Who knew that speaking for only six minutes would be so difficult to prepare for? I certainly didn’t when I submitted my abstract for the Nerd Girl Spark session. I’m not as experienced a speaker as many of my Lotusphere speaking colleagues by far, but I still wasn’t prepared for the angst I went through when preparing for the Spark session.
I had no issue with coming up with the topic which was “Two Women, Two Countries, and how a decision can shape a generation.” I knew I wanted to talk about my family’s history, but when I realized I only had six minutes or less to do so — panic set in!
I wrote at least six versions of the session. Each time, carving out narrative and timing myself as I read the story out loud making sure I hit the six minute mark. What follows is the final written version. I wish I had thought to prepare note cards (like Mitch Cohen had been wise to do) as it might have helped me be sure to hit all the highlights. I certainly now have even more admiration for the TED speakers and for my fellow Spark speakers.
Here’s the final version:
This is a story about two brave women – Marie Ory and Franziska. Each facing a decision that would impact not only themselves and their families, but as I discovered – their decisions made more than a century ago impacted me!
Imagine for a moment. The year is 1846. The country: France. Imagine that you’re a widow with 9 children from the ages of 26 to 5 years. You’ve recently found out that the land you own – upon which you depend may be taken from you by the French government? What would you do you do?
The year is 1907. The country: Austria/Hungary (or what is now part of Poland). Imagine that you’re a wife with two small children aged 9 and 7 and recently your 5 year old twin sons were killed in a fire. You haven’t seen your husband in 4 years because he has been working in the United States. While he’s been away it has become increasingly difficult to find food and live on the money you make as a cook. What would you do?
These two women actually existed. They are my French great, great, great, great grandmother and my Polish great grandmother. Ten years ago on the occasion of my father’s 70th birthday, I thought I would do some research of our family tree. I knew that part of my family had arrived through Ellis Island. And I knew that my mother’s family was primarily French and German and had arrived in the mid 1840s or 1850s. But even so I was unprepared for what I found.
The story continues with my French grandmother Marie Ory selling all their belongings and property. She and the children set forth on a week’s long carriage journey from their home for the port of LeHavre, France. They board the ship TALMA in December for a 60 day trip across the Atlantic to New Orleans. Mind you – remember the year is 1848! Thankfully, they arrive safely in New Orleans. Then begin the journey by boat up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Southern Indiana where she eventually purchases land for $700. This land is known as Clover Valley. My mother is descended from her son Jean Jules.
My Polish grandmother Franziska decides that she must leave for the United States to be with her husband in Pennsylvania. Word from him only comes via letter which she has to have her neighbor read to her as she does not read or write. She decides due to the political situation, that she cannot wait any longer to attempt the journey to the United States. She and her two children travel from Glatowice to Antwerp where they depart for the US on the Finland – a steamer – traveling in third class. They arrive at Ellis Island on September 17, 1907. My father is descended from her youngest daughter Josephine.
When I learned out more about their journey – the miles of difficult travel to reach their port of department and then only to face an ocean journey, to a new country – all I could think was wow!
I was awestruck by their stories! I wanted to find out more about them, about who they were as women. How could they be so brave? I wondered, could I do what they did if faced with the same situation? Could I sell my belongings, my house, step away from friends and move somewhere completely foreign for the safety of myself and my family?
I wondered - do all decisions impact future generations. If I make a decision today, will there be a ripple effect four or five or further generations down the road. I paused to think about how their decisions impacted future generations. For example, any American descendent in the US with the Pinaire family tree link is related to Marie Ory and one of her children. My father’s mother would not have been born if Franciska had not arrived in the US. And even bigger yet as far as I’m concerned…I WOULD NOT BE HERE if they had not taken their respective journeys!
So why and how they inspire me? Because they were decision makers – uncommon for women at the time. But like women today they made sacrifices for their families. Now that I have this history, of when I’m faced with a decision of my own, I try to think of them and wonder “ok what would the grandmothers do.” It is a reminder that decisions impact future generation as well that what we do in our daily lives, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, it may have a “ripple effect” – even if the ripples are invisible at the time. To me this emphasizes that we should try to take advantage of opportunities to grow or change or challenge ourselves – not only for our own personal well being, but perhaps as our legacy.
Do you have similar stories in your family’s history that can serve as a touchstone for your daily life? If you don’t, make your own life story as these women did. Set forth a plan for a “life journey.” You never know who you might inspire!
At the BoF for this session, someone mentioned that they noticed that everyone was listening to the speaker rather than doing the normal geek thing during this session – which is to engage their mobile device, check schedules, etc. I think the listening aspect is wonderful! I hope this is a track we Nerd Girls will revisit next year. :-)