The University Record, October 23, 2000

Time alone important ‘element of our lives,’ columnist Britt asserts

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

Britt
Emphasizing the need for an inner spiritual life in balancing family and career, award-winning Washington Post columnist Donna Britt delivered the ninth Elizabeth Charlotte Mullin Welch Lecture Oct. 17, presented by the Center for the Education of Women.

The lecture series was established in honor of Welch, a 1939 U-M graduate, by her two sisters to bring speakers to the U-M campus who exemplify Welch’s “gifts of creativity, strength of character and illumination of vision.” During her student days Welch was the rare woman in the artistic circle that included Arthur Miller, Mike Wallace and Jerome Wiesner. She went on to successful careers in broadcasting, publishing and retailing, and she was a patron of the arts.

Britt, whose topic was, “In the Flow: Blending Career, Family and Spirit,” is just completing a five-month sabbatical from her twice-weekly column, having decided to take a break from the frantic pace she was living to “breathe on my own,” as she wrote in her last column before beginning the sabbatical.

“Nobody in this room has enough time, and that doesn’t make sense,” Britt said. “I always assumed it was my inability to cope, but when I asked my mother about how she did it, she said it really is more difficult now. For instance, partly because of safety concerns, we drive kids everywhere. When my mother was raising us we walked everywhere.”

Britt said that so much of her energy goes into being a mother and wife, loving and supporting her family, that she doesn’t know how good a writer she is, another important part of her life. “I wondered during my sabbatical whether I was in some way addicted to the rush. Our exhaustion has become a badge of honor. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where you’re one-upping the other person on how tired you are? I have and that’s really sad,” Britt said.

“In trying to balance home and career I often feel sorry for myself because I know I see things that my husband just doesn’t see,” Britt declared. “We women pay attention to everything. We see the socks on the floor, the dust balls in the corner, and we’re aware of all of the family’s needs. We need to be needed, but it’s tricky in a marriage when we want our husband to give back. If it’s our purpose to give, we need to find a way to be refilled,” she said.

Britt said that what has gotten her to this point in her life, “what has helped me get through my older brother’s death and helped me to love white people, despite his being shot by two white policeman and my having suffered the discrimination all Black people experience in this country, is the spirit part of me. This part is more important to most of us than we let on because it’s not acceptable to talk too openly about it in this society,” she said. “Part of the reason we run around is that we’re fearful of confronting this part of ourselves.” Britt agrees with Anne Morrow Lindberg, citing a passage from A Gift from the Sea, that it is spiritual isolation from our own selves that most separates us from other people.

“I’m scared of my spirituality, scared of God,” Britt continued. “I’ve talked about it in my column, but I had to think hard about that because it was exposing myself. In the U.S. we get to choose how to live our spiritual lives and so often we fail to choose the spirit. Meditation has given me so much comfort and strength, it’s really a magical thing, but I still don’t choose it sometimes.”

It’s critical, she said, that we schedule time to be alone as we schedule other important elements of our lives. “The really magical thing is to love the person we are,” she continued, and quiet time in solitude is essential to achieve that state. “It’s a cliche, but it’s true that we can’t love others until we love ourselves,” Britt concluded.