This past week, I joined fellow NGO representatives at the UN for the 56th Annual Commission on the Status of Women. Women attended from every part of the globe, many dressed in traditional clothing.
One particular session was so crowded that I was forced to squeeze in among dozens of others in the back of the room on the floor. It quickly grew so hot that I began to remove layer after layer until I was sitting barefoot and in my camisole.
Women smiled knowingly, and later one kindly offered me her standing spot in the corner so that I could stretch my legs and cool down.
Another woman eagerly took another vacated place beside me, whispering, “A wall is helpful thing,” and I grinned, appreciating the support behind my back in a way that I had never considered before.
While the presentations continued, I noticed a backpack blocking the doorway, and I began to perseverate:
Will people think it’s mine?
Did someone leave it behind?
Could there be a bomb inside?
I turned to the woman who spoke of the wall to ask if it was hers, and she grinned and replied: “Sometimes our things grow so heavy that we want to abandon them.”
As I repeated her poetry in my mind, she raised her hand to make a comment, addressing the panel in a mellifluous voice:
“We have to shift our thinking about women,” she said. “Instead of seeing ourselves as victims, we must recognize ourselves as social and economic agents of change.”
The room broke into applause, and after the session, many approached my wall companion for her business card from which I discovered that she directed an NGO in India.
As the session ended, I’m sure many were considering the focus of the panel: “Facilitating Human Rights from a Feminist Perspective,” while I simply pondered:
What has grown so heavy in my life that it’s ready to be abandoned?
There were similarly inspiring connections throughout the week with new friends from around the world, but none quite as stimulating as the woman at the wall, until my last morning in the city.
Though I was more than ready to return to the fresh air and earthy landscape of home, the infinite pleasures of New York made it hard to let go.
I wistfully waved to the woman at the counter as I departed, and she responded in broken English:
“I see you.”
I grinned, knowing what she meant, and thinking how what she actually said meant so much more.
Isn’t that what we all want?
To be seen?
Isn’t that why thousands of women from around the world convene at the UN?
As I rushed across the intersection among dozens of unfamiliar faces, I repeated those words in my mind; wishing that each person, no matter where she was, or who he was, would be seen and heard and known.
Kelly Salasin, March 3, 2012