on March 9, 2010
When I originally sat down to read "Dear Self", I did so, thinking, "How nice; our beloved imam published the diary his mother kept." I went into this book assuming that it would be something only of interest to Muslims who respect and admire Imam Zaid and would like to get a glimpse into his early years, the ones before his discovery of Islam.
How wrong I was.
This is a stand-alone book. It's a book I find myself returning to time and time again to learn from the insights of a woman who lived and wrote during the years when I was first learning how to sit up and crawl. Whether it's getting advice on how to raise your children, what a child needs from his mother, what a father needs to do to provide for his family, how spouses need to treat one another, how an orderly home should be run efficiently while on a budget, how the races need to understand one another, how the genders needs to work together, how one should maintain one's dignity even in times of near-despair, how a mother should pray for her children, how one should appreciate the "little blessings" in the beauty of nature all around us...it's all in there.
I often found myself putting down 'Dear Self' and staring off into space as I pondered some little nugget that Richelene Mitchell had penned in her diary three decades earlier. I wiped my own tears as I felt the sorrow and shame of a mother who felt she was never able to do enough. I tried not to let my constricted throat stop me as I read certain heartbreaking passages out to my own sons and husband. I kissed my children as they slept at night, thanking God for giving us carpets under our feet, warm roofs over our heads, and food in our cabinets. I hugged my husband and thanked him for "being a man", for not shirking his duties and responsibilities to his wife and children. I looked out my windows and found a vision of beauty in the trees and grass that greeted my eyes, a new awareness that wasn't there before as I remembered Richelene's fervent prayer for a lawn outside her tenement home so that should could be rid of the mud, mud, mud (and concrete floors) that seemed to be forever her lot in life.
Richelene Mitchell's diary entries aren't just entries --- they're essays worth reading and studying and thinking about again and again. I found myself feeling melancholy after a few nights in a row of reading, and I felt the need to pick up lighter fare. But I was drawn back to this little diary after a week of being away and I couldn't bring myself to shelve it until every last page was digested and understood.
It was at a study circle one evening when one of the young ladies rhetorically asked, "How does one learn not to take one's blessings for granted?"
"Read 'Dear Self'," I suggested casually.
"YES!" two or three enthusiastic voices chorused around the room. "Exactly! That book will do it for you!"
What a gift to leave the world. If Richelene Mitchell hasn't done anything else other than make you grateful for all that has been granted to you in life, she has performed nothing less than a miracle...
I happen to come across this book quite by accident at the library one day. I couldn't check it out at the time, but once I could, I went right back and got that book, and I tell you, this is no ordinary welfare mother, but then again, who is? or who isn't? Richeline was born in Georgia, finished high school in South Philadelphia, got married and ended up in New Britain, Connecticut with seven kids. She resolved for 1973 to write a journal of her life and concerns, and that she did. One of the entries while discussing her financial woes, she muses if she sold this journal what would it profit? sadly, she didn't live to see the results. She speaks of not being able to work for herself(although she does work parttime at a dry cleaners)and giving her body to science as a sort of payback, writing letters to the local newspaper editor and seeing them published as well. She yearns that her children would break the cycle and become better adults, and at the end of the book, there is a section on what happened to her children. She also talks about her health. She suffered from seizures, and she valiantly tried to keep it from her kids. Nevertheless, after reading this book, one would think twice about labeling someone a welfare queen or what have you. Richeline Mitchell may have been a welfare mother, but I believe she was far more than that. A great book and highly recommended for all.
on September 9, 2007
The book Dear Self is an excellent book that everyone should read. It really draws the reader into never wanting to put it down. It appeals to people of every upbringing, age, and culture. The reader will feel as though they have experienced what the very writer has gone through. The emotions of sadness, happiness, and times of struggle have an immense affect on any person who reads this book. Superbly put together, Dear Self proves that with struggle there is ease. Richelene Mitchell, who documents these stories in a diary, proves that, although everyone has struggles or difficulties in life, with determination, patience, and acceptance of those struggles, one will succeed. What I found amazing about the writer was the fact that she never expressed pain throughout her illness of epilepsy. She continued to provide for her seven children, with endless love and support. This is most definitely a book that everyone can learn at least one lesson from, especially through the writer's strength, patience, and courage.
on February 1, 2009
I got this book 3 weeks ago after hearing about it in a lecture. It's a unique first-person account written down in real-time in 1973. So no 'revisionism' by the author, and no filtering by writer who didn't directly experience what the book is recounting.
In some ways, it is better than the book "Nickeled and Dimed in America" because it's not a simulated, rootless probe into the conditions of the poorest Americans, but an insightful sincere diary!
on August 15, 2008
The dictionary defines the word welfare as financial or other aid provided, especially by the government, to people in need. But does that meaning portray in true terms what someone on welfare really goes through every single day in this country. I would argue that it does not. In order to get a working understanding of someone on welfare in this country, one needs to go no further than reading Dear Self. This is a journal written over three decades ago by a phenomenal woman in a span of one year. Richelene Mitchell, a welfare mother of seven allows us to enter a world through her journal most of us have not experienced. A world of humiliation, poverty, racism, anxiety and frustration. But this story is not all about the disappointments of life but about elevating the human spirit and having the ability to live with such difficult life experiences with dignity, fortitude, mettle, and class. Ms. Mitchell's story tells us that life can throw many obstacles but know that we all have the potential for greatness regardless of our social standings. It's about patiently persevering through trials and tribulations. She was truly a remarkable woman and it was an honor to have shared a year of her life. If you want to be inspired, I highly encourage you to read this book.