Breaking Night, Liz Murray

Images I finished Breaking Night by Liz Murray with tears streaming down my face.  Liz Murray grew up with two drug addict parents who love their children but are mostly focused on the next high.  Liz finds herself homeless and a street rat.  Hanging out with the next generation of kids who are lost because their parents were. It is worth watching the quick video on the books Amazon page.  She is an unbelievable person. 

Liz is no doubt a smart girl.  She was incredibly resourceful after finding herself on the streets, alone and lost.  She ends up with a summer job through sheer tenacity and that job opens her eyes to a world she had never been exposed to.  Nice suburban homes that are clean.  She decides that she can only save herself.  She goes back to High School, although without a home or parents to guide her, she finishes with honors.  Eventually being accepted to Harvard.  Pretty awesome story. 

Having a kid in college myself and one going through the process right not makes me think about a variety of things.  Financially, my kids are set.  They don't need to worry about the cost of tuition nor do they need to worry about eating, having a roof over their head or clothes on their back.

I did not grow up with a surplus of cash and neither did Fred.  I came from an upper middle class family that could afford for me to go to college and put a little cash in my pocket.  When I was in London for a semester with barely enough cash from my summer job to make it through the semester, I had to call my Mom who literally sent me the last thousand dollars in her checking account.  It was there that I met some kids who never had to worry about cash.  In fact, flying to a warm island for the weekend was not out of the realm of their world.  I believe that now more than ever there is much wider divide of the haves and have-nots.  More people who of my generation have means that our parents did not have. There is also the helicopter parent of my generation which just highlights the differences between Liz and the other students.  

This week I met with a young woman who is graduating from Vanderbilt this spring.  She is smart and has a very dry sense of humor which comes across talking to her and in her writings. Her blog is laugh out loud hilarious.  Impressive young woman.  I would be thrilled to help her get her foot in the door, anywhere.  My advice to her was don't be so hot to start working the minute you graduate, take some time off.  Travel, write, take a break, see the world, anything that rocks your boat.  Do that and then come back to me.  Maybe you have had enough of the traveling world come November or maybe you continue to March.  Take your time. You have the resources to do that, take advantage of it.  She is incredibly driven so there is no doubt she will return ready to roll up her sleeves and begin her career.  Right now, she should take some time to reflect about her future and the last four years of college. 

Great advice for her and the same advice I'd give our kids.  When I graduated from college, Fred and I traveled around the country for about 6 weeks in a Toyota with very little cash.  We actually kept a ledger each day on how much we spent, stayed at Motel 6's and basically ate cereal, cheese and bread.  We had to get back in mid-August to start our jobs because we couldn't afford to do anything else.  Nobody was paying for our life except us. 

Liz Murray didn't have any of the luxuries of the young woman that I gave advice to or even the small luxury I did of taking off six weeks before beginning work.  She was solo.  She had to figure out how to make money, feed herself, put a roof over her head, do well in school, and fend off the desire to just pack it in and hang on the streets with her friends. 

An impressive book, an incredible story and one that puts everything else into perspective. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Yule Heibel

    I’ve met a couple of people like Liz – for example, Andrea Reimer, who’s currently a city councilor in Vancouver. How she – and people like Liz – did it is largely a mystery to me, but I think I glimpsed something of an answer in Liz Murray’s book description on Amazon: “…Murray went from feeling like ‘the world was filled with people who were repulsed by me’ to learning to receive the bountiful generosity of strangers who truly cared.” [emphasis added]That’s a key thing, isn’t it? How to turn self-loathing into …well, into something else. Self-acceptance? I’m still embarrassed by people who actually like me (I was never homeless, but pretty damn poor, and definitely disadvantaged by economic and social circumstances) – and it’s the hardest lesson to learn: that to thrive, you really need to get over yourself, because of course you’re way too used to having people get over you (pass you by) because you’re irrelevant/ surplus/ not wanted. So it seems like a contradiction or insanity to care for yourself, and yet that’s what needs to happen.Good on Liz Murray for making it – and good for all who supported her.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Yule. That is really an interesting perspective. Self-acceptance iskey. Thriving and surviving is something I have written about before andalthough this is a different context, it is in many ways the same thing. Tothrive you do need to feel good about yourself. Liz eventually felt goodabout who she was and what she could do if she thrived vs. just survived.

  2. TanyaMonteiro

    I was struck by this statement, “She decides that she can only save herself”, for me that’s been the hardest part. thanks looking forward to the read

  3. Germainsteven

    So what Liz has figured out is what my friend Joe said yesterday. I think the focus on Liz’s making it misses the essential point – it’s what she did on the inside.It was Joe’s birthday yesterday and we had a cake for him and sang happy birthday to him. Joe is one of the guys I work with who is sort of a helper – he sets out the chairs, gives out the handouts, takes attendance. He turns 74 today. I also know that he spent 20 years in prison. After we sang happy birthday to him he looked around the room slowly and he sort of bump fisted his heart and he said; “It’s all love, it’s all love.” And I thought: I could learn a lot from Joe.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. That’s pretty amazing. We could definitely learn a lot from Joe.

  4. rebeccastees

    i love this…….”learning to receive the bountiful generosity of strangers who truly cared”….recently , i was interviewed by two freshman students from cal berkeley haas biz school and the last thing i said to them is many people will be delighted to help you along your way

    1. Gotham Gal

      Nice Rebecca!

  5. Wertherbill

    “Your friends aren’t going to pay your rent” –

    1. Gotham Gal

      for sure.