Her new book “The Spirit of a Woman” features people from all walks of life who, as Terry writes, have the inner spirit to face challenges, to go “into the dark and emerge with compassion and truth.”
I met Terry and four of these special women in her book at a signing at Book Passage in Northern California.
“Great women came into my life and mentored me and they have helped me find many ways to heal my body, mind and spirit. Hopefully, I can pass it on to others.” Terry Laszlo-Gopadze
Terry spent 10 years searching for the women in her book. After reading their tales, I had to ask Terry how she found them and what she’s learned after hearing their courageous voices…
WOMEN’S EYE: What made you want to collect stories for “The Spirit of a Woman?” It took you a decade to complete so it was quite an undertaking.
TERRY: I was going through major challenges in my own life, like we all do, and this birthed the question of how do other women go through challenges and find peace, a gift, a creative solution, or an insight? What helps them transform the energy into something positive for themselves or others?
I wanted to hear those stories and I wanted to share them with the wish that they would help women to find hope and new meaning in life. At the same time I had a great longing to belong to a community of women who were much greater than myself.
EYE: What kinds of women were you hoping to find?
TERRY: My goal was to compile a collection of genuine, honest stories written by women and that it would inspire and empower other women. I knew that what I was seeking could only be written out of spiritual optimism.
Faith has moved these authors beyond fear. Many of them are activists, and their words resonate with conviction. They draw on their culture and their own unique life experiences to live richly meaningful lives. They have transformed pain and confusion into healing and service.
The stories came to me one by one over a number of years, and in the end they reflected, as I had hoped they would, the highly diverse lives of the women who wrote them. Whatever their culture or nationality or age, these are women who have faced life’s challenges with courage.
“I chose the ones that touched me in some deep part of my own heart and soul.”
EYE: How did you select these particular women?
TERRY: It was an unanticipated and humbling experience that so many wonderful stories came to me. The selection process was difficult, and I suppose it will surprise no one to learn that I chose the ones that touched me in some deep part of my own heart and soul.
EYE: Please tell me about Nicolette Tal, the incredible woman who was on a life support system who inspired you.
TERRY: Nicolette Tal–a lawyer, wife and mother of two children–showed her remarkable capacity for resilience and humor as she was forced to steadily make changes in her life as she was slowly overtaken by a neuro-motor disease that left her confined to a wheelchair. She was only able to communicate by twitching her lip to enact a laser connected to her computer.
I had the opportunity to meet Nicolette Tal before she died and she was helping her son and his friends write their essays for college and helping her daughter with a project. I was stunned that a woman in this condition did not act as a victim but instead found a way to have meaning and purpose.
Meeting her was life-changing for me because she was so grateful for the love and support of family and friends who gave her the strength she needed to deal with this “new experience”, as she called it. Her courage in facing her own death will always stay in my heart and it has helped me to face my own.
“What is common to all of them, however, is authenticity. These are deep and beautiful stories, and each is such a gift!”
EYE: What qualities do women have who can empower and inspire?
TERRY: A full response to your question would generate a long, long list. Readers will recognize compassion and humility and creativity and much, much more – but it is one-by-one. Not every story springs from or reflects all of those qualities.
What is common to all of them, however, is authenticity. These are deep and beautiful stories, and each is such a gift! Each is the creative expression of a woman’s gratitude.
EYE: You brought four fascinating women with you to the signing who are in the book. Can you describe why they are so special?
TERRY: Josefina Burgos, who was imprisoned in Chile…
Josefina was arrested during the dictatorship of General Pinochet. They took her away without warning, and her five-year-old son was left at home alone. In prison, she was tortured, but her greatest anguish came from her fears for her child. Alone in a cell, she was utterly helpless, dropped into the bottomless pit of hell, knowing that the only thing that mattered was her son’s welfare.
Despair gripped her, and she was without hope as she stared at the wall of her cell. Suddenly and amazingly, she saw a little hand that was about the size of her son’s hand. She began to experience powerful energy and she envisioned a Mother of all mothers.
It was through this spiritual encounter that she found a peaceful strength that stayed with her throughout the rest of her time in prison. When she finally was released and returned to her home, she was greeted by her son, and a friend who was holding his hand.
Josefina had the special ability to be open, in this ghastly time of her life, to a moment where she would receive comfort and faith through a connection with a Mother-god. She is gentle and she has great strength. She inspires us to look for the divine even when our lives are dark, or we are lost and frightened.
Jyoti, who is committed to sustaining and protecting the spiritual practices of first—nation peoples around the world…
Jyoti is an international ambassador for the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, a council of native women elders. They have dedicated their lives to preserving the plant-based medicines and spiritual practices of traditional people and to working for peace.
Sheri Ritchlin who says her treasured home is a camper…
Yes, Sheri lives part-time in Petaluma in a camper that she has named Mr. Fields. By living in the camper, which is located on a farm with a gorgeous plant nursery, she has time to write and to spend time in solitude and in nature.
In her story, Sheri sets out from Montana in her 1972 camper on a journey to California that was both a return and a mid-life vision quest which rewarded her with unexpected pleasures and insights into aging. Old age is the secret crisis that no one is allowed to talk about…… but Sheri does!
Sheri is a wonderful writer, dream-worker and lecturer. She has a great sense of humor combined with wisdom and a unique way of life that she cherishes. She reminds us to pick the path that works for our own life and to enjoy the beauty along the path.
Suni Paz who sang that wonderful song dedicated to The Spirit of Woman to end the lecture…
That beautiful song is entitled MUJER (which means WOMAN), and it tells us to fear nothing. It is one of the songs on Between Sisters/Entre Hermanas, an album recorded on a Smithsonian-Folkways CD and dedicated to women. Suni was the first Latin American woman to record a whole album dedicated to Women and wrote most of the songs for this pioneer album.
She tells a story from her years as a young wife and mother. The family was struggling in a remote area in Argentina. That they survived is a miracle, and she credits a neighbor, who lived far way but who nonetheless appeared every day to help them. She was amazingly generous and unselfish.
Everything Suni does comes from the heart. She has dedicated her life to working with children and their families. She has a pattern in her life of going through tremendous challenges and is rescued by women that suddenly appear at her door!
EYE: You say the women in your book demonstrate three aspects of feminine principles. Can you describe those briefly?
TERRY: In the foreword that she wrote for The Spirit of a Woman, Angeles Arrien gives us three feminine principles. She reminds us of the unlimited depths of the feminine principle in every human being, both male and female.
· any contribution coming from care and love contributes to the development of the human enterprise,
· fully trusting our own intuition and guidance, even when it goes against established norms, is a courageous act of integrity,
· commitment of meaningful action, service, work, or creativity makes a real difference both individually and collectively.”
These, of course, are principles that can guide any one of us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of us would make a genuine effort to incorporate them into our daily activities? It would make such a difference!
“Dr. McGarey gives of herself to try to make the world a better place, and she inspires us to emulate her.”
EYE: You also include Dr. Gladys McGarey, who is turning ninety and at age eighty-five went to Afghanistan to help mothers and children.
TERRY: She is recognized world-wide as “the mother of holistic medicine” and has lived her entire life as a humanitarian. Dr. McGarey gives of herself to try to make the world a better place, and she inspires us to emulate her.
She lives a life of loving-kindness. Her wisdom and personal power are put to good use in a medical foundation, and an orphanage in India inherited from her parents. She is actively working to move the practice of medicine in the United States away from a disease model toward a living medicine model.
Many, perhaps most, women have retired from careers and active lives at age 85… but not Dr. McGarey. At that age, she went to Afghanistan to apply her medical skills to the problem of infant and child mortality. Follow-up studies of the effects of her work show that the mortality rate declined by an astonishing 47%.
What a role model she is for women, and yet she has not been exempt from sorrow. At seventy years of age, she was shattered by the end of her marriage. She and her husband had collaborated as medical pioneers during their many years together in a loving union, but he chose to leave her. She shares her story of suffering and forgiveness in “The Spirit of a Woman.”
EYE: How has collecting these stories changed your life?
TERRY: All of the stories enriched my life because they are by women who are empowered, speaking their truths, changing their beliefs or expanding them, using their inner guidance and creating ways to live their life with purpose and serving humanity. They each influenced the direction of my own life in ways I never would have imagined. I am richer for their words.
In her beautifully written story “Telling the Bees”, S. Kelley Harrell expanded my awareness of nature as she recounts the life-lessons her part-Cherokee grandfather taught her through his care of bees. These lessons would combine with later events to set her on the shaman’s path as a writer and healer. Her grandfather was so connected to the bees that they even foretold his death. This story deepened my own connection with nature.
Bobbi Gibb taught me to follow my heart and move to the things I love. Ali Norman’s wise words opened me to the many paths to the truth. Christina Baldwin shows me how story can move us to hatred or love, with words alone.
Marcy Burns helped me to understand that fear is a path to courage. Della Clark reminds me to follow my intuition. I could go on and on describing the impact on my life of the great stories I received.
EYE: You say a cancer diagnosis ultimately brought healing into your life. How?
TERRY: It opened me up to seeing God in everything and everyone, even my diagnosis. It caused me to go deeper into my own spirituality and to seek out the many paths to truth and light by listening to women’s stories, contemplating, meditating and praying.
Great women came into my life and mentored me and they have helped me find many ways to heal my body, mind and spirit. Hopefully, I can pass it on to others.
“Women everywhere have wonderful stories to tell, and they will be our spiritual gifts to each other.”
EYE: What is next for you? Will you continue to look for inspirational women?
TERRY: Now that I know how meaningful the connection to inspirational women can be, it is impossible for me to stop looking for them. I love stories, and I will continue to gather them, and I will give some away on my website. Women everywhere have wonderful stories to tell, and they will be our spiritual gifts to each other.
Perhaps, there will be another collection of powerful stories someday. There are so many, and it is just possible that women will change the world story, by story, by story!
EYE: Many thanks Terry to you and all the women for sharing their stories!