“You are who you are and your job in life is to discover your God-given gifts. Use them to make the world a better place.”

In 2006 I attended Alene Moris’ workshop, "The Unique Journey" at the Women's Center at the University of Washington, a department she co-founded in 1971. Digital technology had arrived and I worried about my photography career. Was it wasn’t "too late" to discover meaningful, sensible work? My mid-life quest was spiritual and practical. I was surprised that Alene was a vigorous woman in her late seventies and I had to confront my biases. Poised and elegant, Alene offered a startling self-appraisal:

"The way I see my life is that I might have 15 more years to make significant contributions.”

In 1968, Alene was a 39 year-old wife and mother of four, living in Malaysia with her missionary husband. The Vietnam War was raging. Newspapers were full of stories about men in traditional roles–on the fields of war, directing the conflict behind the scenes and holding court in the halls of power, making life and death decisions that impacted millions of people. Awakening in the night she despaired, “Where are the women?”

Taking to heart a Chinese maxim asserting that there won’t be peace on earth until women hold up their half of the sky, she made a decision:

“I knew that I wanted to become a counselor to women, young women, older women, all women of any age, to persuade them to take their talent seriously and to realize how badly they are needed in society if we are ever to get out of the escalating cycles of violence.”

Alene completed a graduate degree in motivational counseling, and for more than forty years has guided and influenced women (and men) in every walk of life, including many prominent figures. She is known throughout the U.S. and has influenced organizations as wide ranging as the Catholic Leadership Council of Women Religious and the National Association of Bank Women.

At 86 she continues her practice of living deeply in the present, scheduling a recent photo shoot with me well into her busy day, after giving a lecture on aging, sponsored by the Washington Post. Again she spoke of finding meaning in life:

“Right now, we see the elderly as a problem. Why don’t we look at the elderly as a resource? We want to help. We don’t want to just be trying to keep ourselves busy. I hate that. There are important things to do in life and we need to be able to continue being useful. I’m a great believer in being useful."

Alene is a wise woman with a powerful voice and intelligence to share in complicated times. She encouraged She Has A Song, calling me “brave.” High praise from a woman whose entire life has been in the service of changing the culture in ways that make for a more humane and just society. I hope my profiles of women who have dared to find their song and be true to their talents, live up to Alene's lessons.

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