“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~Maya Angelou
“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to CREATE, NURTURE, and TRANSFORM. A woman knows that nothing can come to fruition without light. Let us call upon woman’s voice and woman’s heart to guide us in this age of planetary transformation” – Diane Mariechild
I have been blessed to be inspired, even from a very young age, by sage and strong women-guides and succulent “she-roes”! The words and actions of these women have helped me navigate the vastness of our world, creating that space for me to grow and stretch to find my inner-strength and inner-weakness…both of which I’ve learned are equally necessary and important in continuing my journey of self-awareness.
First, there was my Mama, whose heartbeat lulled me and whose blood mixed with my own from the very instant of my conception. I know, I know, many of us talk about our Mamas and how they’ve melded us, molded us, morphed us, or muddled us. It seems that deep connection is never quite severed, and like all connections, it has the ability to heal and hurt us at once.
But my Mama, she is the epitome of fortitude, resilience, adaptability, and tenderness…all wrapped up in an unbelievable energetic package. She raised four tiny kids as a single-parent, working a full-time job and still effortlessly managed to contribute to our dreams and fancies. My Mama’s gentle mantras to me were simple “You don’t need a man. You can accomplish anything on your own accord” and “Carry yourself with confidence”. I heard these over and over, as I laid in bed with her or rested my head in her lap while watching TV, or while doing the occasional bit of homework. I heard these mantras while in the front seat of our Nissan as it traversed scenic highways ion road trips, or when helping to mow the lawn outside of our
Indiana abode. The mantras stuck and were impressed in the caverns of my mind. And they encouraged me to pursue my passions with conviction and steadfast belief that all would work out as planned. The mantras allowed me the freedom to enjoy the friendship of boys, and eventually men, without the deep need to have my sense of self worth validated by them. Instead, I could frankly discuss philosophy and poetry and spiritually with them, and give them advice on relationships, and sit together listening to the sound of crickets in the summer. I always felt appreciated for my curiosity or humor or silliness; never used or indignant. Breakup’s were consensual, mild, and tapered off slowly like the end of a gentle rain-soak.
I never knew how critically important this was: this inherent trust in myself and the self-reliance within me. I never knew, until I begin to meet women who, way into their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond, still looked to men to validate their worth and to prove they are worthy of being loved. I honestly didn’t realize this sadness was so rampant and felt totally naïve when I’d sit speechless as they wept on the phone or searched in vain for someone else to fill the little holes in their hearts….the holes that were sometimes so gaping that they quivered with rawness. I didn’t feel “better” than them in any way; instead, I tried to melt with them into their tears and explore their loneliness, their desire for sincere love, or their past hurts. As I began to analyze our culture, it made sense to me. Of course the images and sounds and experiences we encounter teach women that we are somewhat powerless without the “power” of a man. I’d always seen my Mama as this great pillar of strength and I must’ve believed all Mamas were like this. But certainly, some of the mamas had the gaping holes in their hearts too. And, of course I struggle with my own issues of trying to balance what “constructive confrontation” looks like and finding outlets to express myself. Thankfully, my Mama also helped guide me in ways I could seek numerous outlets…
In 8th grade, I was graced with the teaching of Ms. Walls, a history teacher with a penchant for lobbing loaded chalkboard erasers at students who weren’t paying attention. Ms. Walls must have been 70 years old at the time and was among the first women allowed in the Navy during WWII. In fact, she was actually pictured in our history book, grinning with other Naval ladies aboard a ship in the black and white photo, uniforms perfectly starched. She must have had us turn to this page a dozen times during the year, each time beaming with pride. She was my first encounter with a so-called “feminist” and I found a strange and delicious connection to her passionate conviction and her staunch challenging of the status-quo. Some students hated her. The truth is, I loved this woman. Ms. Walls would talk about dating, as if she were a vicarious 20 year old. She didn’t teach us history out of a book, but rather with stories. She urged us to do better, be better, to push ourselves to the limits to become socially-conscious citizens. She loved this country, I vividly recall how she loved our Flag, and yet she was willing to uncover and explore everything it stood for. She also had a fondness for telling the exact story or anecdote over and over. We’d all sit back in our chairs and quietly roll our eyes as she’d proclaim “Do you know where your clothes are made? Take a look at your tags on your shirts…right now, go ahead…China,
Vietnam, Phillipines, etc, etc…”.
Ms. Walls had us analyze and memorize Longfellow’s “Psalm of life“, and read it aloud with passion. One of her favorite parts was the following stanza, and I vividly recall her describing what a bivouac was:
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !
Ms. Walls, with her white hair perfectly curled at her forehead, taught me to love history, to continue my quest as a self-reliant woman. She, too, echoed my Mama’s mantra in classes telling us pre-pubescent girls that we could do anything we wanted without a man! I so adored her that my Mama took notice and invited her over to dinner one night. I sat in awe as this larger than life woman, this woman of great history and experience and determination, softened into a gentle human being that night. I loved her even more. I often wonder where she is at, what ocean’s she is traveling or savannah she is sunning in.
However, I am lucky to have been influenced by amazing pro-women men too. Mr. Z was quite the controversial teacher at my Catholic high school. He, too, never taught a word from a “his”-story book. Instead, he made us memorize and orate the Gettysburg address, and cried at the head of the class as he demonstrated the impassioned words of Lincoln. He showed us shocking documentaries and sweet love stories like “Somewhere in Time” (still one of my favs) to demonstrate the possibilities of life and uncover truths. He lacked patience with students who demonstrated apathy and would often sincerely plea with them personally, in front of the entire class, to stand up for something or to please show enthusiasm! Sometimes, his plea would turn to genuine frustration and anger, and many a knock down drag out fight of words and egos would occur in our 50-minute history or economics class. The rest of us would sit stunned. I was always like the referee in a boxing match, keeping score and internally deciding who was right and wrong, or who made more sense or less sense. I lapped up the fervor and heated energy of these classes and became a confidante, and a teacher’s aid, to Mr. Z. Instead of grading his papers, I’d sit with him as he presided over study hall and we’d have philosophical and spiritual discussions about anything and everything. He introduced me to meta-physics and the spirit world and the possibility of alternate realities and so-called “miracles”. He elaborated on the body’s ability to heal itself and also talked casually about personal things like relationships and wanting children. We entertained each other’s inquisitiveness and ability to productively argue.
I always defended him with the administration would chastise him for something, everything, nothing at all. During my senior year, he became engaged and his fiancé got pregnant. He beamed as he talked about her and his baby. In one of our classes, he got off on one of his typical tangents and even began to discuss how his wife’s could spray her breast milk halfway across the room!! Of course, we all laughed, either disgusted or just amused, most of us never hearing such an outrageous thing in our lives. Most of us never having experienced a woman breastfeeding. I now thank him quietly and internally for planting that seed inside of me…that seed that continues to grow and blossom into someone who constantly seeks new truths and old truths, who has found renewal in her womanhood as a Mama, who goes within to question convention. Who breastfeeds!
I’m a helluva lucky gal. I am now surrounded by women who completely move me with their grace and honestly and power through surrender. I am part of a community of women who examine conventional wisdom and practices and aspire to find more productive and loving ways to live and to be in this world. I am encircled with women who strive for peace and compassion and healing and leap of the edge of all they know to take the risk they’ve always wanted. I am among women on a mission to change the world, or some who are just happy finding their safe place in the world. I am encompassed by women toss the confines of tradition aside, eschewing boundaries; who are brave teachers in the art of embracing their sexuality, their femininity, their desires, and their needs while knowing that none of these requires a comprise. I am within a tribe of women of dance and cry with the abandon of a child, who stand as proud as the eagle in their endeavors, who embrace the wisdom in solitude and are unafraid to face the pain and abrasion of our worldly experiences. When I think of them, I picture a labyrinth or a spiral.
And the best part is, I’m surrounded by more pro-women, pro-human, pro-love men than I ever expected to be. Including my incredible ally, my husband. And that, my friends, is such a beautiful and rewarding thing.
“Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.” ~Margaret Mead
“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” ~Anaïs Nin