Limitations

Sarah lived to celebrate 110 years. A young woman of civil war times, her destiny was to stay home safe and sound in Illinois, cooking for others. But her heart was with those fighting for basic freedoms for all. Sarah’s deeply held passion was freedom for slaves.

The country, in midst of war, had sent many of its young men to the battlefield. How could Sarah help except to be one of these young men? She cut her hair, disguised herself as a young man, and entered the army. In more than six months served, no one suspected.

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation at that time, freeing the slaves, and ending Sarah’s time in the war. Returning home she attended college, choosing to study medicine. Given the injuries she had seen in the war she wanted to be a physician.

This story came from a writing workshop I attended over the weekend. In a session on freelance writing we divided into pairs and were given a hypothetical story to write about. One in the pair was the interviewer and the other the interviewee.

I was paired with a young woman next to me. She had rolled into the room in an electric wheelchair, arms atrophied, with a beautiful black lab service animal accompanying her.

I drew our assignment from a group of small pieces of paper. Opening it, Sarah and I read together, “You are a 110 year old civil war veteran.”

My immediate thought was, Oh, no, what would I say about this? But thankfully Sarah said she would like to be the interviewee. Her deep eyes twinkled as she looked at me saying, “Well, obviously, as a woman I couldn’t be in the war. I’ll disguise myself as a man!” Thus, the story began.

She created the story; I asked questions to fill in a few details and in just a few moments we were finished. As the interviewer, I read my version of her story aloud. Then, as the interviewee, she read hers. Each pair in the class did the same with their stories. The lesson was about perspective; two people telling the same story or retelling facts will do so from a different perspective, in a different manner.

When I first saw Sarah I had ideas about limitations. But when she opened her mouth and created this tale about being a civil war veteran, I believed her. I imagined her as a 17 year old girl cutting her hair and leaving Illinois as a boy. From her mind and voice she had no limitations.

Among the many valuable takeaways from the writing workshop, I may have learned the most from my experience with Sarah. She made me think about limitations, about what exactly they are. How do we limit ourselves? In what ways can we do amazing things and attain extraordinary goals, even given our limitations?

I have a feeling I’ll mull this over throughout the week. Happy spring, and make it a good week!

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