~Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”
Long before digital clocks attracted attention to and affection for numbers, like 1:11, the Salasin family from which I come was enthralled by them, and not only the bankers and the accountants among us.
Family homes were often referred to numerically, most notably: 6012, but also 1811 & 747.
And even the ministers & scientists among us, marveled at numerical synchronicities:
~How the home at 6012 Pacific, for example, was exchanged for the home at 6201 Park.
~How the beloved Patriarch died and was born on November 17 in 1991 and 1919.
~How the wedding shower for the Matriarch’s namesake–a date which was exceedingly difficult to pin down among a half-dozen bridesmaids from different parts of the country–landed, unbeknownst to any of us, on the anniversary of the accident that took the Matriarch’s life.
This numerically-steeped DNA may explain why my enthusiasm for numbers is rarely matched:
“69 days separate me from Menopause! On the 296th day of my cycle! With my menses 269 days late!”
“My husband and I were both born on the 8th of the month, and that we delivered our first (& second) son in the 8th month of the year, and each of our birth dates is celebrated as a holy day in celebration of the Mother of God–her Immaculate Conception, her Feast Day & her Assumption.”
Throughout childhood, the number 8 was my favorite, while 3 has been my favorite ever since. (That’s all I’ll say about that. I can tell no one is interested.)
Despite this absorption with dates and numerals and time, I’ve always (and increasingly) been better fed by language. While my early adult years were often spent in the role of treasurer or bookkeeper, I now spend my time almost exclusively with words (just ask my bank account.)
Family finances aside, what is even more alarming is the assault I felt on the eve of my 69th day before Menopause when presented with an algebra problem.
Like a donkey, my brain refused, and so I slid the paper away, until I looked up to see all the other mothers earnestly engaged.
I reminded myself that a decade earlier I had been one of two parents to solve the algebra problem at my older son’s back to school night.
But on this 69th day before Menopause, even with assistance from another parent and then the classroom teacher (how embarrassing!), the mathematical drawer in my brain remained stuck.
There is a magic to numbers and to words that I don’t fully understand and don’t know that I ever will, but I’m being invited to deepen the inquiry.
Which explains the mystery of this piece of writing to me, but probably not to you.
I frequently find myself engaged in mysteries–an inexplicable lifetime practice of doodling the letters of the alphabet for instance.
And since the age of 16, there has been a single word that remains my favorite, a reverence which is often mistook for a mathematical or culinary interest, but which actually springs from the pleasure derived from the simple sensation of the sounds at the front of my mouth.
A week has passed since I posted this exploratory piece of writing on Facebook, and now it is the first day of Autumn and Day 303 in my cycle.
I love 3’s, Remember?
And it turns out that the last day of my cycle, should I continue toward Menopause, without a setback, will be November 23, 2017.
I wake with a start and a stirring. A tug. A pull.
“I have to go to the ocean,” I tell my husband.
Our bank account disagrees; so I tell it that I will drive there and back in a single day, departing absurdly early and returning late, without the need for an overnight stay.
But a week passes, and still I haven’t recovered enough from that tenacious August respiratory virus to fund the energy needed for this kind of day trip; which is unfair because it is this very virus that no doubt produced this untimely insistence on the ocean. It is already September, the air is cooling, and school has begun.
Rumi’s words echo even as my commitment wanes:
What matters is how quickly you dowhat yoursoul directs.
When a week passes and a string of summer-like days return, I go to the pond–a place where I am stirred, again and again, by beauty and light, but like a toddler, denied a specific spoon, I am unsatisfied.
“I must stay overnight,” I say, and with that, I renew my commitment, and add to it–boldness and creativity, while my efforts are met, without success.
I go to bed on Monday, muddled, and wake the same on Tuesday, and decide to find clarity, inside:
I get on my mat.
I write in my journal.
I take my supplements.
I tend the garden.
I shower outside.
I do what needs doing for work.
All the while, I do something else, slowly, nonchalantly, covertly, just in case, little by little—setting aside, at first, some underwear, and then a bra; and then an outfit or two; a toiletry kit; some beach things; waters and snacks, and finally a meal for lunch and then dinner.
At 11:00 am, I leave a note for my family on the kitchen table:
Heading east. Be back tonight or tomorrow. Will message.
It is well into the afternoon when I arrive up the coast of Maine, not all ideal, and I have to resist chiding myself so that I can receive what daylight remains–to sit and read and take in the smell of the sea and the sounds of waves, and to walk in the surf, and finally to float and then to submerge myself fully in Her embrace.
Afterward, I rack up a $9 check at an upscale restaurant–a glass of Portuguese wine and a mini lobster roll with fries—Yay, Maine Happy Hour!—and when I arrive back at my room, I receive another email–an unexpected payment from a client—for the exact amount of my stay.
Alas, the angsty restlessness I felt in needing to come, and in deciding to come, and even in the coming and the arriving, continues, even the next morning as I sip coffee at my favorite cafe, and even as I walk along the stunning cliffs at the lighthouse, and even as I sit in the sand and build a sand castle like I did as a child; so that it is a continuous practice, this being with me, with awareness and compassion:
“Of course, you’re restless,” I say. “These are shifting times. Not just summer’s end, and your mother’s anniversary, and a month of coughing, but this heartbreak of an administration, and the fires and floods and shootings, and then, of course–this leaving of motherhood, not to mention hot flashes and a road trip without air condition.”
Exactly 24 hours after I arrive in Maine, I begin driving south, and then west, and three hours later, I cross the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, and then turn off the highway to stop at the fish market to soften the separation of the sea and me.
Mothers do, you know.
They drop their kids off at daycare or at school and never come back.
I’m leaving. I’m leaving. I’m leaving.
These words appeared like a mantra after I’d written the note to my family, ominously hinting at a larger leaving, and continuing, even after I arrived back home.
I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m leaving.
I half-thought I might not make it to Maine or home again. That I’d die on the road like my grandmother did just a year older than me. I remind myself, firmly, that I’d like to transform without such drama as she (or my mother) enacted.
And still, my spirit is called into the wild, and as I lean in to listen, I hold back, for fear of going too far.
Full moon and fox den and hotflash…
In lieu of releasing into a deep sleep,
I open to the sensations around me,
including the ocean-like rustle
of the breeze through the trees,
and the squeal of pups,
and the fine mist across my forehead & between my breasts & in the crook of my arms;
and I ride it all,
like a wave,
only not the kind that crests & breaks & tumbles
toward the shore,
but the deeper swell,
that rises and falls, rises and falls,
And I think:
This is how I’ll die.
Last night, I woke, as I often do these days,
no longer drenched, but misted,
with a fine release–of attachment, I suppose.
Behind my knees and under my
shoulders and also between my breasts;
and lately even, in the crook of my
arms, as if I’ve been carrying too much;
and just this week, tiny beads of sweat, dripping.
down. my. spine.
Refining, I suppose,
Only this night,
I remain awake, and feel something
more–a lightening inside–so very light–
my bones–that i think to myself…
I know many an artist (and other women folk) who rise in the wee hours to their craft when they can’t sleep, but not me. The last time I got up from bed to write was on the eve of my 50th birthday, almost three years ago; and now tonight, with the Harvest Moon lighting up the house, and rising inexplicably in me–memories of Steamboat Springs, 1986, when I taught preschoolers to ski.
I looked good on paper, and passed my PT exam with flying colors (because of my meaty thighs), but during the slope side ski school team screening, I took a tumble, so unaccustomed was I to deep powder after years of riding the rocks back east, even though I learned to ski in the Rockies, more than a decade earlier, when binders had cables, and Copper Mountain was a new thing.
Good things come.
That tumble didn’t cost me the position, but it did place me with the bottom group of students through much of that winter.
Each morning, with my education degree and high honors, I’d carefully place those rugrats on the rug in the snow at the bottom of the hill, and soon enough, one would fall, and take down the others, and mittens would come off, and someone would need to pee, and someone wanted his mama, and everyone would cry, including me.
Eventually, after the New Year, I moved up to level B, every once and awhile. To the rope tow.
Do I need to say more than: rope tow? Remember leather mittens?
I’d place a kid between my meaty thighs and let the rope yank us onto the track and up the hill, and hope that his skis didn’t cross mine and that we didn’t tumble before we made it to the top where we’d just as awkwardly let go of the rope and then hop out of the way before it knocked us over, and then we’d ski, together, like a kangaroo and her joey, down the tiny slope to the pile of whining kids on the rug waiting their turn.
Good things come.
At the tail end of winter, a boy from Texas, who had never seen snow before, liked my class so much, that his parents requested a private–not with a specialist, but with me.
This little four-year old Texan and I spent the day skiing all over the mountain. Like free. We even ate lunch on top of the mountain, in the grown up cafe, a table for two, instead of down bottom, on the cafeteria tables, with snotty-nosed kids and rubbery grilled cheese sandwiches. (I used to eat three of those after skiing with kids between my knees all morning.)
By the end of the week, that boy, who had never seen snow, skied better than me. That’s the way it was with those little fuss pots, once they got over missing their moms and loosing their mittens and needing to pee.
Good things come.
Each morning, I’d roll out of bed, take some Ibuprofen for my hangover, pull on my turtle neck and my ski bibs, and walk down the mountain from the condo that I shared with 4 other beach friends, including the twenty-one year old college drop out who followed me west, and who is still sleeping in my bed tonight.
“Don’t go,” he says, as my rising stirs him from sleep. “Let’s have sex instead.”
Back in the day, in between my day job on the mountain and my night job in the restaurant, I’d skip dinner just to make love, but now this Pisces moon is stirring memories in me so I leave my old lover in our bed and head down the stairs to the moonlight on the floor of the livingroom.
Good things come.
Just before I’d report to the ski school, I stop at the vending machine in the hallway for my breakfast–a Cherry Cola (for the fruit), and a pack of peanut butter sandwich crackers (for the nuts.) Then I’d check in at the front desk to get my slip for the day.
There would be a list of names on that little green sheet of paper–up to 9–and the letter A, for the rugrats; or B for the rope tow kids; and always more names than you wanted to see on one slip; but one day, unexpectedly, come spring, it said neither A or B; in fact, that day and every day after that, as the sun grew stronger, and the days grew warmer, there would only be a few names on my list–maybe 3, or 4 or 5, but no more, and always the same letter: C. Sometimes C-1 or C-2, but then later, C-3 and 4s.
Every day in March was sun glasses and mountaintop views and having so much fun that we forgot about parents and who needed mittens as we inched our way from the lift to a beginner or intermediate or expert run, hollering in song… “Walk like an Egyptian.”
Good things come.
Later, my boss told me that the administration was so impressed with my positive attitude all winter (meaning I hadn’t grumbled like the rest of them when I was handed sheet after sheet with the letter A or B) that they thought I deserved to coast out the season with C’s.
Good things come.
I’ve been having this week and particularly today–that good things were coming, even though it was one of my hardest days, with the full moon accentuating all of life’s blessings and challenges.
There’s something promising in this autumn air along with the renewed prana.
The moon has shifted across the sky, and my livingroom is now dark instead of filled with light, and moths keep crashing into my screen.
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 that I’m a CSW groupie.)
Still, 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.
For me it was like a candy store of all things international.
A colleague of mine, who IS qualified to write about CSW, and actually worked at the United Nations, says that she got chills every time she turned the corner and saw the flags. For three years, Jennifer she said to herself: “I work here!”
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 she even has a puppy. Times have changed. May they keep on changing!
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. Note her amazing hair!
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:
Suddenly, I understood where I fit in: Consciousness!
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.
We attended the NGO opening reception together–which is even more female-dominated that 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:
“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 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 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.
Another 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 Yet—a 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.