Diane Rehm,

Diane Rehm,

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 14 1998 12:30 AM

Diane Rehm,

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       As I walked out the front door, I saw my neighbor, Thea Clarke, whom I've known since she was a little girl living across the street with her parents. When they separated, Thea and her husband, David, bought the house from them, so she has lived in that same house her entire life, something that rarely happens in a city like Washington. She had a pot of pansies in her hand, ready to put them into the warm, moist earth in front of her house.
       Thea is the sort of neighbor every neighborhood yearns for. She keeps in touch with people. She knows everyone on the block. When folks are away, she brings in the mail and newspapers. When older people are sick or failing, she checks on them. When we had dogs and cats, it was always Thea who cared for them when we were away.
       She and her husband have two sons, one just completing elementary school, the other about to go off to high school. She is a free-lance editor, which allows her to stay at home, watch over her family, and yet contribute to the household finances.
       We began to chat about what she might do later on in life, after her children were ready to go off to college. She confessed that her father had asked the same question just days before and that her answer had been, "I just really don't know." What she is very clear about is the need to be where her children are right now, understanding that adolescence and the teen-age years present an entirely different set of problems today from those our own son and daughter encountered 20 years ago. But I especially liked her attitude. She acknowledged her capabilities and said she wanted to be able to do something with them.
       "I've been chairman of the PTA, for example. Not only is it a good way of staying in touch with what your children are doing, it's a way of learning about other people's values. I'm convinced," she said, "that I'm good at running things." By "running things" she was clearly referring to her organizational skills in keeping a family on track, operating a personal business from her home, and doing all sorts of volunteer activities. "I've been very lucky," she said, "to be able to find a way to work and yet to be at home." Were she to choose right now, she might become involved with Habitat for Humanity, an organization she greatly admires.
       Twenty-five years ago, when our son was 14 and our daughter 11, I set off on a journey of exploration, not having the faintest notion in my wildest dreams that the journey would lead me to a career in radio. I still shake my head when I think of how casually it all came about. Unlike Thea, I did not know what I was good at or have the vaguest idea where I might be headed. What I most admire about Thea is her belief in her own capabilities, the understanding that running a home and family is of value, not only to herself, her husband, and her sons but also to the nation at large. I also admire her acknowledgment that "luck" (I would probably call it fate) plays a remarkably strong role in the directions we choose to take.
       As I left her and went on my walk, looking up at the sky, worrying about some of the sparse-looking trees, admiring the fading rhododendrons, I thought about fate and luck and all the choices we make along the way. I came home through the alley, walked through the back gate into my garden, and couldn't resist pulling out some weeds that were trying to use the anemones to reach to the sky. No question, even the inevitable weeds are part of this extraordinary experience called life.

Diane Rehm is host of radio's Diane Rehm Show, nationally syndicated by WAMU/NPR. She is the author of a forthcoming book, Finding My Voice.