Book of Marvels
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Other Lives

This woman was applying glass beads to a linen runner that will ultimately grace a table unlike any she's ever dined at herself. She said, "Thank you" after I photographed her. So did the other women squatting around the stretched fabric, also applying beads; so did the women operating battered sewing machines against the far wall, so did the stern men who were sorting through fabric swatches on a table. This was one of the pleasures of being in Kabul last spring: everytime I took someone's picture, they thanked me. They seemed to feel I was doing them an honor.

Years ago, I read Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and was haunted by ideas that sprang from this passage, "We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come...We live everything as if comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold."

Well, haunted may not be the right word. If anything, this passage made my own tendency to fret about whether I've chosen the right life a little more tolerable-- at least, this fretting seems to be part of the human condition. So maybe I kicked myself a little less when I caught myself thinking things like, "I could have been an archeologist! I could have returned to Austria and taken up with my junior-summer-abroad boyfriend! I could have been an expert on alpine geology!" I guess we all struggle with the fact that--sigh--we only have one life to live. Only one that we know about, anyway.

But being a freelance writer-- I suppose any sort of writer who doesn't have a regular beat--exacerbates this tendency all over again. I spend so much time getting to know people who do amazing things and often feel this terrible dismay that they are doing while I am writing about it. I often wonder what it would be like if I were the person doing the doing, not just doing the writing.

That woman in the photo above? She was working in a factory that an Afghan-American woman opened in Kabul a few years ago. The factory employs dozens of people and sources its supplies from other companies in Afghanistan; it is a small and heroic--and important-- effort to build up the economy and give people hope that they can have jobs, not just elected leaders. I wrote about it here. What the article doesn't say is that the woman who started the factory went back to Afghanistan many times when the Taliban were in power and started schools for girls that operated in private homes. When I interviewed her, she was ecstatic because several of her girls were acing their entrance exams at the university.

One of the things that was so fascinating about Kabul was that I met a number of women who were doing extraordinary things-- even outside their own version of ordinary. Made me think more about that whole one-life-to-live thing. We might not be able to live different lives concurrently, but consecutively? Why not?


One of these days, I'll figure out how to make the switch to that other, more-superior form of Blogger. If anyone has any words of encouragement-- please! Posted by Picasa
Comments: should check out Farmgirl today:

A slightly different view on a similar topic. But I agree with both of you. I sometimes think I'm completely wasting my life.
I love that quote from Kundera - the idea that we're going on cold, I find terrifying and exhilerating at the same time.
Yes, wondering about other life possibilities is a recurring thought with me, also. I have suspected that it is because I have had past lives with other interests and directions, and these other facets of my spirit are clamoring to do what they like to do best.

The thing is, this post of yours presented to me things I had not previously known. You opened up my world to new ways of seeing, and expanded my understanding of how other people live and think.

Such understanding will be the key to peace on earth and with the planet. Writers make valuable contributions to the world.

If going to Kabul and sharing with others what your eyes have seen and your heart has felt isn't 'doing' something, ... well what is?

I cannot imagine anything more real that what you do.
amy-- thanks for showing me Farmgirl's blog!

charlotte-- terrifying and exhilarating , true. And frustrating because I greedily want about five lives at once.

kristen--I guess what I was trying to say is that going to Kabul showed me that people can have abruptly different lives, if they want them. This too is both terrifying and exhilarating.
Very recently I have come to the understanding that we must celebrate who we are, no matter the circumstances. Each of us are, in ourselves, unique. This realization is both liberating and empowering.
Great quote Kristen. Something to surely read and consider as about the only exciting thing in my world right now is being able to blow 1/2" of snow from the drive.
I'm all for living different lives, one after the other, how else would I get to be a corporate lawyer in a suit, a storyteller in a fairy costume, a human rights officer in Afghanistan, a media relations officer in Palestine, a development planner in Timor Leste and a farm hand in New Zealand? And those are only the ones I've already done.

More to come: a photographer, a mother, a writer, a psychologist, a mediator and a marine biologist (okay, the last one could be modified to "volunteer on a marine biology project" to save all those years of study!).

We may have only one lifetime, but we can have as many lives as we choose!
coll-- I agree about delebrating WHO we are-- but love the idea of changing what we're doing. I love the idea that what we're doing-- and of course, this does affect some part of who we are-- is not fixed in stone at an early age.

Frida-- yes yes!
Hello, Kristen. I found you through Frida's World and am enjoying your blog very much. I'll be back for many visits.
amaaazing quote by Kundera. I can't believe I read that book, admired it, and didn't pick up on that quote, so I thank you for bringing it to my/our attention.

It's an interesting twist on "you only live once"--it definitely IS more interesting to think of it as "you only live one life."
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