Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope by Eileen Flanagan is a lovely, well-paced, journey of personal growth over several decades. Early in the book, the author takes us with her as she discovers Botswana as a Peace Corps volunteer and we eventually follow her back to the States and through a rich life that brings her continuously back to a life of service and, eventually, even back to Botswana.
Throughout there is beautiful writing and provocative subject matter carrying us through a variety of settings and geographic locations. In equal measure, there are times when Flanagan struggles and, as a reader, I appreciate her honesty on the page of how she persevered despite her own doubts and conflicts.
I was initially drawn to this book because I, too, have done humanitarian work and while dedicated to serving others, I came away from that career feeling frustrated and even disappointed with the limitations of trying to help through the structure of bureaucracy. So when Flanagan reveals her similar frustrations, I could totally relate and found her story that much more compelling.
What really captivated me, however – and admittedly a bit to my surprise – was how she brought the story around to her 49-year-old self who was now dealing with the daily challenges of life in America and her constant personal challenge to not give in to the mainstream.
My own experience tells me that it is easy to be idealistic and full of plans to change the world when one is young and living in a country that is completely foreign to us. But to maintain that same wonderful determined idealism when back in the States and living comfortably in middle age, is another level of commitment altogether.
Renewable is a book that taught me a lot about many things. I learned more about Botswana, a country I’ve only visited briefly; I learned about the Great Hunger (Irish Potato Famine) in the 1800’s, something I’d never studied; I learned about the Quakers and their spiritual values, something I knew virtually nothing about; and I learned more about renewable energy and ways to cut down our excess.
But mostly I learned about another woman of a similar age who has maintained her belief that we can all do things to change the world, even if in tiny increments. I even took a few notes of things I can start doing to be a more responsible resident on this delicate planet we call home.
If you’re curious about renewable energy, this is a must read. If you’re curious about an interesting life and the unexpected paths one might end up on, this is a terrific story. And if you’re just looking for a fresh voice and some well-written pages, this is well worth your time. You can always read the digital version to save trees. Enjoy!