Around the time I was the mother of two children under 3, finishing up the last of my graduate studies, and trying to find a teaching job, I hit the despairing wall, the wall I went to to wail and moan and cry too often during a single day. The wall and I had developed a relationship because not only were all the facts above true, but my husband and I were living in an apartment with bad plumbing, no insulation, and ants. The thing I looked most forward to in the day was the mail. We'd had better college housing, but now we had two children with us. We were over-educated and poorly employed, he brand new as a teacher, me, well, looking.
The day someone stole my purse by reaching into an open window of the apartment while my older son was watching TV was the day that did me in. I couldn't make it. I was through. I was a failure, and life was just too damn hard. No, I couldn't hear anything about how my life was wonderful. How I had a husband, children, housing, food, a system of government. I was lost and could not be found.
I forced myself to turn off the TV after Sesame Street and Mister Rogers ended each day (maybe allowing a Thundercats now and again), but I found myself turning in the afternoons to Oprah. The toddler and baby napping, I would slump in my self pity and watch people who often had stories worse than my own. But then, Oprah seemed to change course a bit, the stories on her show more about success and happiness and how to find it. I began to look forward to that hour of my life, even when I was holding a baby with colic on my shoulder.
More than anything, it was Oprah herself--even back in 1987-88--who inspired me. She told us about her hard life, the changes she'd made in her behavior, the difficult work she'd done to rise to where she was, a black woman in a white man's game (You have to remember Phil, yes?). Oprah was funny, self-effacing, and she had little acquaintance--as far as I could see--with the despairing wall.
Somehow, maybe, I thought, this would pass.
Oprah and I went on a diet at the same time, both of us losing weight. My husband and I moved to a bigger house, one that had room for all of us to spread out a little. I found a part-time job at a local community college, and then another at another college. We moved to yet another, better house. I began to forget the wall, and Oprah and I stopped having so much time to hang out with each other. But over the years, I've checked in with her, seeing that she, too, has her own troubles, but never did she let them stop her from succeeding and moving forward and living her life--even the life she hides from us. But from what I can see, this is a woman with enduring loves with a man and with friends, happiness, homes, career, goals, aspirations, and joy.
I'm all for that.
Now the children and first husband are gone. Now I'm tenured, thinking more about retirement than starting a new career. Now, though, I still have goals and dreams and hopes, things I want to do, even though I'm nearing fifty. I think of Oprah, a decade ahead of me, still changing her life into what she wants it to be. Though she has definitely had her times of darkness and difficulty, always, always is the push toward the light.
Oprah, I'm still watching.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org