Over the past few months, there has been a lot of talk about strong women. It has been my goal for the last few years to become a stronger woman, both professionally and in mountain climbing. I’ve spent a lot of time pushing myself and trying to become someone to look up to. With the defeat of Hillary, however, I’ve thought of the women in my own life who I look up to: who are my female role models?
The first woman I think of is Lorraine, a fierce woman with a sweet southern accent who I met when I was sixteen. It was her accent, and accompanying charm, that first drew me to Lorraine. I thought she was just a sweet old lady but when I heard her story I was instantly drawn in by her bravery and strength in the face of life’s challenges.
After growing up in a poor Southern family, Lorraine went to college where she met Taylor, a paratrooper who had recently returned from the post-war occupation of Japan. They fell in love and married before returning to Japan as a couple. With a twinkle in his eye, Taylor once told me that their college was “like a shoe factory, they bring in lost soles and turn them out in pairs!”
There were so few Americans in the Japan at that time that the only English-Japanese dictionary Lorraine could find was the one published for the GI’s serving in there. Apparently there were quite a few colorful phrases mixed in with the helpful ones! She soon realized that if she wanted to learn the language she would have to create her own primer. After years of diligent study this sweet small woman with a southern accent spoke Japanese so well, people who she met over the phone would come to her house shocked to see an American standing at the door. Where was the Japanese woman they had spoken to?
Lorraine and her husband served the Japanese people for fifty years, raising their family in the country and planting a few small churches. In order to raise money for their small congregations, Lorraine would sew all sorts of things to sell at bazaars: place mats, bags, pillow cases, and clothing. She realized that the Japanese valued the high quality American made fabric so when she made a trip back to the states, she would drive up and down the East Coast looking for discarded scraps and samples she could put to use.
As an American in a post-war Japan that had shunned outsiders for thousands of years, Lorraine must have faced extreme loneliness. Without the benefit of the internet, news from home would take weeks to arrive and there would be no Youtube to check back into American culture. Japan had truly become her home and she made no plans to return to the States for anything but visits.
When I met Lorraine she and her husband were in their seventies, forced to return to the States to be close to family due to Taylor’s chronic illness brought on by years of sacrificial labor. Though she was getting on in years, she hadn’t slowed down. Once again she set to work volunteering wherever she could at her local church: in children’s classes, by baking hundreds of cinnamon rolls for Easter Sunday and by teaching young children how to sew.
When she developed health issues of her own she kept her pace up as normal, only stopping to apologize that she wasn’t as strong as normal because she was getting toward the end of her medication’s cycle and was waiting for her next dose.
It was during this phase of life that I watched this woman. I watched her stand by Taylor in the midst of his illness, standing strong when he was out of strength and advocating for him when he was without a voice. I watched her when she became sick and when family troubles came their way.
By today’s standards, Lorraine would be considered a woman stifled by marriage, religion and children. Yet you wouldn’t know it from meeting her. She was constantly smiling, singing and encouraging those around her in her sweet southern drawl. Although she shared her sorrows with me, I never once heard her complain. Her life was one that was good because she knew a good God who led her each step of the way. No, she did not run a corporation or crush world records but she did what she could to help those around her and brought sunshine along the way.
This strong woman is one I am proud to know.