A rare evening of downtime last week inspired this week’s book choice. I hardly ever put on the tv but in doing so I happened upon the 2009 documentary “The Last Train Home” directed by Lixin Fan. This documentary follows a Chinese couple from Sichuan province as they travel almost 1,000 miles home to their native village for the 4 day New Year’s celebration; a trek made by almost 130 million migrant Chinese workers. The couple have made the journey for more than a decade to see their two children who are in the care of an aging grandmother. Aside from letters this will be their only contact with the children for the year.
At one point the mother’s total anguish is overwhelming as a letter arrives announcing that her teenage daughter is planning to leave school. It is gut wrenching to watch.
I couldn’t get the movie out of my mind for days. Instead I turned to the movie’s “village” concept to look for insights into transition. Enter Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1996 “It Takes a Village.”
I can’t say that I loved the book but I’m happy to have finally read it since I’ve used the “it takes a village” reference on countless occasions. The book is really a compilation of progressive pro-women and pro-children policy thinking. The text is chock full of vignettes from the Clinton years in the White House or in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.
There were some buried tidbits that I thought useful in thinking through transitions of any sort.
- “Many of us, regardless of the circumstances, need assistance and support from the village at various times in our lives.” (It Takes a Village, pg 65) Clinton’s simple advice is poignant for those who exist in a zone that is best described as “not requiring help.” In Clinton’s text “village” is constituted by interlocking spheres of family, neighborhood, school, church, workplace, community, culture, economy, society, nation and world. (It Takes a Village, pg 296)
- Clinton told a story of attending Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. She recalled Mandela inviting 3 former jailers to attend as well. Clinton commented, “would we have the character, self-confidence and faith to extend forgiveness to those who subjected us and our loved ones to brutal prosecution?” In a letter to one of his daughters Mandela wrote “there are few misfortunes in this world you cannot turn into personal triumphs if you have the iron will and necessary skills.” (It Takes a Village, pg 136)
- Clinton talks about juggling our various roles in her book. She references Mary Catherine Bateson as introducing her to the concept of “composing” her life versus juggling. She laments that attaching labels to our lives can take us backward. (It Takes a Village, pg 195)
Clinton’s concept of village is more advanced than the village at the core of The Last Train Home. Now that I think of it – the concept of “village” seems to be missing in the sphere of women’s transitions. Many women whom I speak with on this topic typically agree that there exists a cone of silence around issues related to transitions of any kind.
Does a village exist for you? Maybe this concept alone is the value of Clinton’s book to our transition thinking.
P.S. For those following along closely this post is a day late. My apologies! My beloved laptop’s hard drive froze two days ago. Please send good thoughts so that it can be restored without issue. Happy Reading.
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