“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night in complete despair realizing that you are not living the life you intended to and had forgotten all your youthful dreams? That is exactly what happened one night to middle-aged, Ivy-league educated mother of two, Eileen Flanagan who at 49, realized she had lost touch with the person she used to be, a former Peace Corps volunteer who preferred living in a mud hut in Botswana over her five-bedroom Philadelphia home.
Flanagan’s honest, insightful memoir “Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope” walks us through one woman’s search for the life she had forgotten and her journey back to following her dreams in a consumerist world that often conflicts with her very beliefs of living an environmentally sound and simple life.
The story takes us back to 1984 when Flanagan was a young, gutsy Peace Corps volunteer in the small rural village of Bobonong, Botswana where she prefers living in a small, mud hut and embraces the simple pleasures of African village life. She learns the native tongue Setswana, befriends the people around her and becomes a world-viewed, open-minded young woman over the course of two and a half years in Africa.
Not surprisingly, her return to the United States is a huge culture shock where she finds herself constantly in conflict trying to live a simple, environmentally sound life while confronting an over-the-top capitalistic American culture that feeds off consumerism. Flanagan’s ideals and beliefs are continually threatened and she finds it more and more difficult to stick to her values and beliefs once she becomes a mother and feels the pressures of society to conform to its ideals.
At one point Flanagan says “I could just choose different values from the culture around me” yet these values erode once she becomes a parent and tries to balance her work, advocacy and parenting with her desire to live simply. Flanagan finds herself swamped in her lifestyle, buying a bigger home, and making decisions about her life that have negative impacts on the environment until one night she realizes that she just can’t continue to live like this anymore. Her life was completely out of sync with her ideals.
Instead of accepting her fate, she courageously decides to make a change. A decision that will bring her back to Botswana and lead her to become engaged in activism against climate change that eventually leads her to get arrested while handcuffing herself to the fence of the White House.
For me, the book was an interesting take at how our lives can become stuck in a path of least resistance to taking risks and making change. Like Flanagan, when I was young and idealistic I believed too that I could do something to make a difference and change the world. In my twenties, I lived abroad, traveled the world and continued to have the viewpoint that “the world is my oyster” as my dad would say. Carpe Diem.
Yet at 22, when I finished college and it was time to enter the “real” world I realized that everything I believed in my youth was wrong. The “real” world of Corporate America where I started my first job at a measly $17,000 a year hardly covered a thing. I was forced to live at home so I could save money and was stuck in a terribly unrewarding, boring job that used little of my skills. My bubble had been burst and all I could do was imagine a way out of a 9 to 5 job, sitting in a tiny, windowless cubicle wondering when the day was ever going to end.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ― Helen Keller, The Open Door
There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I feel in love with my husband and packed up my meager belongings and moved to Chicago at 23. Unemployed, I used my last bit of savings to desperately look for a job in my field. I had majored in French and International Relations thus I wanted to find something where I could use my French and work at a global company. Once again, I realized quickly at 23 you are at the bottom of the pile in qualifications and took a boring, unexciting job as an Administrative Assistant for a global publisher. I dreaded every day.
I lasted two and a half years until I changed jobs again this time to work in a sales position. I would be earning more money, traveling, and would have more flexibility. For the first few years I enjoyed it but then after the glamor of constant travel wore off and a sexist boss made me want to scream, I once again realized it was not for me. I was completely in the wrong direction but I had to pay the bills. I felt trapped.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau
It wasn’t a middle of the night realization that lead me to change my life. Instead, it was getting laid off from my job (this one I truly did hate) and deciding at 32 to start a family. I got pregnant right away and realized I would never be hired for a new job as an expectant mother. So I thought I’d wait until the baby was born and then try again. That was eleven years ago and I haven’t been back in an office ever since.
So how did I end up here, being a stay-at-home mom/blogger/global advocate and adventurer? I guess it was the same realization that Flanagan had but thankfully a little bit younger in life. At 39 and with the kids finally sleeping through the night and going to preschool, I began this blog. Little did I know, my blog would bring me back to who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
Doors began to open as connections were made, and more and more opportunities continue to come my way. Like Flanagan, I have been renewed and feel deeply grateful that I am finally on a journey that follows my dreams. I know I’m fortunate to be able to do this kind of work, and I look forward to where the road will lead. Sometimes we all need to take a step back in our lives, and reexamine our choices. I’m glad I did before it was too late.
I received an advance reader copy of Renewable for review on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good. Published by She Writes Press, Eileen Flanagan will release her inspiring memoir, Renewable, which chronicles her engaging journey from midlife spiritual crisis to fulfillment, hope — and briefly, to jail, on March 3, 2015.
Advance Praise for “Renewable”:
“In a book laced with humorous anecdotes, Eileen Flanagan writes of her quest for simplicity while beset by the contradictions of modern life. A former Peace Corps volunteer turned soccer mom, her dilemmas are easy to relate to, yet her narrative inspiring. The inner voice of integrity does point out a path all of us can follow.” —George Lakey, author of Toward a Living Revolution
About the Author: A graduate of both Duke and Yale, Eileen Flanagan writes for a wide range of national publications and speaks at conferences, colleges, and religious gatherings. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope. Her previous book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change–and When to Let Go, was endorsed by the Dalai Lama and won the Silver Nautilus Book Award. A leader of Earth Quaker Action Team, she lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two children. Learn more about her work at eileenflanagan.com
About She Writes Press: She Writes Press is an independent publishing company founded to serve members of She Writes, the largest global community of women writers online, and women writers everywhere. We are a curated press that’s both mission-driven and community-oriented, aiming to serve writers who wish to maintain greater ownership and control of their projects while still getting the highest quality editorial help possible for their work. SheWrites.com and SheWrites Press were acquired in 2014 and are now apart of the SparkPoint Studio Family. For more information visit www.shewritespress.com or www.gosparkpoint.com.
Renewable is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound and wherever books are sold.