This post was contributed by Katy McColl.
I stole that title from an MFK Fisher memoir, in which nearly every chapter is titled, The Measure of My Powers. The best thing about the book, in my opinion, is the epigraph:
“To be happy, you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.”
Sarah hasn’t come out and said so, but we’ve been feeling unusually powerless this year because our mom is sick.
Our mom’s a farmer’s daughter who grew up riding her bike, reading Nancy Drew novels, and teaching herself to sew upstairs in her bedroom in a 19th century house on an 18th century farm. High times were celebrated with spaghetti and juice glasses of beer (kids included!); low times meant the family survived on the cream-topped milk straight from their cows. College advising? Not so much. I hate to see you waste all your babysitting money applying and end up disappointed… said my grandmother, without acknowledging that insulating yourself from disappointment often staves off greatness, too.
Then in 1967, Procter & Gamble awarded my mother a 4-year scholarship to Smith College—petty cash and book money included! And just like that, she changed her fate. “Did you hear about the farmer’s daughter,” the owner of a feed store 20 miles away asked my grandfather, marveling. Imagine the pride he must have felt in saying she was his.
Imagine the pride I feel now that she’s mine, too. Among other things, she introduced Great Books to our elementary school and raised four children—encouraging us to dream big and mess up as often as necessary. A full year into chemo, my beloved mom can’t walk, but she spends her days running an organization dedicated to ending child poverty.
So the best I can do from my sometimes powerless perch is to invest in the next generation of problem solvers. Women like Shirley Lemus, who grew up in a remote Guatemalan village and was ostracized by relatives for not dropping out of school to support the family. She’s gone on to work with Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus to offer microcredit, healthcare, and other life-changing opportunities for the poor. She won a gifted and talented scholarship from Guatemala’s prestigious UFM university—where everyone studies economics and everyone learns how to be an entrepreneur. The school’s run on a shoestring—they’re quite proud of that—but scholarships are offered to the poorest, smartest, and most motivated students in the country. Including women intent on making the jump from the 3rd world to the 1st world—and dedicating their lives to helping other women make that jump, too.
I’m going to make a donation to the ITA Scholarship (Spanish for gifted and talented).
If you’d like to join me, I’d be very touched. More than that, actually—I’ll double your donation myself. (Just make a note of your gift in the comments section so I can be sure to match it.) Because I want us all to feel the measure of our powers grow exponentially from here on out.
p.s. I vetted this myself, but you can also read more about the scholars here, if you like.