“It’s been an amazing journey, this life of mine…” –Jane Goodall

Last week I traveled to Arlington in a caravan of excited anthropology students to see our idol, Jane Goodall, speak about her experiences.

We were all in eager anticipation, wondering what Jane would say, how her voice would sound, what she would look like in person… but I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we were all completely blown away. Our expectations could not live up to the humorous, hopeful, intelligent, and compassionate person that stood before us in the flesh.

I have not yet read any of Jane Goodall’s work, although I’ve heard countless anecdotes about her life and work. After seeing her in person, I can hardly wait to get my hands on one of her 27 published books.

And, in case any of you are wondering, Jane just turned EIGHTY-TWO. She is about the same age as my Granny, and she is continually changing the world with her activism and ideas.

Can I please BE her when I grow up?

I’d love to share with you some quips of wisdom from Jane’s own words, and some of my thoughts.

“And what did Tarzan do? He went and married the wrong Jane!”

I loved hearing stories of Jane’s childhood in England, growing up without television. She made us reminisce to a time when we weren’t glued to a screen all day long. When we used our imaginations, and created our own ideas.

She was specifically enamored with the character of Tarzan as a child, and was so excited that she had her own image of how he was supposed to be. When she saw the first movie produced about Tarzan, she was frustrated that “it wasn’t really Tarzan!”

Can you imagine being so engaged with an idea in your own imagination that the “real world” just doesn’t measure up?

“Those were such exciting days. Everything was new. Learning about them, but more importantly learning from them– it was a magical time.”

Jane mentioned that she traveled to Tanzania for the first time when she was 23 years old.

She had never left the country, or her family, or engaged with any sort of real-life activity before that moment.

That moment changed the world.

I am 23 years old.

Sometimes, we begin to think that our life is ending. No need for melodramatics here– but honestly, this thought is constantly in our minds.

“I feel like I’m running out of time.” “I wish things could be the way they were.” “I miss this.”

Especially as I am on the threshold of adulthood, Jane’s words rang especially true to me. Everything is new. Everything is exciting, and a little scary. Things are ending, and things are beginning, and we are in the middle.

The life of Jane Goodall, one of the most admirable people the world has ever known, truly “began” at age 23.

I think I can afford to chill a little bit about the fact that I haven’t yet won the Nobel peace prize.

We’ve got time.

“Every single one of us makes a difference, whether we mean it or not, every single day. We matter.”

To me, this is not a sentimental thought.

This is one of the only compelling reasons to keep going in this unbearably cruel world we live in.

This thought is not only positive, but it’s positively necessary.

I MUST believe that my choices matter, that I make a difference, and that I hold a valuable space in the universal community. I have to believe this to the core of my being.

It’s so easy to see all the things wrong with our world: pollution, cruelty against animals, climate change, genocide, rape, deforestation… I could go on and on, and all of these things are inherently connected.

How do we exist in a world so saturated with evil– evil that we see personally every single day?

This is how.

If I am actively engaged in trying to live in harmony with mother nature, I have to believe that it’s making some sort of difference.

If I love animals with my whole heart and act accordingly, I have to believe that somebody, somewhere, will benefit from that love.

I have to believe that even though my decisions will not alter the entire world, I am making SOME amount of change.

“I’m fascinated by SO many things. It’s a magic world.”

Jane’s entire talk was infused with joy and enthusiasm– and fascination.

I loved hearing her talk about things that she loves, and wonders about, and is excited about.

She is so ALIVE.

Jane told us that her life began with a sincere fascination for reading voraciously and learning about all of the animal kingdom. As she began her career, she became fascinated with the behaviors of chimpanzees. Further, she became engaged with human-to-human activism, and she mentioned that her newest research interest is the plant kingdom.

Jane is passionate about GMOs and plant communication. She refuses to place herself in a box.

I desperately want to consume this life with that much enthusiasm, joy, and energy.

I want to live my life with such a supreme awareness that everything around me is so interesting.

I want to open my eyes to inspiration all around me.

Jane Goodall is eighty-two years old, and is still moving through life with a boisterous, vivacious energy. As Jane recalls one child saying to her, “you taught me that because you did it, I could do it, too.”

jane books

“Jane you’ve seen so many terrible things. You don’t still have hope, do you?”

My favorite part of Jane’s talk came with her conclusion. She showed us meaningful videos from her experiences with chimpanzees, and the audience (and I) cried.

Then, she gave us her five reasons for maintaining hope in our broken world.

This meant SO much to me.

Dealing with major depression and crippling anxiety has seriously torn me down over the last few years. It’s become so easy for me to feel pessimistic about the fate of our world and my own life. Existential crises are my everyday experience now.

So, hearing someone speak passionately about why she has hope… for some reason, I believed her.

Jane’s reasons for hope gave me hope.

This is HUGE.

While I can never express this to you in the way that she did, I believe the world needs to hear Jane’s position here. In brief, here are:

Jane Goodall’s Five Reasons for Hope

1. The Young. If you ever find yourself in the presence of young children, pay attention. They are not giving up. They are full of vigor and motivation and a contagious energy. They are our future, and they are healthy and hopeful.

2. The Brain. Human ingenuity has radically altered the face of this earth in many positive ways. Clean green energy may be invented any day now, by any of us. Brainpower is a limitless resource, and it is working for us.

3. The Resilience of Nature. We have completely destroyed various places. They have burned to the very ground… and the ground rebuilds itself in spite of our destruction. (Required watching: the Firebird segment of Fantasia) This is crucial. Nature exists DESPITE humanity, and that is the most hopeful message in my opinion.

4. The Indomitable Human Spirit. People around the world persevere. We fight and we struggle to stay alive and to thrive. We can improve the lives of people around the world “in ways they suggest”– exactly the anthropologist’s view of things.

5. The Progress of Technology. We can (and do) change the world every day through the use of social media and the internet. We have the universe at our fingertips. Humans have never before been so well-equipped. Recently, environmental issues inspired the “largest gathering of people over one issue in the history of the planet.” If this was made possible with the technology we have today, just imagine where we will be in a century.

This is the most compelling list of reasons to be alive that I have ever come across. For this, I am grateful.

When I grow up, I want to BE Jane Goodall.

She is the Mother Theresa of animal activism, a shining light in our troubled world, and an incredibly infectious personality.

Listening to her speak, I can see myself one day becoming a conservationist, an activist, a teacher, and a world-changer. I see myself following in her footsteps.

I haven’t been able to envision a positive and hopeful future for myself in a long time.

I am so incredibly thankful that I heard Jane speak at this time in my life, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I will become her biggest fan. A huge stack of her books is calling my name!

Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.” — Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE. Primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace.