Shape Shifters Come In All Ages Posted on 14 Mar 15:50

lange

It’s Women’s History Month. We’ve got females on the brain more than usual. Have you heard the quote that asserts if “you educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation”? I love that. What females have contributed to your education? Who has shaped you?

Answers flood my brain when I think about who has shaped me. There are obvious teachers who trained me in less obvious ways: my never-one-to-criticize grandma Dorcas, an aunt possessing mental toughness that would make Atlas shake, and of course my mother whose love is palpable but not sticky. Shape shifters come in all ages. I have a “once-in-a-lifetime friend” who habitually shows me what kindness looks like—the sun rises and sets on her regularly. Then there’s my 6-year-old who never has ugly thoughts. Some people have happiness shine from their faces—they are the loveliest of all.

Strangers have helped educate me well too. Women who lived long ago. Women I’ve never met. My boss loves the story of Dorothea Lange. Chances are you’ve seen her stills, but do you know her story? It moves me. It inspires me. Yes, it teaches me much.

Lange was a documentary photographer and photojournalist. Her photo of the “Migrant Mother” is by far her most famous. You’ve seen it. She captured a beleaguered female migrant worker who was suffering from both hunger and oppressive work conditions. With one snapshot, she humanized the effects of the Great Depression. Lange’s picture was worth far more than a thousand words; it inspired government officials to rush aid to the forgotten farm camps to help squelch starvation. One photo. One photo embedded with the power to change the trajectory of so many lives.

She barely saw the crude sign that said Pea-Pickers Camp by the side of the road because the rain was coming down and she was determined to hurry the seven-hour drive to reach home. She debated with herself for twenty miles as to whether or not she should turn back. She had plenty of negatives—other shots she’d taken. Her head said don’t turn back, her will determined otherwise. She made a U-turn. A fateful U-turn that helped open our eyes to alarming poverty. I love that kind of resolve. She learned it years earlier—it’s the part of the story that sometimes gets left out.

Lange’s childhood was traumatic. Her father abandoned her family when she was just twelve years old. She also contracted Polio, which left her with a weak leg and a permanent limp. Of her semi-crippling disability, she later admitted, “I think [Polio] perhaps was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me.” Her stilted gait must have contributed to her obvious sensitivity that made her so prolific behind the lens. It taught her (and me) that difficulties build character. We all have disabilities to some degree—they shouldn’t define who we are. And we should listen to that part of us that tells us to turn around, even if it is raining and we are tired and a long way from home, because sometimes instinct is better than reason.

Thank you Dorothea and Dorcas and Mom. Thank you women in history who have instructed us eloquently and powerfully. We don’t need to carve out a month in your honor. But we are grateful nonetheless…and we wanted you to know.