What Jane Goodall Taught Me about Mother’s Day

I have a very short bucket list.

I’ve enjoyed the good fortune of spending time with my favorite actor/crooner Alan Cumming, meeting my favorite author/speaker David Sedaris, engaging several times with my favorite cartoonist/activist Patrick McDonnell, becoming friends with National Geographic journalist/photographer Priit Vesilind, and chatting up musicians ranging from Matt Nathanson to Marc Broussard to Lady Antebellum.

Until this spring, the most glaring omissions from my list had been viewing the glorious Northern Lights and meeting the equally awe-inspiring Dr. Jane Goodall.

A British anthropologist, environmentalist, and author, known as the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, Dr. Goodall is also an educator and animal rights activist. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from a host of colleges, from Rutgers and Syracuse, to the American University of Paris, to National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.

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Meeting Dr. Goodall at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. during her “Sowing the Seeds of Hope” lecture tour left me not only tearful with joy, but also made me reconsider Mother’s Day through her eyes. First, how meaningful it is—to both moms and daughters—when children grow up and more fully understand and openly acknowledge the devotion and sacrifices made on their behalf by their mothers. Second, how powerful is the faith of a mother in our dreams and abilities that it gives us the courage to meet our future head on. It’s as if this invisible string of love and confidence in us is exactly what ties us to the planet in our times of doubt.

Dr. Goodall humbly shared lovely stories from her childhood and young adulthood, illustrating how her mother’s love and support were the roots of her success. For example, her bravery was applauded as a young woman heading off to the wilds of Africa in 1960. She exclaimed that she was not being brave but was simply euphoric to head to Africa, to fulfill a lifelong dream. Although this was not her mother’s dream, her mom, nevertheless, willingly and confidently went with her.

Her mother went with her. Sometimes, I realized, just being present is what matters most.

Dr. Goodall explained to the audience how WWII kept her family from having much, but that she’d spend hours in the book store, voraciously reading. She spoke about her first tender years in Africa. And how other people’s belief in her and support for her, not simply her own deep passion, made all the difference in the trajectory of her life and successes.

She spoke to the horrors of factory farming, primates in cages, and the younger generation losing hope concerning climate change. At age 81, she still travels nearly 300 days per year. Her Institute has offices in dozens of countries. She is genuine and warm and sincerely believes in the human heart and mind connecting and rising to the occasion in order to combat what she sees as the three biggest issues affecting our planet: crushing poverty, consumer-driven economies, and human over population.

She couldn’t have been more eloquent and engaging—with no slides or photos, just her spoken words.

I all too briefly engaged with her one-to-one, and I told her that meeting her had been on my bucket list, and I was happy to be able to now cross her off.  She provided me a genuine chuckle and said she was happy for me to meet her before she dies.

Self-deprecating and full of humor and charm, Dr. Goodall remains a force to be reckoned with. She never doubted her dreams could become a reality—because, from her earliest days, she enjoyed the support and love of a wise and wonderful mother. In turn, she has enjoyed being a mother to her own child, Hugo, and a good steward to Planet Earth.


Featured Image via National Geographic 

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