Rose-Gold Solstice Tears

 

I am typing this morning on a rose-gold laptop, meant to be unboxed ritualistically with Solstice. 

But when my husband arrived home last night with the new purchase, I took it in my arms and said:

“Where is my old computer?”

Stunned, he said nothing at first, and then sensing my distress, replied: “They told me that it was on its last legs.”

He then proceeded to list all its ailments; of which, I was intimately aware.

Still, upon grasping this finality, I sat down on the stairs, with the box on my lap, and surprised us both.

I cried. I cried out loud as I had (or had wanted to) once when I watched from the curb outside our apartment as the tow truck pulled away with my friend.

That silver Mercury Lynx, a relatively unattractive car, without a single upgrade, did its best to transport me and my belongings to college and back home on weekends and vacations; and soon after, between homes with my younger siblings after our parents’ marriage came to a reckless end.

Sometimes I drove them to school, or to birthday parties, or to Easter egg hunts or out Trick or Treating. Later, when addiction split the 8 of us in half between parents, the Lynx provided for long-awaited reunions and adventures, near and far–the beach, the boardwalk, the Chinese restaurant, the pizza parlor, the historical village, the science center, the art museum, the zoo, the ballpark, the Berkshires.

That car accompanied me on solo trips too, riding the ferry across the Delaware Bay where my great-grandparents lived, and years later it brought me back to sit with my Nana in the hospital in her final days. (Or maybe that was the Honda.)

That little lemon of a vehicle from Ford took Casey and me across the country and back during our first winter together, spent in the Rockies, and the next winter, it went with me to my first teaching job; while long before that, it traversed the island and over to the mainland with friends on roadtrips to the mall or to concerts or back and forth to the waterside restaurant that I’d managed in the summertime.

I’d sobbed inside that car, after hours, to and from the restaurant in early July my first love proposed to another.

I sang at the top of lungs, “Somewhere over the rainbow,” on my drive home after graduation to which my mother, inebriated, never arrived.

I talked myself through difficulties and decisions; and from time to time, I thought about veering off my path to head somewhere unknown without telling a soul.

Despite the sputtering of its faulty carburetor, I learned to drive in that car with its manual transmission, and it became a part of me and my agency, of who I was, and who I wanted to be.

I can still see the Kermit the Frog decal on my back window on the morning my little brother helped me attach it. I can hear my little sister begging for some of my pizza goldfish from the back seat. I remember the tin of cookies between Casey and me that were baked for our two-thousand-mile journey to the Rockies, but which we opened before we’d left town. There was the cassette tape that I made for that trip, introducing him, to his dismay, to my childhood icon, John Denver, whom by the drive home, several months later, he loved too.

I began wearing glasses in that car, just at night.

Casey crossed the room and took a seat beside me on the stairs and patted my back as I wept.

“I started my book on that computer,” I said, and with that added realization, I cried even harder, leaving him a bit perplexed about the absence of joy given the expensive purchase on my lap, or maybe he understood completely, having loved me for so long.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m more attached to places and things than I am to people. Most of my photos, even the ones that I took when I was a youthful traveler, are of light and angles and objects, rather than familiar faces.

Maybe the experience of so much loss, so young, made me withdraw from the transient nature of human relationships.

“This new computer is a stranger,” I said, putting the box down beside me so that I could tuck my head under the railing of the stairs and lean my head against the wall while tears trickled down my cheeks.

I find myself there often of late, under the railing, shrinking life’s uncertainties I suppose, as I open into all the unknowns, no longer needing to be strong or clear or directed in this empty nest of ours.

I’ve felt deeply into this emptiness since August. I’ve grieved and been ill and wondered what the point–of me–was.

My entire life has been defined by care. In large part because I was born female. And because I was born the oldest. And because everything around me fell apart and someone needed to pay attention. And finally, because I chose occupations and careers that centered around the capacities cultivated in the face of tragedy and loss.

Even yesterday, while skating alone out across the frozen Retreat Meadows, I watched to be sure another skater returned from beyond the grassy mounds before I took another pass myself.

And still, I sense that I’ve reached some turning point, some great letting go, some tentative acceptance of an invitation–to lift my head out from under the railing and claim the space which was always meant to be mine.

This costly, rose-gold laptop is a necessity, I tell myself, much like a car. It’s how I get to work and back (even if I earn less now than I did when I was in school.)

My very first laptop was delivered much like this one, at the door, but unexpectedly so by a friend who had refurbished it, and thrusting into my arms, said:

“You’re a writer. Write.”

I left the classroom to do just that.

But Writing and I began our affair, decades earlier, just after my first year at college when my family fell apart, and I needed someone to turn toward too.

In journal after journal, I wrote to myself or to some larger aspect of myself, or to consciousness itself–through college and backpacking across Europe, to marriage and moving to Vermont, to becoming a mother and leaving the classroom.

Together we transcended relationships, locations, identities, vehicles, and even computers.

At first by accident, and then tentatively, I began submitting articles and essays until I felt the stirrings of a book.

“What will I write about?” I asked Casey. And in the absence of subject, and so ever-practical (and ever-so prematurely), I investigated the ins and outs of publishing, which pointed me toward something called “a platform,” ie. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging which fortunately or unfortunately better suited my need for self-direction until I was no longer submitting, in favor of writing what I wanted, when I wanted, in live-partnership with readers, ie. fellow soul seekers (but without a paycheck.)

You could say I’ve wasted many years here on Facebook, a decade, in fact, come 2019.

Or you could say that I’ve honed my voice and found new avenues of full-hearted participation.

Though I haven’t attempted to publish, I have written through three memoirs since that nascent stirring. The first in a single summer. The second during a school year. (Both shelved until my capacity for the craft matched my vision.) The third, written through again and again, over the course of what is now several years—the lifespan of a laptop that has lived past its time.

“They called it vintage,” Casey said, explaining how it wasn’t worth repair.

Earlier this month, he drove me to the sea, and there, at the hour of my birth, the largest or deepest essence of my book was revealed, like the small, but solid figure at the center of a set of nesting dolls.

“The beings that were un-manifest want to help,” an intuitive said just yesterday of the babies that I miscarried long ago.

And for the first time, since holding my newborn son in my arms, I felt the grief of those losses return, and something else–the gift of reconnection–and the space to occupy it.

And now, I discover that I have christened this laptop along with whoever is inclined to read something this long in the season with so much to do.

May this rose-gold light shine the way forward with all the accoutrements that accompany success.

Greedily, or better yet, full-heartedly, I want Everything—meaning, purpose, healing, publication, outreach, travel, income and wellbeing.

Thank you to each set of eyes and each heart and mind that helped me better understand my place in what amounts to a decade of live-journaling in this shared constellation of LOVE. Your light nourishes my own.

May your wishes rise in the dark in the certain embrace of Light’s return.

May it be so.

Advertisements

Pulling ahead of the Patriarchy


I was fourteen, ”14 and a half,” to be precise, at the cusp of everything—body, mind, emotion, soul—coming together—in full expression.

I aced each of my Regents exams, had friends from the Rockies to the Hudson to the Atlantic, cultivated a deep connection to not only my “personal savior” but to nature, and self (all of which I now call Spirit); and to top it off–as I walked by the deep end of Delafield Pond in my bikini on my way to the high dive (which I’d done countless times the previous summer)–the cadets, face down on their beach towels, lifted their heads.

Cue: Tragedy.

Not mine, Silly. I was only heading for the 10-foot dive (to jump no less.) The 30-foot dive isn’t even there anymore which is something I discovered two summers ago when I returned to the base for a visit. (And let me tell you, returning to the place where you used to live isn’t easy in post 9/11, USMA.)

But back to Tragedy.

Enter: Stage left.

Have you ever noticed how Mack Trucks dominate the road? They’re either going too fast or too slow, or they’re crossing the line or coming too hard into a steep curve that’s icy with snow; or they’re tearing up the backroads because the highway is closed after another one tipped itself on its side; or maybe, it’s simply a gorgeous summer day, like the very one when I was at Delafield Pond with the cadets lifting their heads, and 150 miles south a Mack Truck is climbing a bridge while the sun is high in the sky, and the visibility is prime, and still, the Mack Truck, being a Mack Truck, doesn’t even notice a broken down car up ahead with 4 women inside.

Come to think of it a Mack Truck is a good metaphor for something else that oppresses and destroys.

To this day, I grip the steering wheel or I hold onto the handle above the passenger seat or I press my feet up against the dashboard.

This was especially true in those first years, and exponentially so when crossing over a bridge; and then again, in the past handful of years once I began time traveling to rescue that 14-
& a half year old girl whose soul was left behind in the debris spread the length of a football field across a multi-lane bridge outside the city of Philadelphia.

Come to think of it, those guys from my highschool days, the ones who have been trolling my Facebook wall with their support of #45, are a lot like Mack Trucks.

Spreaders, is that what they’re called on public transportation?

“What? What’s the big deal?” says the Patriarchy, “This is how it’s always been. It’s never been a problem before.” or  “I was just joking. Don’t be so serious.”

What the Patriarchy fails to understand, doesn’t even begin to understand, and is apparently uninterested in understanding is that it’s always been a problem for the rest of us. We’ve just been too afraid to say too much or to say it too loud or too often, because. Mac Trucks.

I stayed up too late on the night of the Mid-Terms. I over-used my eyes and my heart and my brain and my patience, but surprisingly I fell to sleep with ease.

Still, I must not have slept well or enough because I dozed off on the mat this morning, and each time the teacher spoke into the savasana meditation of air and bliss, I stirred, wondering where I was, only to fall back to sleep again before I fully came to, until she said those dreaded words:

“Make small movements with your wrists and ankles before coming up to a seated position.”

I could hardly move off my mat but I had to move because the class was over and my mat was partially in the doorway because the class was unexpectedly relocated to the basement where there wasn’t enough room for so many women, all of which I took personally on behalf of women, given the election.

I mean the whole reason I drove an hour south into the Berkshires for this series of 4 elemental yoga classes (earth-water-fire-air) at the Clark Art Institute was the glass room upstair with the stunning view. Still, last week the water pool had been emptied and filled with rocks so that was already depressing.

But the basement? Relocating a group of aging women to the basement for the “Air” element on the morning after the election is hugely symbolic but I’m too tired to figure that out right now.

I got off my mat and dragged myself to the bathroom, where I noticed that my eyes were exceedingly small and puffy. They’ve been this way for days. (This happened once before, didn’t it? When was that?)

My mind flashes to something my therapist wrote to me last winter. We were talking about #metoo and the report I was making about a man who rubbed his hands across my ass in a public setting. She noticed my eyes that day right away, and I received this email from her when I got home:

These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?

I postponed my post-yoga working lunch in the Clark café, and dragged my weary eyes outside into the woods and up the hillside.

Mack Trucks.

I left home for the Berkshires early this morning so that I wouldn’t get caught up in election news (particularly Texas or Florida or Georgia) or be distracted by volleys with the Jersey boys from highschool who were gung ho about their guy Trump.

The drive through the Green Mountains was surprisingly trafficky for Vermont, but then I remembered that my earlier departure meant I was traveling during the morning commute.

Just after I passed a utility truck and returned to the right lane to prepare to climb one last hill before turning south into the Berkshires, I saw a Mack Truck in my rear view mirror.

Crap, I thought to myself, and then I sped up a little, wanting to avoid any proximity, particularly with the high winds we were experiencing as the morning temperatures rose.

The Mack Truck sped up too.

I looked in my rearview mirror once more, prepared to let the Mack Truck pass me, but then I noticed that it was losing ground in the climb.

My small car, so low to the earth was less buffeted by the winds, and my engine remained steady and strong.

I watched in the mirror as the Mack Truck lagged further and further behind, and for the very first time in the 40 years since my grandmother and my aunties and their golf clubs were crushed under 18 wheels, I felt something else instead of consumed by fear.

More than 123 women were elected to Congress last week.

Ode to August 15th~The Blue Lady

 

I became a mother this week on a day much like today, but I don’t remember getting wet. What I do remember is my acute embarrassment.

“Please don’t use the sirens,” I said. (Doctor’s daughters don’t do emergencies.)

I don’t remember if Casey rode up front, but I do remember asking if Mary could join me in back. It turns out they were relieved to have a midwife on board.

I watched as the farmhouse and the barn and the Deerfield River feathered from view as we approached the town where I’d moved to teach school two years earlier; but I don’t remember much else except for the mountaintop.

As we bounced over Hogback, I looked out at the three-state view, while the young EMT, fearing a delivery, attempted an IV into my hand. But she needn’t have worried. I had already told the baby to wait, and although my contractions had been steady and strong since my water broke at dawn, I hadn’t experienced a single one inside the ambulance.

“How far along are you,” my sister asked when I called that morning to apologize. She’d sent her 9-year-old on a plane to visit us and I had promised not to go into labor during his stay. “First babies always come late,” I reminded her, so eager was I to see my nephew.

“Well, it must be early labor,” she said, “You’re too calm.”

When Mary arrived shortly after that call, I asked if she’d would wait to examine me, so consumed was I by contractions.

When she finally did check, there were three surprises.

“You’re 8 centimeters already,” she said. “And something else.”

The something else was what resulted in several phone calls to area hospitals and then the ambulance ride.

“I am not going out on that stretcher,” I told the EMTs when they arrived in my kitchen. “I don’t want to upset the neighbors.”

Casey had just come in from hanging the diapers on the line, and before heading out the back door, I pointed to the doughs on the counter. “Will you put those back in the freezer,” I asked, feeling a pang for the meal we would never share with our birthing team.

“I bet this is a boy,” I’d joked to Mary in the ambulance, given that I had been told by more than one intuitive that this baby would arrive “after” my due date and would be a girl.

She later told me of the third surprise, that instead of a head, she’d felt testicles.

And although I hadn’t experienced any contractions on the ambulance ride, she later told me that my labor had indeed progressed. I was fully dilated by the time we arrived in the emergency room.

“She’s in labor?” the front desk nurses said, as I was wheeled past them.

“She’s still in her street clothes,” two others said, as they looked into the examining room where I had been deposited.

I looked these women up and down too and had thought them ordelies, but one would turn out to be the surgeon, who did her own examination.

“Small,” she pronounced.

“Adequate,” Mary countered.

“Unproven,” she said.

They stood at the foot of my stretcher disputing the capacity of my pelvis.

“Calm,” Mary offered, of my demeanor.

“I’ll give it two hours,” the doctor said. “But the results could be tragic.”

They looked from each other toward me.

“Can I have a minute?” I said.

I motioned to Casey to join me in the bathroom. I closed the door. I kept the lights off.

I had miscarried twice before. Bled through the early months of this pregnancy too. Had Braxton-Hicks beginning at 5 months. Had planned a home birth because I’d fallen in love with a midwife named Mary who told me that she took my little baby home with her each night in her third eye.

I had felt so peaceful there in our little farmhouse beside the mountain. The morning’s cloud cover created a cocoon as I labored at the edge of our bed, the skylight overhead where we watched the stars at night, the door to the balcony over the brook open to the air, and this blissful feeling between contractions that my mother told me I’d find if I paid attention to the spaces in between.

All gone.

“Remember, you and the baby want the same thing,” my mother said, having birthed 9 children without a single miscarriage or epidural.

She was a Christmas baby like my great aunt, while I followed on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and her grandchild was apparently arriving on the Assumption of Mary, two weeks before he was due.

I opened the bathroom door to bright lights and urgent faces, remembering my bare feet on the soft pine floors, Mary kneeling in front of me, pressing her thumbs into my shin, lending exquisite relief during a contraction.

“I’ll take the c-section,” I said.

And then I remember the very last contraction I experienced.

“This will sting,” said the anesthesiologist who arrived in the operating room with a nurse and his long needle while the surgical team scrubbed like I had once done with my father and to whom I had just recently said, just as he had said to me: I never want surgery. (We would each have surgery this week within 48 hours of the other.)

“Can you wait a minute,” I said to the anesthesiologist, laughing at the absurdity of his warning about the epidural. “I’m having a contraction.”

In the end, they had to yank the baby out of the birth canal so ready was he to be born through me instead of removed surgically.

Protocol would not let me view the delivery, but they did let me see him for a flash before they whisked him to the examining table under the bright lights where they pronounced him healthy.

Protocol also prevented me from holding the baby until the anesthesia wore off.

I’d only had anesthesia once before. Wisdom teeth. I had barely come to at the end of the day when the same day surgery room was set to close. A friend arrived to drive me home while I continued to doze, and she nursed me through the night, ice on, ice off, so unable was I to rebound from the drugs.

Casey called the next day. I was furious. The restaurant had given him my home number. He was calling for a job.

Now Casey accompanied our baby to the nursery while I was sewn up on the table and wheeled over to recovery where just like before my rebound was slow.

I woke this morning feeling similarly drugged, to the sound of rain and a heavy cover of clouds, and although I wanted to rise and write before walking up to Sunday scones at Whetstone Ledges Farm, the absence of light made it difficult to stay afloat, and so I slipped back down under the surface of consciousness again and again.

“Do you feel your legs yet,” the nurse asked, as she covered my shivering body with more blankets. (To this day the last two toes on my left foot are numb.)

When I finally did meet Lloyd, he was wrapped tightly in a blanket with a knit cap on his head. I put up my hand as the midwife approached. I wanted to see Casey first.

We had become parents, apart from one another, instead of at home in on our own bed. Casey held our baby first, for more than an hour, after I had carried him inside for 8 months.

I don’t remember if the rain lifted that afternoon when I held my son.

I remember feeling that this was Everything.

I remember knowing that nothing would be the same.

When I fell back to sleep this morning, I dreamt that most of the tomatoes on the vine in our garden had ripened, just in time for Lloyd’s return to celebrate his twenty-third.

His name was meant to be Lila, after my grandmother, who died tragically at the age I am now.

I don’t know when it occurred to me that Lila and Lloyd share two L’s.

Twenty-three years old.

The twenty-third psalm was read at her graveside. I think of it every time I walk the road past the silent repose of the Whetstone.

I like the version Bobby McFerrin sings.

“Beside the still waters, She will lead.”

Lloyd has surprised us lately, wanting to be home for his birthday.

It’s unfathomable that he doesn’t live with us anymore. That the flesh of my flesh is not mine forever. That neither of us would want it to be so.

He was here last Christmas too, for an extended stay, during which we joined with old friends around a fire as the sun set over the waters of the Retreat Meadows.

We were deep in conversation when I felt a swoosh past our circle of chairs, and my eyes followed a woman who, with a flourish, removed a dark cloak.

I lifted phone and zoomed in to capture the beautiful blues and creamy whites of her wimple and habit but I couldn’t make out what hung from her neck and around her waist.

Her presence seemed to rivet me alone, and I could no longer focus, despite the company of my son and my oldest, dearest friend.

I stood up and crossed the space from the fire to her table beside the waters.

“The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa,” she said, pointing to the medallion that hung from her neck.

“My sword,” she said, of the beaded rosary that dangled from her hip down her left side, “To fight Evil.”

I shared my family’s Mary connection with her, including Casey’s birth on the Feast Day of the Mother, and my mother’s death on the same day.

“You are a Marian family,” she pronounced, and I smiled, thinking how some people enjoy certainty and others the questions.

I returned to the fire, taking a seat across from from my friend with whom I attended the same Catholic Highschool. She had recently given me a nightlight that had belonged to her dear mother, and I almost thought to discard this plastic statue of Mary when after plugging it in, the bulb sparked and went black.

But upon removing the plug from the statue, I saw three small words under its base:

House of Lloyd.

Later, as the light faded in the sky over the water, the woman in the dark cloak stopped by our circle, asking: Is this the one born on Assumption of Mary?

She looked directly at Lloyd saying:

“You are consecrated to Our Lady.”

It was he who saw the Blue Lady shimmering on the land alongside the Whetstone Brook upon which we would later build our home.

“The Blue Lady is here to help you,” my therapist said, years earlier, after the birth of my second son, when I arrived in her chair riddled with grief over my mother’s early death from cancer.

“It’s blue like the light over Uncle Lenny’s bar in the barn,” Lloyd said, of the place where he was almost born and where he watched his little brother come into the world.

He hadn’t known the word: fluorescent.

I hadn’t been sure about the purchase of the land upon which we stood together, until I was told to whom the land just across the pond belonged.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

On Turning 55

Michael McGurk

If 50 was raising the timber frame; 55 was me climbing the timbers & tacking an evergreen branch to its peak. (That happened. There was no photo.)

“50 is the old age of youth,” it is said, “And the youth of old age.”

And it’s true. The fifties are all that.

Or is it just me?

I lost Lila at 55. She had more than a dozen grandbabies by then. But with time’s passing, it seems impossibly young to have been taken.

My older sister died last summer at 55 too and just a few years before her—my aunt.

My mother had 2 years on the 2 of them, alive until 57.

Which is to say—While the sun is shining, I’m making hay.

the legacy of shame

solar-sisters tumblr

Shame. Disappointment. Burden.

With SpRiNg comes renewed attention to my insides as I recommit to what I want on the outside.

I’m curious about your relationship with disappointment.

In a New Year chakra clearing, I gained some clarity around the way I linger with and lay  disappointment onto the men in my home.

It was a painful visual, but it also leads me into compassion for the disappointment I must carry inside. My sense of my father’s almost constant disappointment in me. The weight of disappointment that my mother and grandmothers carried.

I’m no longer willing to be the legacy bearer for that burden.

This sweetly complements my intention to cultivate satisfaction–inside–with a moment to moment practice of saying “Yes,” to what ever arises–on my path, or in my psyche–as an invitation instead of a problem, as something I greet without abandoning, rejecting or shaming myself as “wrong.”

I suspect the practice will be a daily one for the rest of my days.

 

Incision

8 days. Until the full crossing. The threshold. Mother to Crone.
In my morning practice of oiling the body, my hands find their way to the incision that brought my first born into my arms, 22 years ago.
I move my fingers first up and then down, then left to right and right to left, and finally clockwise and counter clockwise in the way I was shown, hands over mine, over the incision, releasing the adhesions formed inside the body.
Adhesions:
A year earlier it was Deb who again helped release a different kind of holding in the womb–the pain of two miscarriages in my late twenties, two abortions at 16, sexual trauma, heartbreak, childhood terror, pervasive fear.
As I lay on her table, under a soft blanket, with the November sun lighting the room, Deb asked:
Are you ready to let it go?
And tears, held so long inside, streamed down my face.
November:
Both my boys were conceived in this month–my first son just two weeks after Deb placed her hands on my womb.
November also holds the anniversary of the birth and death of my beloved grandfather–11/17/19-11/17/91.
I’ve felt my Poppop’s warm and effervescent presence this week, and he lives on in my sky-eyed youngest. And in recent years he arrives in the warm and loving presence of a new friend, whose company, “coincidentally,” I’ll share this weekend, as she leads a retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, entitled Writing down the Light.
It was decades ago that I began writing down into the deep, dark cavernous loss, but it is only in the last handful of years that I zeroed in on the tragedy that irrevocably rocked my world at 14.
Lila, my paternal grandmother, died two decades before my grandfather, in an accident on a bridge that crushed everything that stood at the center of my life.
My father’s tears are what I recall from that July afternoon when we met on the tarmac where I had been sipping a McDonald’s shake while waiting for his plane to taxi without knowing why he had come or that I’d be leaving. Vanilla.
We flew back in that small plane and arrived at her house–filled with family–but forever vacant to me.
Two summers ago, on the anniversary of the accident, I returned to that airport, and found my hands trembling so badly, as I approached, and my  mind so frantic, that I could have easily crashed the car.
I lost more than my grandmother and my aunties to the Mac Truck. I lost the Matriarchy under whose wings I had been protected and nourished and promised a future.
I lost something else too. I gave it up actually. Spit it out.
My belief in God.
And tears.
I refused to ever cry again, and met that resolve, until a handful of years later, when I received the news that the house would be sold, and then I balled like a baby on my boyfriend’s lap on my last day in my grandmother’s kitchen.
Lila was the age I am now in our last year together, and I am finally writing down the light that meets me here in the last days before becoming Crone–a year in which the wise blood remains inside, offered not to the earth as it has been for 40 years, but to the heavens ever more until I, like her, like each of us, leave this world.
This morning I woke in a spontaneous meditation at the crown. It unfolded, like a warm woolen shawl, once tight with abandonment, now open and unfurling toward the sky.
Lately, I find myself able to weep, easily–at desires once held, and desires still aching to unfold–and at the way the snow releases from an iron sky.

 

Table for 7 Billion, Please

An NGO Representative from New Zealand at the March for Gender Equality

I want to write about the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), but I am terribly under-qualified. (When friends ask what I do when I go to the United Nations each March, I say: I’m just a CSW groupie.)

10801818_10153197336543746_7724713443508530632_n-1Still, I get to wear one of those official badges with my photo, so I feel pretty cool.

I love the UN. The flags themselves thrill me.
My first visit was in the 7th grade. It was like a candy store of all things international–my version of Disney World.

A colleague of mine, who IS qualified to write about CSW, actually worked at the United Nations, said the flags always gave her chills. “I work here!” she’d say to herself, every day, for three years.

I wish I wanted to work there. It was my grandmother Lila’s dream. She studied French and Chinese at Rutgers in the early forties just before the UN was chartered; but motherhood and marriage interrupted her ambitions.

My colleague Jennifer IS a mother and a wife, and they even has a puppy. Times have changed. May they keep on changing!

WOMEN.

That’s what I love about CSW–thousands of WOMEN from every part of the globe.

This year, I found myself particularly wowed by women officials.

They’ve pursued years of education, contributed to hundreds of meetings, poured over thousands of documents…

I have so much gratitude.

Take the Minister for Gender Equality from Poland. (And note her awesome hair!)

H.E. Prof. Malgorzata Fuszara, Minister of Gender Equality of the Republic of Poland

I scribbled pages of notes from her presentation, but what I remember most is how she emphasized that there are three parts to ensuring gender equality:

  1. legal
  2. governmental
  3. consciousness

Suddenly, I understood where I fit in: Consciousness!
(I’m not just a groupie after all!)

Now is as good as a time as any to say that everyone at CSW is speaking ENGLISH:

-Professor Fusazara of Poland.
-All the members of the Permanent Mission of Japan–who co-hosted this side event.
-And all those women–from around the globe–who addressed this panel with probing questions–some of which I couldn’t follow–in my native tongue.

There are dozens of meetings, events, talks, briefings, presentations and panels happening at the same time–morning, noon & night–during the two week stretch of the Commission on the Status of Women–with representatives from Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs)–from all regions of the world.

There are men at CSW too, but they are a striking minority. My 19 year old was among them. Lloyd volunteered last fall with international NGO that I represent here (Federation EIL–the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living); and particularly given his studies in development, he was eager to accompany me.

We attended the NGO opening reception together–which is even more female-dominated than the CSW meetings at the UN.) Another man was quickly drawn to Lloyd’s side as we waited in line. Rana was from Bangladesh and he went out of his way to compliment me for something I hadn’t considered before:

Mother and son at the rally for gender equality.
Mother and son at the rally for gender equality.

“Business men bring their sons when they do business,” he said. “Those in development need to bring their sons too. Well done.”

Neither Rana or I had daughters, but we both had work that we referred to in the feminine. Rana came to CSW on behalf of his “daughter”–Udbastu–an NGO he formed to protect the environment of his homeland.

“Udbastu means refuge in Sanskrit,” he explained.

Rana’s passion helped bring mine into clearer focus: I came to CSW for my grandmother, Lila, and for her namesake, my work–the divine lila–the play of consciousness.

Play was a theme I heard echoed again and again at CSW, which was surprising, given the serious nature of activism and advocacy.

“Your commitment is sustained when it comes from the heart and when you make it fun,” said Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen at her side event: The Indomitable Spirit in Activists and the Archetype of Artemis.

My son teased me about the events I chose to attend during our time at the UN. My choices were based on “feel” and “sense”–a favorite country, a cool angle, a rare connection; while his were shaped around region, policy and planning.

10980741_794971027263036_8760038397497121086_nAnother event that caught my eye was: Cool Feminism–Exploring Ideas from the North, hosted by the country of Iceland.

The women of Iceland certainly know how to have fun with their activism. When their protest against the Champagne Clubs (that popped around Reykjavík  after the 2010 law prohibiting strip clubs) was met by silence from the media and city officials, they got creative.

“We didn’t just whine around the kitchen table,” said Guðrún Jónsdóttir, Founder of Stígamót, a woman’s right organization. “Stígamót opened its own Champagne Club, as a parody.”

They sent invitations to the mayor, to the police commissioner, the ministers, members of parliament, city counselors, and the media.

82 year old Jónsdóttir acted as the club owner and offered to dance. Others offered to sing, tell stories about rape, read the Declaration of Human Rights, and even teach customers how to knit.

Shortly afterward, the Champagne Clubs were shut down and criminal prosecutions ensued.

In her presentation, The Indomitable Spirit in Activists, Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen focused on this capacity that women have–how it grows–over time–and how women learn–from each other. She highlighted the difference between the male and female brain–how women have more connective fibers between the left (analytical) and the right (creative) hemispheres.

‘When the masculine is the only one holding power,” she said, “There can be a lack of empathy and imagination.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, spoke to this imbalance when she addressed the the rally at the March for Gender Equality at the opening of CSW on International Women’s Day:

Right now the world is functioning like a person trying to see the whole picture with one eye covered. That person is bound to miss some very important details.

Up until this time, I often viewed feminism through the lens of fairness and relational politics so I was a little taken aback when I heard Gertrud Åström, President of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, at the Cool Feminism event, say:

Sharing housework is a feminist issue.

But then I got it.

When women’s voices are kept from the conversation–political, corporate, cultural–there are serious human rights ramifications.

Suddenly, issues like equal pay, domestic violence and female leadership came into sharper focus for me–as global and moral imperatives.

Even in a place like Iceland, where gender equality tops the charts, there are outrageous gaps in rights that eclipse the voice of the feminine.

These gaps were brought into stark relief by the speakers at a CSW evening celebration at the Manhattan Center. The Hammerstein Ballroom was packed–floor to ceiling–with representatives, dignitaries and delegates from NGOS around the world.

The beloved UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed the audience of 2,000,  followed by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; and soon after, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson.

Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, then took the stage, crediting Johnson’s leadership for stemming the tide of the Ebola epidemic in her country, and then shared information from the Clinton Foundation initiative, Not There Yeta data driven analysis of gender equality.

Clinton was followed by actress Meghan Markel, the UN Women’s Advocate for Women’s Leadership & Political Participation.

The statistics Meghan shared silenced the room:

At the current rate, the elimination of gender INequality will not be possible until 2095. And when it comes to women’s political participation and leadership – the percentage of female parliamentarians globally has only increased by 11% since 1995. 11 percent in 20 years.

But it was Markel’s personal story of how she “accidentally” became a women’s advocate–at the age of 11–that revealed a deeper truth about gender inequality to me.

There in the balcony, I found myself inexplicably brought to tears when she shared a tagline from a nineties television commercial:

 Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.

Markel drove home a bias that was punctuated at CSW: Gender inequality is often dismissed as a cultural issue, while in fact it is form of deep discrimination.

“Women make up more than half of the world’s population and potential so it is neither just nor practical for their voices, for OUR voices, to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making,” said Markel. “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table.”

1100 organizations and 11,000 individuals participated in the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations this month, on behalf of the 7+ billion women, men and children–around the world.

I was honored to take a seat among them.

(Click here for more on CSW59 from the UN Women.)