When we are young, our own voice seems loudest and most important. Then, we grow older and something happens: the world is no longer a show for our benefit, but rather a stage where each of us has a part to play. Finding a voice is the process of discovering that unique part.
For author Eudora Welty, finding a voice required all her courage and honesty as a freshly-minted college graduate in the heart of the Great Depression.
Aware of the World
At sixteen, Eudora entered a Mississippi women’s state college. Overcrowded, underfunded, and bursting with old traditions, the school offered her a firsthand look at a lively variety of personalities and backgrounds. Her longing for somewhere distant led her to the University of Wisconsin in her junior year. But after attending grad school at Columbia University, it was time for Eudora to come home; her father had died, and the Great Depression hung over the nation like a gray cloud.
Working at her first full-time job, Eudora canvassed her home state with paper, pencil, and camera as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration. Noisy girls in a college dorm had been a mere taste of life compared to the people she now met in their local communities and on their native land. Storing scenes and descriptions in her memory—and saving each spare dollar for trips to New York City—Eudora dreamed of the day when an editor would publish her stories.
On those trips to New York, Eudora slowly became conscious of a change time had wrought within her. As a child in a sleeper car with her father, she had listened to the sounds of the night from a bunk enfolded by thick green curtains. She had peered out the window at distant houses with light in the doorways, never considering that those continued to exist when she and her train car had passed. Now, as an adult, her perspective had shifted. In the tumultuous years of World War II, a quiet soldier stepped off her train into the sunset of a Tennessee valley. Eudora recalls, “I felt us going out of sight for him, diminishing and soon to be forgotten.”
Perhaps your son or daughter will begin college this fall, with opportunities abounding to interact with new cultures or serve in new neighborhoods. The coming school year might bring a first job, first mission trip, or first time traveling alone by plane. Each step lets your child discover a wider world, where self grows smaller and others matter more.
Finding a Voice
Eudora Welty found her passion for writing in college, but it took years to find her writer’s voice—and develop it. She wanted to create fiction, something her mother adored but her father had questioned. He represented the critic who claims fiction must be a waste of time because it is not true. Developing her craft, Eudora found that fiction can hold truths of human life, even if the details and chronology are not historically true. Having gained perspective into the wider world, she endowed her characters with the truth of human feelings, experiences, and relationships she had observed.
From her work behind a camera, Eudora learned we must always be ready: “Life doesn’t hold still.” Writing allowed her to capture some of that transience, and it helped her see connections between young and old, past and present, reality and perception. Each time she began a new story, her respect for the complexity of human beings—and for the threads that bind us together—grew deeper.
After years of patiently fine-tuning her skills, Miss Welty found an enthusiastic editor. Your children, likewise, are learning skills today that will help them move forward in the world tomorrow. Don’t let them get discouraged if they can’t see the end goal. Someday, they’ll look back and appreciate the preparation.
Daring to Live
Concluding her memoir of a sheltered life, Eudora Welty sums up her experience:
“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way of becoming a part of it.”
From a toddler’s first steps to a college freshman’s orientation week, the journeys your children take will continually mold their view of the world and their sense of mission in it. They may find a voice someday through teaching, architecture, culinary arts, or any other avenue. In the meantime, love them. Encourage them. Through bittersweet changes, through the heartache of parting, your children will remember your unwavering support—and they will know that love is the strongest force in the world.
Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband have a beautiful little daughter. They fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science.