Friday, June 17, 2016

Where Did She Go?

Two days ago, my father posted an old photo of me on Facebook that has been haunting me ever since:

There I stand in my Salvation Army uniform, complete with the seldom-worn bonnet, looking eager and hopeful and full of life. I immediately remembered the location of the shot. It was taken in the dining room of the International College for Officers in London, England. ICO was an old house on Sydenham Hill used to provide training for Salvation Army officers from all over the world. They hired young girls to work as domestics. Up until this time, most of those girls came to England from the continent with aims of serving while taking classes to hone their English language skills. I believe I was the first American to fill the role and I was so very grateful for the opportunities afforded through that job. I met many delightful officers who invited me to come stay with them during my travels in the final months of that travel period. I was young and the whole world lay waiting for me to explore it.

(photos courtesy of The Salvation - obviously not my poor photography quality, ha)

Here are some blurry photos of my time serving in that dining room. If I could have removed them from the album without damaging either the photos or the album, I would have attempted to scan them. Alas, they were stuck fast after all these years, sorry).

The top photo was taken for a specific reason. I had written an article and submitted it to the British Salvation Army periodical called The War Cry. They wanted a publicity shot to go alongside the article and sent someone over to take the photo. They must have given me a copy of the shot and I must have sent it home in a letter to my parents (if my father found it in their belongings).

At that time in my life I was so sure of myself. I was going to do great things. I was going to see the world and change it for the better. I had plans to return to the States and enter graduate school to study for a masters degree in history, with the intention of one day working as a curator for a special collection of literature, not unlike my work with The Wade Collection at Wheaton College (where I transcribed all of C.S. Lewis's personal letters during my undergraduate days).

I also recently decided to take action on my husband's continual requests for me to purge my endless papers in the basement. I started with a file full of notebooks and papers from my days at Wheaton and the University of Illinois. I found my diplomas, a British Literature Handbook written by Professor Leland Ryken, many notebooks full of class notes, and my 37 page research paper entitled "The Integration of Law and Religion in 19th Century Britain," along with the accompanying comments and a grade of A- given by Professor Walter Arnstein. Of course, I kept most of those things still. They bring forth such intense longing within me to return to those days, to return to the person I once was. But that young woman is long gone.

In her place, there is a tired old woman who seems to accomplish nothing and seems to be going nowhere. I sit waiting for a writing career to take off and prove that my time here is of some value. Day by day passes and the most I can say is that I am raising my boys. Whether or not I am effective in raising them to be the young men I hope they will become is yet to be seen. But, as I look at the above photo, it brings forth so many unfulfilled hopes and dreams. I never did find a curator position. I left off my schooling after my masters degree, so that I could put my husband through graduate school. Then came children and the move to this isolated house to raise them and somewhere along the way, my ambitions and lust for life evaporated. How I long to be doing more with my one life! How I long to be making a difference in some way!

I went on-line the other night and, out of curiosity, plugged in the term "museum jobs in Indianapolis." While most of them brought feelings of indifference, there was a job I felt I may have been qualified for back in the day. It is a position with the Indiana Historical Society as Multicultural Collection Coordinator. There are many things I find appealing about the position. Its multicultural emphasis brings up so many of my feelings stirred in my missions work in the Philippines. The job requires completion of at least 20 oral histories and that brings to mind my experience with oral histories (I assisted Professor Lyle Dorsett as he interviewed C.S. Lewis's first cousin, Ruth Parker, and then went on to conduct my own oral history interviews with two elderly Salvationists when I wrote a history of The Salvation Army in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, for their 100th anniversary). I absolutely loved conducting oral history interviews and writing up my findings. I would so love to work with a library again, as I did back at the Wade Collection, providing tours and leading individuals in their search for historical information.

But then, my inner naysayer kicks in and says, "Why would they possibly hire you? You haven't been in the workforce for a decade, your qualifications are all out-dated and dried up. You'd never get the job. Besides, you're more interested in part-time work, so that you can continue to pursue your writing." But then I take a look at that picture again and something stirs within me, a deep desire to re-capture the person I once was. As my life coach once told me, several years ago, I wasn't made to swim in the shallows. I was meant to swim in the deep. How to get back out into the deep? Now, there's the question of the hour. If only all it took was to put on a uniform and a bonnet again.

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