involved helping the Chaldean population in Detroit. Somehow, after more than thirty years, she’d worn down her husband enough to openly pursue her career.
When she first told me her story, I was appalled and demanded, "How could you stand it?"
"Pari, I’m like a river," she said without a hint of regret or anger. "My husband is a rock blocking my path. With time, I carve away all his objections and flow freely."
Though she never thought of herself as exceptional, I believe Elen’s story is a shining example of perseverance and practicality set against daunting odds. It demonstrates an astounding ability to keep goals in mind no matter what pitfalls or discouragements may try to undermine individual resolve.
All of us — writers, businesspeople, artists, parents — can learn from her story.
So, the next time whining, or self-pity, knocks at your consciousness, I’d ask you to remember Elen. Her path wasn’t just about a career. She had to change a man whose entire life and culture rejected what she wanted.
So can we all
Thanks for reminding us all how privileged we are. Having life easy (not that I have!!) is not necessarily going to have the best end result …
Debi,Thank you so much for your comment.
I’ve been thinking of Elen lately because of a renewed sense of optimism — probably because I just sold my new book.
Her sense of purpose and determination are so inspiring to me.
You thought you’d just sneak that in!!! Tell us all–will it be coming out by UNM or another press? Any proposed pub dates? Dish. Immediately.
Hey, Naomi,THE SOCORRO BLAST passed the final step in the University of New Mexico Press’ extensive vetting process. I found out that the faculty committee approved offering a contract last week.
UNMP’s director said it’s currently slated for Spring ’08, but he’s going to push to change that to Fall ’07 . . . so, we’ll see.
I’m just glad the book is in full process — that it’s a strong and good addition to Sasha’s story — and that I can now concentrate on the 4th in the series.
BTW: My new series is still bubbling.
Pari, Elen’s story is wonderful, but yours is equally fine. Congratulations on selling the next book! I can’t wait to read it.
Well, let’s talk later about the chile pepper angle. I know that at least one person has stumbled across Murderati looking for information about that farmer/horticulturalist you mentioned earlier. I may have some resources that may help your research. 🙂
Ah, Louise,Thank you. I’ve worked so long on SOCORRO that the sale of it is mostly a grand relief. I’ll celebrate when those gallies are in my grubby little hands.
Naomi,The man you’re talking about is Dr. Roy Nakayama. He’s admired in NM and credited with developing some of our finest green chile cultivars.
The more research I do about chiles in NM, the more astounded I am. Sheesh. I’ve got one more trip out of state — to speak to the Nashville Sisters in Crime and to see JT — and then I’ll be concentrating on getting #4 going full swing. It’s going to be fun.
Pari! Congrats on the new contract!
And thanks so much for Elen’s story. A great reminder to all of us that patience isn’t really a lost cause.
Pari — whoo-hoo! Congrats on Socorro, that’s wonderful news.And I love Elen’s story. Just goes to show that when you want something badly enough, you can always find a way to get it.Nashville is looking forward to your visit, as am I!
Elaine and J.T.,Thanks so much for the happy wishes. I didn’t want to turn my post into a celebration . . . but I guess it’s happened.
So, I’ll go the whole nine yards and tell you that I also earned my brown tips (on the red belt) in Tae Kwon Do this weekend.
I broke two boards with an axe kick. It was the first time I’ve ever used that technique and I succeeded on the second try. I’ve got mean heels.
Great news on SOCORRO, Pari!
I wish more people could be as forward-thinking and focused as Elen.
I agree about Elen.
I wrote the piece because of hearing authors complain lately about how difficult this profession is. Elen’s ability to keep sight of the “prize” kept coming to mind this week and I thought it’d be a good time to give her story a voice.
Just promise you wont’ be doing any ass kicking while you’re here…
Funny story, J.T.: I went to a very nice liquor store to buy a really good bottle of scotch (Oban) as a reward for the next few months.
Anyway, I was still in my TKD uniform (Do-buk) and the guy at the register and I started to talk. I showed him the axe kick. He watched me do it and said, “So, like, that means you could probably whip my ass?”
I sized him up, and, well, he wasn’t THAT big. So I said, “Yeah, probably.”
“Ohhhhhh, maaannn,” he said.
We both knew I was right
What a great story, Pari. Thanks for sharing it. It was fun seeing you at the Hillerman conference. Elen’s story just adds to the “I can do it!” spirit that has kept me company since Sunday.
Jen,It was great to see you, too.
Hang in there.
That’s the real motto of Elen’s story.
Persistence eventually works.