I am Woman, Hear me Rest

Women Studies wasn’t a subject “of study” back in my day, at least not at my parochial high school or Jesuit college. Or maybe it was, and I never noticed. At the time, I pooh-poohed all things feminine.

I prided myself on my more masculine qualities. I wasn’t moody. I didn’t have cramps. I relied on rationality. I kept a few close women friends, but preferred the company of men, and their attention–not only for my looks, but for my strength.

Approaching 50, I’ve let all that fall away. (Mother Nature helps.) I have a growing appreciation for my stormy passion and my tidal shifts. I am developing a relationship with my belly. I wear skirts.

It was in my early thirties, as a new mother, when I began to recognize the power of “not” doing; and out of that precious surrender came the need for the company of women.

As a mother of two sons, my world continues to be defined by men, making it crucial that I carve out the feminine. I started out with baths and moods.  I added in cooking and dance. I became a gardener and a singer. An artist and a dreamer.

I softened into those aspects that I had long denied, ignored or refused.

This past month, I took my softer self out into the world for a spin at the United Nations for the 56th Annual Commission on the Status of Women. I sat in the same room with Madame Bachelet, the Director of the newly formed: UN Women. I stood beside women leaders and activists, as well as ordinary, every-day women like myself–from all around the globe.

In the twenty plus years since I left college, I have “become” nothing. Nothing that I could put on a business card or as a blurb in my alumni magazine. But I was there. I was among. And I felt at home. (Women are like that with each other.)

Today, I am on my couch, with a sore throat and a fever. There was a time when even this couldn’t stop me. I would have pushed through and had that party, gone to the prom, showed up for the conference. But today, I surrender. Even without data. (I refuse to take my temperature as an act of self-referral.)

Instead, I read and write and listen. I watch You Tube clips from the 2012 Women in the World conference in New York City. I am inspired. I am ready.

But first, I will rest.

Kelly Salasin, Spring 2012

“I See You”

One of the things that delights me most about children and elders–and also foreigners–is the way they see the world; and how they express that; and how that opens me to seeing things differently too.

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.

After packing my things to catch the mid-day train home to Vermont, I dashed out to a favorite cafe for one last bowl of chai and a soft-boiled egg.

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