Nelson Mandela quote–A Better Endings Inspiration


Nelson Mandela smiles during a lunch to Benefit the Mandela Children’s Foundation in 2009.
(Parade Magazine, Dec. 5, 2013)

An inspiration for your Personal Decisions:

     “I am fundamentally an optimist.

     Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun,

one’s feet moving forward.

There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested,

but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.

That way lays defeat and death.”

—  Nelson Mandela

My Parallel Life as a Nanny


I was 22; it was the summer before my senior year at college in Buffalo, New York.  I had been working as an usher that summer at Artpark, a then newly established performing arts center in my beloved home town of Lewiston, New York.  This summer I was serving as head usher.  Somehow connected to that role, I met the world-renowned conductor of a visiting symphony orchestra.  After chatting a bit with him and his wife, they invited me to come with them the next day (!) to New York City, to become a nanny for their two young boys.

There’s a backstory to relate.  I had long wanted, since my early college years, to go to live in New York City. I wanted to be a writer there, hanging out in dimly lit coffeehouses, writing poetry and stories on copious napkins while sipping tea and tuning into the folk music scene of emerging NYC artists. The sudden offer to move to NYC as a nanny to a famous conductor’s family seemed like manna from heaven; a golden ticket to the life of my dreams.

I didn’t go.  I told myself it was because I needed to finish my last year at college and to go on from there to graduate school; both of which, I did.  But for several years I wondered, what might have happened, if?  If I had answered ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to that once-in-a-lifetime offer? So let me imagine now, in this Better Endings blog, what might have followed if I had been adventurous and brash enough to ‘seize the day’ back then?

Johnny and Marcelo grew up to become a folk musician and a chiropractor, fulfilling their own personal ambitions and well supported by their loving parents. Though they had been privileged as youngsters, their parents’ values and my own as their nanny had taught them the value of self-reliance, hard work and altruism. They matured to become not only well mannered but also kind, considerate, thoughtful human beings who were also quite generous, each in their way.  Johnny married a songwriter and formed a musical family of his own; Marcelo moved to San Francisco with his longterm partner, a ballet artist, and he established a thriving chiropractic firm.

Through the years as the conductor’s family nanny I was able to travel to many wonderful cities and countries around the world. I finished my B.A. in English by taking night classes at Columbia University. Eventually, after the boys were grown, I earned an MFA in creative writing. I became a journalist and a part-time writing teacher and coach, author of a regular column for over a decade in The Village Voice that promoted and researched the offerings of up and coming NYC writers. I published a small book of poetry of my own when I was thirty, and I landed quite a few stories in The New Yorker and in the Atlantic Monthly magazines, among others, over the years. I never wrote the Great American Novel, although I reviewed quite a few promising young authors aiming to succeed in that direction. I never discovered my now seemingly inherent passion for science fiction or quantum physics, nor for anthropology or linguistics, much. I did explore spirituality and discovered the very approach that I practice today. I never lived in Arizona or in Zuni, New Mexico or Colorado, so I never met the friends I have been close to there.  But I improved my fluency in French and in Italian and I aim to retire to Arles, where Van Gogh found such vibrancy in the quality of light and in the interconnectedness of a community from which he himself, however, felt removed.

It was a good life, one parallel to the life I might have lived had I answered ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ to an offer to be a nanny.


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Personal Decisions…Better Endings?


Imagine how might your own or someone you are close to’s life be significantly changed if some on-the-spot (or even well deliberated) personal decision were altered?  We’ve all heard stories about how one’s parents would never have met were it not for some split second decision to walk into a particular coffee shop or to take a particular bus on a particular day.  The movie Serendipity explores this premise as a romantic comedy where, after a couple does accidentally meet, they spend most of the rest of the movie trying to find each other again.

What if you had accepted some job you were offered rather than the one you took instead? Or if you had chosen to attend a different college or move to a different town when you had the opportunity? Some of our life-altering decisions were made by others, such as by our parents while we were young. I am more interested for our weekly topic to explore those decisions you made yourself.  How might things have turned out differently?  Now, of course, it could very well be that the decision you made resulted in the ‘better ending’ pathway that has brought you to where you are, quite happily, today. Or, if as they say, ‘hindsight is 20/20’, maybe altering some decision might have created a very different set of outcomes, maybe even with a ‘better ending’ scenario possible along a path you did not choose.

This topic of Better Endings in light of Personal Decisions is not meant to be merely a futile exercise in hindsight or a matter of second guessing yourself. Certainly we all usually aim to make the most we can out of any decision we have committed ourselves to, and it is important to consider all we have gained and learned from any decision on which we have followed through.  The value of exploring–through journaling, writing an autobiographical memoir, contemplating, or just sharing with a friend about–our earlier life decisions, is to remind ourselves of how we have approached major or minor transition points in our lives. This way, when a new opportunity arises or when we envision a new opportunity, perhaps we can act with a bit more mindfulness or clarity of intention while considering which path to take. Reminding ourselves of how our decisions have empowered us to establish life-changing new directions shows us how much flexibility and awareness we are capable of as we navigate our life choices. So, have fun with this one!