My granddaughters recently crossed the bridge into teenhood, and I’m mindful that one of my commissions as an Oma is to be a good role model, and to present other good role models to them. Of course, the first one who comes to mind, given their German heritage, is Hildegard of Bingen.
If you’ve never heard of Hildegard, that’s understandable — she lived in the mid-1100s, from the era of the Palatines. Her hometown of Bingen was a perfect mix of a German town on the Rhine River and the Roman Empire. So right there, that’s a period full of useful, and fascinating, history. Hildegard has been lauded as “one of the most important figures in the history of the Middle Ages.”
She lived in the century of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux, the rise of the great universities and the building of Chartres Cathedral.
She described herself as “a feather on the breath of God” so to my mind she was also a lovely poet, and she was ultimately recognized as a Saint. That’s an impressive bio.
Although the saintliness is nice, that’s not the reason I would choose her as a role model for young girls. She was also a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary and polymath.
She traveled throughout Germany, Switzerland, even to Paris, preaching. Hildegard founded monasteries, wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and yes, poems, and had her visions sanctioned by the Pope, another awesome achievement. She said what she thought, did what she thought needed to be done, championed social justice and stewardship of the natural world. She wrote letters to emperors and popes, bishops, nuns, and nobility, rebuking them when necessary.
To sum up an extraordinary life; someone of German heritage, a woman who was brilliant, creative, an outspoken activist, a spiritual visionary and a Saint with sheer badassery.
I never particularly liked the subset of female super-heroes like Supergirl and Batwoman although when my granddaughters were much younger, I was pleased when they embraced Dora the Explorer.
It’s well known that humans learn by modeling others, and I think real life figures are more likely to have a positive effect to inspire children to be their best selves. I’m always mindful of my own actions when my grandchildren are with me. I make sure everyone buckles up, to obey traffic laws, and not use bad words (or, at least call myself out on it if I do). I encourage helping others and caring for all of God’s creation; I stand up for myself, and, like Hildegard, rebuke when necessary. It’s sometimes exhausting, but I throw a lot of fun into the mix.
I want my granddaughters to know they can make a difference in their community, and ultimately, in the world. We have impressive female heroes now that I can point to, such as Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ education campaigner the Taliban couldn’t kill who became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.
This amazing children’s rights activist believes that education can change the world and I’m constantly asking my granddaughters, “What do you want to study in college? What profession do you want to have?”
I like to think that someday, they will be their own heroes and role models.