Wednesday, January 5, 2011
When things go wrong, as they oftentimes do, I turn to the lives of the most celebrated women in the world to see how they would have acted and reacted when confronted with the dilemma I am in. I have often looked up to strong-willed, passionate women whose formidable characters have made a difference in the lives of other people, men and women alike. The different stages of my life brought forth different experiences that oftentimes posed different challenges. As I dealt with each of such challenges, I sometimes grew, but most of the time, I felt like I was diminished, defeated and beaten. Sometimes, self pity sets in, making me very unproductive, but at the same time making me aspire to do more, given how limited my circumstances are.
On November 26, 2008, at the height of a very disturbing and severe challenge that my family had to face, I found myself in a bookstore browsing at the pages of Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since I was gifted with a copy of My Life by Bill Clinton a year earlier by my daughter, I thought Mrs. Clinton’s book would be a very fine addition to my yet growing personal library. After all, the Bill-Hillary team shaped the world and made it better during the eight years they were in the White House. I reckoned that Hillary Clinton’s life, as she herself has written, can surely provide me with new insights and perhaps lead me towards a clearer direction in developing a true sense of fulfillment.
At the first chance I got to start reading Living History, I immediately opened the pages where she discussed the events leading to the discovery of the Monica Lewinsky scandal which threatened Bill Clinton’s second term with an impeachment and their family’s break down. Mrs. Clinton’s honest and down to earth account of how she knew of her husband’s indiscretions and how it almost shattered her world is something I believe most women similarly situated should read. (My interest in this episode does not necessarily mean I am in the same boat. Luckily for me, my concerns regarding my husband lie along another line.) Reading her account of how her husband admitted his failure to tell her the whole story about this sorry episode in their life and the painful days, weeks and months she experienced thereafter made me realize that women as prominent and renowned as Hillary Rodham Clinton are as human as I am. I felt the anguish and the pain she lived through as I read her description of how she coped during those trying times. She made me proud of being a woman when she decided to stick by her man despite the agony of those months when her family was the focus of international attention, albeit in a negative way. Knowing her, through her own words and actions expressed in the book, made me realize that there are still feminists out there who can keep a family and feel blissful about it.
Just the sound of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name can be intimidating. After all, she was the United States’ First Lady twice over, from 1992 to 1996 and again from 1996 to 2000. One who has not taken a glimpse of the life she lived may even think it was a fairy tale. But she was as real as any other woman in any part of the world. She was as real as your lady dentist; she was a real as the customer assistant in my favorite mall; she was as real as the Italian chef we always see on the Food Network. She was as real as any real woman can be.
Mrs. Clinton’s book is aptly titled because she really lived history. Her circumstances and the great opportunities given her allowed her to become not just a part of history but to transform and modify it for the greater good. Her advocacies- women’s rights, children, education and health care system, to name some, were not merely lip service. She acted passionately towards the achievement of her dreams and ambitions to help others in many parts of the world. She lived her life under the spotlight but she was conscious of the fact that her life echoed the experiences of millions of women, who like her, were struggling to balance the demands of work and family.
If there was one aspect of Mrs. Clinton’s life that was highlighted in her book, it was perhaps the volitional area of her life. The choices she made even during her younger years were consistently responsible. She owned such choices and acknowledged their consequences at any given time. Coupled with an unwavering faith in God, Mrs. Clinton’s informed choices helped her to deliver the enormous tasks that she had to carry out. Her days in the 70’s as a law student at Yale were not spent merely for studying and memorizing the law. As early as then, she lived history by working as a staff member in a committee that investigated President Nixon’s involvement in Watergate. When she married Bill Clinton but decided to keep and use Rodham as her surname in the practice of her profession and in her daily dealings, she not only asserted herself and her identity but she showed other women that they have a choice. At the time when she needed to help in ensuring victory for her husband’s political plans, she willingly used a hyphenated name, perhaps one of the first women to do so. Thus was born Hillary Rodham-Clinton. Her direct involvement in choosing the best schools for her daughter Chelsea, especially during the White House years, showed how hands-on she was as a mother. Her physical presence at the hospital where her father was taken during the days when she was supposed to be elsewhere fulfilling her official duties was another proof that her commitment to her family comes before anything else. All throughout her life, she made and kept friends who are still with her to this day. Her circle, which was called Hillaryland, was there for her through thick and thin. Indeed, what matters most to us ordinary women were also those that mattered to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Like Mrs. Clinton, I set my sights on many ventures early in life. I believed that I have inherited the adventurous genes from my father’s side of the family such that in my youth, I was raring to go and conquer the world. But unlike Mrs. Clinton, I failed to assert my individuality and made my choices based solely on the needs of my family. I was educated to become a teacher. I had fourteen fruitful years behind me as one before I made the choice to stay home and assist my husband in the practice of his own profession. I admit that there were times when I felt sorry for myself for not living my own professional life. I wanted to be so many things and to be in so many places wearing so many different hats, but always, I had to limit my choices to fit them into my family life- the one that I know I will live till the end. My experienced reality is one in which I have given up myself in order to give light to others- primarily my husband and children. My faith tells me that one’s purpose in life is to glorify God in whatever we do. Raising a family and pushing its members to succeed were the main events in my life. In this regard, I believe I have done what was expected of me and I have produced results beyond my expectations. If the little triumphs that my children bring home to us are a gauge of how I did things in my life, perhaps I am just as successful as Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has been challenged so many times in her life. So have I. She responded very well to those challenges. So did I. She holds high hopes for the future of the world. So do I.
Women all over the world have often asked so many questions about their roles in their respective societies. What can women do? What can’t women do? What could women do? What should women do? Living History provided answers to these questions. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life teaches us that there’s no reason to feel inadequate and worthless. A woman can do as much if she possesses a vision, a passion and a mission. It can be a little overwhelming when we are beset with the demands of family, career and society, but we can respond to them appropriately.
A few years back, as I begin to live my golden years, I asked myself, what lasting impression and legacy shall I leave to my children and all the other people I have been with during the different stages of my life? It was then that it occurred to me to write a blog chronicling the significant people, events and places in my life (http://bugaki.blogspot.com). When I am long gone, I want my children and their children to know who I am and what I did in my life. It may pale in comparison with Living History but no matter how small my deeds were compared with that of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s, no one can refute the fact that we were both women who tried and succeeded to make a difference in the lives of people we care about. As Helen Reddy’s song says, my wisdom was born of pain, I paid my price, but look how much I’ve gained, if I have to, I can do anything, I am strong, I’m invincible, I am woman.