Lessons from a Southern Belle with a Crowbar

February 01 2016

Last May, I graduated from Claremont McKenna College in Southern California with a degree in Middle East Studies and immediately moved to Jackson, MS for a two year fellowship in an unrelated field. I was excited to live somewhere so different from Oakland, CA, where I grew up.
As part of my job, I get to travel across the South staying with families, visiting synagogues, working with their Sunday Schools, and getting to know people with life experiences and perspectives completely different from my own. As you can imagine, some amazing stories emerge from these visits.

Here are two of them:

At a recent synagogue event in Fayetteville, GA, I asked a woman in her seventies what advice she’d give to a young woman just starting off her life and career. Her advice to me was based on the premise that we live in a man’s world, and that the only way to make it is to be independent without being too pushy, work behind the scenes without expecting credit, and put up with a lot of BS. She told me about a time when she brought a repairman into the phone room to fix something, and he closed the door, saying that he’d only let her out after she kissed him. She looked around the room and picked up a crowbar, telling him that he’d let her out now. He did. She didn’t tell anyone. For an hour after that, she and I talked about how much has changed for women in the workplace since then, and sadly, how much progress still needs to be made. Both of us were so inspired by the other. She was a badass.

I was staying with a Rabbi in McAllen, TX and I got food poisoning. I spent six hours in the middle of the night hunched over a toilet bowl, and he and his wife were nothing but gracious and understanding. A different community member took me to the Emergency Room. As IV fluids were pumped into my veins, we chatted like old friends, even though we had only met the night before. Her advice to me was to go and have adventures before settling down. Though she is from Peru, she spent almost a decade in her twenties living in Florence, Italy, studying and teaching architecture. When she moved back to Peru, she met her husband and they moved to Texas. As strange as it sounds, we had a lovely time in the Emergency Room.

The most important lesson that I’ve learned through these interactions and others like them revolve around the importance of transgenerational relationships. Younger and older people have so much to learn from each other, but we rarely take the opportunity to ask. Aziz Ansari focuses on this issue specifically in an episode of Master of None (watch it on Netflix if you haven’t yet--the whole series is awesome).

Some of my favorite questions to ask have been:

-What advice would you give to a young person just starting off their adult life?
-What mistakes did you make in your twenties that you are most grateful for now?
-How did you get to ________ (name of city of residence)?

So, with that in mind, people of the listserv, here are my questions to you:

What advice would you give to a 23 year old woman just starting off her adult life?
What music are you listening to right now?
Where is the favorite place you’ve traveled to?

I look forward to your responses!

[email protected]
Jackson, MS

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