BEB #9: A True Badass Woman

by Joosje Lupa

“Your ego gets you out of bed in the morning, it is your drive. But don’t let it drive you. Keep your mind from inventing fear scenarios, keep your ego from reacting to them. Practice observing. Observing is a life–saving skill when it becomes your modus operandi.” – Annette Herfkens

My mother is a woman, like any woman and unlike any woman.

My mother is an icon, an inspiration. My mother is a laugh, courage embodied. She is a nerd (even though you wouldn’t guess it).

My mother makes me reevaluate (and improve) my outlook on life every day.

Twenty-five years ago today, my Mama boarded flight VN 474, destination Nha Trang Aiport. The Russian Yak 40 collided with a mountain and crashed, battering her body in the process. She survived eight days in the dense jungle with only rainwater to sustain her. She was the sole survivor.

My mother managed to guide herself through not only the physical trauma of the crash, but the loss of her fiancé of thirteen years, who was on board with her, and the looming knowledge that she could be at death’s door at any moment. She survived on the pure power of her own mind.

“For the moment I only dealt with what was right in front of me. Without the noise of my ego-driven judgments, I could listen to my intuition.”

She never asks for acknowledgement, for attention. She never uses it as an excuse, even when she is simply physically unable to do certain things as a result of the accident. In essence, you would never know.

My mother challenged me from day one. She never gave me the benefit of the doubt, never let me believe something that wasn’t true, made sure my head stayed on the ground and with reality.

“Hope is not an expectation. Hope is not wishing life to conform to what you think it should be. It is staying in what is real.”

She taught me to observe and understand, not to judge. She taught me to look at an issue from multiple sides and not to just make a judgment founded on just my own biases and opinions. 

She was the first woman to be sent abroad by a Dutch bank. She was a bold and unapologetic trader in a male-dominated market. She is a woman who reminds me not to take for granted the rights and opportunities I enjoy as a woman today.

She is the single mother of a teenager with autism in a country that isn’t her own speaking a language that isn’t her own, entirely on her own. She does this and shows that yes, it is a constant battle, but it is also constant love.

“What hurt was making Maxi fit in… What hurt were the endless medical examinations to eliminate any physical reasons for his “condition”… In the morning, he would be babbling happily to me in the taxi… plant a couple of kisses on my elbow. It broke my heart every time. … Was that the price I had to pay for a love I could never have imagined?”

She does so and still never fails to be there for her needy daughter at every hour of every day. She will sit with said daughter and entertain her innumerable existential crises and observations.

Her compassion and understanding for others is of a level I have yet to encounter in any single other person. And this comes not at the expense of an endearingly and refreshingly laid-back personality and sharp sense of humor. She is the life of any room. She can forget herself in her pure and genuine investment in others.

“Every year, on the 14th of November, I commemorate.

First Pasje, of course. 'Today, he would have been 38, 39, 40, 50.' And so on.

Then, for the next eight days I also count. How much I eat and drink. From 7 am on the first day, the second, the third, to 5 pm on the eighth day. It is a lot. Two slices of brown bread with cheese and tea with milk every morning. Coffee with milk and another slice at 11am. Lunch, tea with cookies, a drink with salami and olives, dinner with wine, tea with chocolate. And water. Many glasses of water.

No hang ups. Just counting.”

Quotes are pulled from Turbulence: A True Story of Survival by Annette Herfkens.

Michele Dale