The masts were solemnly lowered as the anchor was triumphantly docked in at a Hoboken harbor in New Jersey. Then there appeared a young woman with eyes of brilliance that glowed with joy and alacrity of departure from her race against the time. One hundred thirty-one years ago today was when one steely journalist named Nellie Bly broke the boundary of imagination and reality by completing her round-the-world race in 72 days at New Jersey. Bly’s phenomenal record was indeed transcendent of the realm of fictitious reality where Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s creation of gentleman adventurer, finished his globe-trotting in 80 days. The world record was not only a sensational media headline in her time but also a glowing manifestation of grit, resilience, and the power of the mind that Bly demonstrated on herself as a woman.
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 in a small Pennsylvania mill town, Nellie Bly was her catchy nom de plume for the literary world, where she became successful. She was something of a frontier pioneer woman in investigative journalism and adventuring into unpathed areas of news reporting of the Dickensian world of crime and health bureaucracy, notably of the asylum at Blackwell’s Island in New York where she infiltrated as an undercover. However, a panoply of her achievements backfired when her pent-up yearning for holidays on a different shore agreed to a spectacular proposal by Joseph Pulitzer, the New York World owner, of the ingenious race-round-the world against the time. Bly’s decision to embark on the one-of-kind adventure was an apropos admixture of personal yearning to get away from the weight of reality and the publisher’s entrepreneurial aim to proliferate circulations.
So there off, she embarked on the race with a trunk containing hygiene necessities, a few wardrobes, and some books to read, but without any weapon, not least because of her belief: “If you smile at the world, the world will smile at you.” She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from New York, through Europe, the Arabian Sea, and the Far East, and then back across the Pacific to return to the homeland. During the voyage from Hong Kong to Japan, Bly heard that another contender emerged from the oceans’ edges: twenty-eight years old Elizabeth Bisland, the literary editor of Cosmopolitan, a rival publication of The New York World. Always achieving, always forwarding, Bly hastened to complete her race guarded by the goddess of fortune and blessed by Jules Verne, whom she met during the race in Europe and was able to trounce her rival journalist arriving five days earlier and Philias Fogg eight days.
Bly was a supreme one of a kind, not most because she was a woman reporter who was some rarity. Instead, she was a person of indomitable determination, commendable work ethic, and insatiable curiosity, which were coveted attributes even to men of high aspiration. Bly demonstrated the Nietzschean will to power in her achievement by the epiphany of the noble soul to create capabilities to make the idea into an incredible and remarkable reality in the chapter of humankind’s history. Herodotus would have loved to record it.
She wanders into a fairy path
And meets a fairy paddler giving
her a magic mask in return for her life
she feels joyless, loveless.
So she wears the mask in twilight
And wanders into the memory lane
Flitting as merrily as a happy cat
Forgetting she still has wounded heart.
And the daffodil looks lovely today,
the golden blossom of happy hope
sparkling vivaciously in such beauty
that is not vanity but full of agape.
Life’s meaning is not from distant, lofty examples of public recognition of personal achievements. It can be found in everyday life; however, it may seem trifle or prosaic. For me, I see my mom in her old, invalid self whose back is arched like a bow and her left knee immobile and think she has reached the stage of the Old Woman as presented by Shakespeare’s poetic view of human life composed of Seven Stages of Man. Gone are the days of parental tyranny built on tirades, a rant of frustration, ire of a disappointed expectation, and a delusion of estrangement. Without the queen’s mighty power, she is now approaching the age of oblivion with one foot in the threshold of the last stage of a play called life.
I have recently read Samuel Johnson’s essay on authoritarian parenting. Johnson must have written it out of his childhood experience or observation from others. Johnson follows the Aristotelian definition of parenting as being naturally tyrannical. He admonishes the dysfunctional effects on the child’s mind and body, subject to the illogical rants of inordinate temper and crude ignorance on the part of the parent. To be a good parent requires no occasion for the assistance of high education or social standing of recognition, but unconditional love and understanding springing from the parent’s heart. A good parent encourages, nourishes, and loves the child who will return the jewels of parentship at the Latter Stages of Man. Therefore, it is all over but the shouting that a parent whose intermittent bouts of uncontrolled tantrum inflict pain and exact terror on the child will live in malignity of the disaffected child who mistreats now the old, infirm parent without the presence of love and warmth. What a pity.
Upon reading the essay, I saw the images of a young mom, mature mom, and old mom screened in a phantasmagorial display of the ancient time on a mind’s theater. From childhood until now, mom I have known is lonely, living in her castle where no one would bother or scare her fragile sensitivity that feels too much to confront life’s realities, including parenthood. How I will think of her as a parent is a foregone conclusion not with spite but with sympathy. With her left knee immovable by the osteoporosis combined with calcification in tibial arteries, I now only see an older woman on the verge of extreme pathos about the life she did not like much, among which her regret of not being an ideal mother. Although Johnson had a point in admonishing harsh parentship without love producing revengeful quid pro quo consequences, I cannot turn my shoulders away from my mom, who has none but me to take care of her in this world. I remember Mother Teresa pleading to all of us that charity begins right at home. That’s what I feel when I see my mom asleep like a baby. And thereby hangs a tale.