Jane at 90

One of my favorite living humans I’ve never met, Jane Goodall, turned 90 this month.  She is, perhaps, the matron saint of paying attention.

She is most famous for her work among the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.  Initially an outsider to the scientific community, without a college degree, she did things one wasn’t supposed to do in her observations of chimpanzee life.  She affectionately named her subjects.  She attributed human-like emotions to them.  She bonded with them.  In other words, she paid attention not as a detached observer but as a curious and loving participant. 

This, and observations such as chimpanzee tool making, blurred a once thick line between the human and animal world. 

Jane Goodall has spent the second half of her life sharing her knowledge and love of the animal world while promoting conservation efforts.  At 90, she is on the road a hard-to-believe 320 days a year.  She is someone who has accepted that her life is lived in service to a mission – a big one of kinship, humility, and a re-ordering of our relationship with the natural world.  In a recent New York Times interview, she stated:

I feel I was born with a mission. Right now, that mission is to give people hope. So when I get exhausted, I look up there and say: “You put me in this position, you bloody well help me get through the evening.”

So maybe she is also a matron saint of hope.  Which raises an interesting point about the relationship between paying attention and hopefulness.  Not paying attention as a distant observer, like scrolling through the NYT headlines.  But paying attention as a curious and loving participant.  This, in the spirit of Jane Goodall, could be what enables one to sustain hope for the long haul.

Happy birthday Jane.