We can all learn so much from admiring the real struggle of a person who refuses to be denied and who overcomes life’s difficult odds and obstacles.
One of the inspirations of my youth was a woman named Anna Mary Robertson Moses. You may know her as Grandma Moses. As I sit at my desk writing this blog and think of her incredible scenes of childhood painted in her uniquely fundamental way, it reminds me of something I wrote in my book Making A Difference: “You shouldn’t judge your potential or ultimate success or failure by the first win or loss.”
Had Grandma Moses listened to her critics, had she thrown in the towel when someone said, “You’re too old to start over,” the world would have never known of her. Unlike reality TV, her life did not follow a script (Oh, you didn’t know?), and though people discouraged her, it couldn’t stop her from rekindling decades-old passion.
We see the quaint artistry of Grandma Moses, and we may think of a warm, cuddly grandma living by the side of the road in a huge mansion inherited from wealthy parents or a driven husband.
In truth, Anna Mary Robertson (born in 1860) went to work at 12 years of age as a domestic. Life in those days was hard and raw, and her teenage years were spent in back-breaking work. One of her kinder bosses saw the young woman admiring a Currier & Ives print, and she gave the teenager some brushes and paint to “relax” at the end of the day. Her other saving graces were knitting and embroidery.
When she married Mr. Thomas Moses at the ripe old age of 27, the couple was dirt poor. They moved around to four different farms and raised a family of five children, though she “lost” five children to disease. For 20 years she and Thomas worked for other people as domestics and farm hands. She also made food products to sell to local grocers. However, she would not abandon her love of decorative arts.
Thomas died soon after they had scraped enough money together to finally buy a farm of their own, and she and her oldest son worked it. Still, she would not be denied her love of creativity and the need to produce beautiful things. Despite her grief and pain, in her quiet hours, she found respite in her creativity.
The tough work of her life, the years of washing, mending and farm labor, turned the joints of her body arthritic and painful. She could no longer knit or embroider. She had grown old at age 75, and though her children and grandchildren were happy and healthy, she had a need inside of her to produce beautiful things.
At the age of 75, she rekindled her love of painting. A paintbrush was the only thing her crippled hands could hold.
Grandma Moses would live to 101 and painted almost until the day she died. She produced more than 1,500 paintings and even in her lifetime her paintings would sell for as much as $10,000 apiece. She was featured in books, was extensively interviewed, praised by presidents and had a stamp made in her honor. Most importantly, she captured lost images of American life.
There was nothing about the losses in Anna Mary Robertson’s early life or Mrs. Moses’ later life that would have suggested her successes. She lived her life with purpose, passion and pride. She offered no excuses for her failures or trials. She instead moved ahead without judgment.
The Rest of Your Life
Where are you in your life? Have you forgiven yourself for mistakes you might have made? Do you blame other people for the trials in your life? Do you feel too old to pick up “your paintbrush”? Please don’t stop trying; the world desperately needs what you have to offer. Let the tests become your testimony, and the messes become your message. Dead last is greater than did not finish, which trumps did not start. Your date of birth doesn’t determine your age—how you live does.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses became an inspiration to many, especially the elderly. Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming things you once thought you couldn’t. Life goes on whether you choose to move on and take charge or stay behind and make excuses. We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. Make the rest of your life the best of your life.