Every summer, I look forward to finding cherries in the grocery store or farmers market. They remind me of my grandfather, who bought them practically by the bushel when they were in season. And they remind me of an author who shaped much of my understanding of life and the importance of empowering people.
Erma Bombeck, author of If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?, was a regular in the house where I grew up. She wasn’t a family friend or neighbor, but she showed up in the books my mom read and the albums she listened to when she was tending to household tasks.
From journalist to humorist to activist
Ms. Bombeck used self-effacing humor as a way to empower people to take on the trials of life. She started her writing career as a journalist with a column called “Operation Dustrag” for the Journal Herald in Dayton, OH. When Newsday Newspaper Syndicate picked up her column, “At Wit’s End,” she became famous in the US, endearing herself to an estimated 30 million people. And she was also a regular contributor to “Good Morning, America” for the first eleven years of its run.
Although much of her work appealed to women, I listened, read, and watched intently as a kid. I didn’t understand exactly what made her so compelling until I read the tribute written by her husband, Bill Bombeck, after her death in 1996. He wrote, “…her purpose was to write humor and make people smile.” Indeed.
Beyond humor and smiles, Ms. Bombeck demonstrated courage. She wrote about the realities of raising children, depression, aging, body image, and marriage. And in doing so, she empowered others to be courageous in facing both ordinary and difficult times with grace and wit.
But it was her activism that allowed her courage to blossom.
Humor as inspiration
In 1978, Ms. Bombeck accepted an appointment to the President’s National Advisory Committee for Women. She took up the platform of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and traveled the country in an effort to show women that the ERA benefited women of all stripes. Her accessibility and wit made her immediately appealing to people who originally dismissed the ERA. She empowered people (not only women) to support it, tipping the balance toward passage of the landmark bill. And when the ERA ultimately failed in Congress, Bombeck was disappointed.
Her purpose expanded to include connecting ordinary people to the movement for equality for women in the US, a gift of empowerment to those who didn’t recognize or perhaps weren’t ready to step into their own power. She became the reasonable voice of influence to a generation of women who previously felt left behind.
What does that mean for me?
Great question! It could mean any number of things for you, none of which are mine to say. What I can tell you is Erma Bombeck discovered and fulfilled her purpose, as she understood it. And she may still be fulfilling part of that purpose today when people discover her writing.
The question is back to you: how will you empower others to work for the greater good of your community, state, country, or world?
Erma Bombeck biographical information used with permission.