boomerang betsy was shot out of the bulgarian sky on the way to the ploesti oil fields in romania. it was 79 years ago today. i’m grateful for the tenacity of my sweet poppo, taken prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action to everyone back home for months. he survived and came back home to – one day – tell the harrowing story and combat the unnamed ptsd that became part of his strong fabric as a man, a husband, a father.
without our knowing it, the veterans administration named my dad #VeteranOfTheDay on july 19, 2019. i stumbled across this a couple days ago and wondered how it was we did not know this. he was – and is – our hero every day, but it was a thrill to see a day devoted to him and his dedicated service, celebrating him, seven years after he moved on from this plane.
today we arrive in iowa. david’s family is gathering to celebrate columbus/aka chuck/aka charles/aka his dad. a time put aside to inurn his ashes in his little hometown in the farmlands. we are in a farmhouse – one with a back porch, a working silo, green grass on which to play bocce ball. the family will come here for dinners, to reminisce, to play and laugh and, likely, weep a bit. i know it will be a time rich with moments.
these dads of ours were like great white trillium. somehow – despite everything – growing easily in the world, faithful, not-too-picky, gently spreading seeds of wisdom.
the chicago botanic garden says, “in the constellation of singular spring flowers, there are a few stars that shine more brightly than the rest. perhaps the fairest of them all is the great white trillium.”
in a weekend of weather whiplash, it was stunningly beautiful out. the temperatures reached the fifties, the sun was out, the snow was melting, the breezes were mostly gentle. we spent most of the weekend outside. it was revitalizing – in a week we particularly needed a bit of revitalizing.
we usually take the trails – and stay on them – but this was a week of off-trailing. we trudged our way through the marsh, feet sloppy wet, laughing, just so i could get a good picture of the stand of birch. it put us in territory we hadn’t been and the geese stared at us, wondering what we were doing there. miles later, it was no wonder our legs were tired, but oh-so-worth-it.
and then – something caught my attention sticking up from the dried straw of marsh grasses. i reached down to look at it more closely and drew in my breath. a set of three-point antlers. likely not seen by anyone except us. just touching their smoothness we could imagine the white-tailed deer that had shed them. i took pictures and laid the antlers back down in the marsh, knowing that’s where they belonged.
in the days we have hiked since that day, we have seen many deer in the woods and fields. sunday was a gift of a day – alone on the trail, we had so many visits we lost count. gentle faces peered out of the brush at us – we all stood still, silent. these beautiful creatures of grace and intuition and agility, so welcome as reminders to us. they were – seemingly – everywhere around us – off the trail by the river, in the woods next to the trail, crossing our path time and again, watching us. they knew we meant them no harm; we didn’t even move to photograph them. we just watched and our heartbeats slowed down, worries abating in these shared moments.
antlers are said to signify strength, determination, alertness, and protection. in a time during which i need strength, determination, alertness and protection, i will carry them with me – in my mind’s eye. the balance of things of beauty and things from which we would choose to shield ourselves…the deer are powerful nudges to remember both exist, to be gentle with oneself, to move with conviction, to be devoted to truth and not be mired in others’ agendas, to stand – even antlerless – in grace.
and i can imagine that i have carefully laid down a blanket on the dunes of fire island or smith point park further east. i can hear the surf rolling and i can feel the sun on my face, warm sand heating the blanket under me. the grasses sway in the breeze and i can hear the tiniest gasps of music from a radio playing a long distance away. it is a piece of heaven.
and so much a piece of my memory that i could feel it when i looked at this through-the-grasses photo taken in my midwest front yard. things that are visceral.
i imagine that the next time i see the atlantic ocean or even long island sound, i will feel the same way as when i first see the mountains or pass into the canyons. it takes me by surprise every time, though i don’t know why i’m surprised. yet it’s overwhelming. the mountains. the ocean. for different reasons and for the same reason. it suddenly occurs to me – all at once and little by little – that i am but a tiny piece of this vastness. were i to not feel it, it would still exist. i am lucky enough to feel it.
i am writing this – a few days ahead – on my birthday. i just had a glorious breakfast in bed, a phone call with my beloved daughter. i’ve opened cards and read text messages and facebook posts. it is sunny and very cold and we will wrap up in warm clothes and go take a hike somewhere.
i was awake in the middle of the night. my beloved son texted me just after midnight. and then i laid awake.
the quilt and i talked about life until david woke up hearing our murmurings. we watched a trail or two and then, the wisdom of the wander women, amazing thru-hiking backpackers of a certain age. they talked about their feet, which got my attention. issues with their feet. bunions. arthritis. toes turning. they recommended tiny gel-rubber wedges and orthotics, ways to honor their own self-care.
suddenly i found tears streaming down my face. as a person who, for instance, wears a wrist brace and a finger splint to sleep, i have – for some reason – labeled this, in a kind of deprecating why-do-you-need-this way, as high-maintenance, a weakness. hearing them – “solution-oriented” – dedicated to gently and intentionally caring for their “gracefully aging bodies” so that they could go and DO – was visceral. i could feel their self-love, and the support they had for each other in that self-love, in thriving, just like i could feel the sun on my face and warm sand under me. not a weakness. no…instead, indeed, a strength. it was a moment for me.
i don’t imagine that i will weep when i try the gel wedges in my hiking boots. i don’t imagine that i will cry if i place an insole under my foot. though maybe i will. it’s not exactly the same as revisiting the mountains or catching the first glimpse of the ocean. but i might be underestimating it.
the beachgrass protects the dunes, trapping windblown sand. it preserves the beach, the barrier islands against severe wave or wind or storm. we work to secure ecosystems in the mountains, protecting vegetation and animals from destruction the best we can, preservation for water and energy.
last night, in the middle of the night as i moved from 62 to 63, i was reminded again: that though i am tiny-in-vast, just like each of us, we are – yes – here to feel it. with all the trappings and obstacles and challenges and gloriouses – we are responsible to care for our bodies – the best we can. to love each inch, despite anything. to support each other in that care.
to realize – suddenly – that finger splints and tiny gel wedges are the same as beachgrasses, really. all part of the same world. it really all counts the same.
“it’s the circle of life and it moves us all through despair and hope through faith and love ’til we find our place on the path unwinding in the circle the circle of life”
(circle of life, elton john, tim rice)
“it can all unravel so fast,” he said as we watched footage of erin burnett (cnn) in a van in ukraine, trying to find a border that was open, a border that did not have a fifty-six hour wait in line. the absolutely devastating reality of families trying to leave-and-go-where? is sobering.
we have written each day, because that is what we do. most of the time we write ahead so that the blogs publish early in the morning. sometimes that means that we are not writing of the moment in time, not writing of the crisis, not writing of the emotional and physical upheaval of others in the world. sometimes we are simply writing about something simple, something mundane, something inane, something that may not seem plugged in.
we walked out front the day we pushed littlebabyscion down the driveway so that big red could be threaded through the space between the wall and the xb and driven across the yard to the street. as i stood there, ready to inform d about clearance on either side, i looked down at the wall and the copper ring, standing on edge, was there. it took me by surprise; it had surely stood on its edge for months, through rain and snow and wind, not moving. we realized it was a fitting from the water line replacement work we had done, as the line installed in the ground was copper. the ring had withstood some time and definitely some weather. steadfast. and there it was. a circle of copper.
russia’s invasion into ukraine is the mightiest of disasters. a human-driven catastrophe intended to hurt others, intended for cataclysmic fall, turmoil, shakeout that will last decades, utter grief to a country that has rebuilt, that has risen up in strength and great fortitude.
the mortal politics of this ugly invasion aside, it is abhorrent to watch as families pack a suitcase from their house, their home, their life and split apart – men staying behind, conscripted to fight. we cry again and again, watching as they hug, exchange goodbyes – not knowing – and leave to go mostly to places they do not yet know. the point is to leave. the point is not yet to know. the point of these incredibly strong, stalwart and courageous people is to have hope through the despair.
every bit of news we watch and read brings into focus, yet again, the flimsy grip we have on living. what we thought was important can drop away in mere instants. what we thought was necessary becomes superfluous. what we thought was solid becomes nebulous, untenable.
“her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be, so she grew up to become the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” (nikita gill)
inscribed in the sidewalk in frisco, colorado right outside the door to next page books and nosh, this quote begged me to take its picture. even under the bluest sky, embraced in high elevation rocky mountains, in and amongst the most golden aspen, it stood out. my sweet momma giggled from the other dimension as i took out my camera, and momentarily blocked the entrance to this independent book store.
we wandered for a long time in the shop. like deb’s fair isle books on washington island, it was exquisite and welcoming and easy to sink into. we touched the spines of books, chose another set of prayer flags, read greeting cards, bought our girl a magnet. i wanted to sign up for many of the upcoming masks-on gatherings there, sip coffee, browse the ‘be kind’ stickers and study the hiking trail books and maps on a center display. i would have liked to have been at “not your mother’s book club” on the 25th. my momma thought that was funny and assured me she would have attended as well. yes, it would be easy to spend magical days there; i suspect chatting and being quiet would pass the time and suddenly the sun would dip behind the mountains and we would be gently nudged out the door, past the nikita-inscription and onto the sidewalk.
i learned on their website that october is conflict resolution month. back in wisconsin, unfortunately, we were unable to be present on the 19th for the event at the shop called “conflict resolution for holy beings” (joy harjo) but i know plenty of people who should have attended.
nikita gill, a poet and writer with huge instagram following, also penned: “you have been praying so long for the strength to outlive the pain they inflicted on you, that you have forgotten – you are already strong.”
my sweet momma nods in agreement and whispers “oh yes!” to nikita and me.
glancing over at me, she adds, “hang the flags in the wind.”
SISU: a finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness.
“but grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” (anne lamott)
resilience. strength. sisu.
we have flown through many storms, we have weathered many droughts and much deluge. we have built nests from scratch and we have re-built them again. we have given birth through birth canals and through love choices. we have sought security and food for our young when security and food were scarce. we have attached wings to ideas and rube-goldberg solutions; we have made do. we have made piss-poor decisions and grandiose ones that have changed everything. we have broken treasures and fixed stuff; we have learned reverse threading. we have been emotional and we have necessarily let go. we have withstood fires of damaging words and we have recuperated from physical blows to our body, our sexuality, our hearts. we have tried to understand, we have been seekers of closure in times of strife. yet, even without understanding or closure, we have kept on keeping on. we are soon old birds and we have stronger wings.
because life, as life, presents gain and loss, winning and losing, achievement and failure, rich and poor, rising and falling, young and old, crepey and supple elasticity, as juxtapositions, as two sides of a pendulum ever-swinging, we have been measured in these competing narratives.
but we are aging birds with wings who have felt the sun of more than twenty-thousand mornings, the moon’s gravitational pull of decades, the grace of time and gardens through fallow and fruit. we are aging birds who have both soared and plummeted. we are aging birds who do not need the measure of others for our definition, for defining ourselves, continuing to learn, takes enough time and is complex enough.
we imagine unicorns in clouds, names in the stars of the galaxy. we catch the scent of sunshine on a wafting breeze and listen to the calls of mourning doves, wondering. we have come a long way. the path we have taken has not been straight. we have been courageous and we have been tenacious. we have flapped our way to here. we proudly wing our way forward, ever-forward. we are ever-stronger.
“it actually doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. that’s why there are so many of us.”(jane goodall)
and because of just exactly this, i will tread lightly as i write.
for the rules are still different in this world – the rules for men, the rules for women. the word “difficult” – and arriving at the word “difficult” – should present its own debate. how does one get this label, one would ask. does difficult mean speaking up, speaking out? does difficult mean raising the bar on expectations? does difficult equate with uncompromising? is agile adaptability difficult? does talent or education or expertise or experience make one difficult? is difficult attached to success? does difficult mean not accepting discriminatory treatment? is difficult shunning a lack of respect or other indignities? does difficult mean pointing out the lack of transparency in an organization, an institution, a company? does difficult mean urging truth? does difficult mean following process? does difficult mean requesting financial equity between genders, between races? does difficult mean asking to be rewarded on one’s merits? does difficult mean asking hard questions? does difficult mean – heavens forbid – talking back? does difficult mean suggesting change? does difficult describe “good trouble“?
do those things applied to a woman make her difficult? do those things applied to a man make him difficult? is the measuring stick different? might there be a double standard? just where is the dividing line and why is there one?
if indeed those define “difficult”, i’d further suggest that a difficult man is considered a powerhouse, a strong leader, a go-getter whereas a difficult woman is considered, well, difficult, out-of-line, disrespectful, even egregious.
jane goodall is right. it doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. not back in the day. not now.
and for that, i would hope that all women would get mighty difficult.
she was a rebel. radical and progressive, eleanor pushed with all her might, a rogue in a traditional world. eleanor roosevelt is held in high esteem, a social justice mover-and-shaker, deliberate and smart and very, very strong. she wasn’t afraid of hot water. she often dove right in.
we women all know eleanor. oftentimes, intimately. for she resides in each of us – that spirit of strength and fortitude, bravery and courage, mighty in beautiful bodies.
forest trillium, in all its slender elegance, takes quite some time to mature. after years of growth, it will eventually bloom, its three leaves gently cupping the blossom. an early spring flower, white ages to pink, a color often associated with softness, perhaps even meekness. but in its ever-present flower-wisdom, trillium is anything but meek. it is particular and ephemeral, stunning as a star of the woodlands. its bloom scents as fruit or decaying meat to attract pollinating insects, its attempt to ensure its propagation. heralding spring, trillium is fragile and endangered. in new york it is labeled “exploitably vulnerable.”
the path we each choose differs. our goals, our intentions, our dedications, our wishes and dreams run a vast spectrum. we have different journeys; we have different origins. we are quiet; we are noisy. we go with the flow; we make waves. we may not agree, but we are zealous.
we are the guardians of our ambitions, the preservers of our pilgrimages, the shielder of our adventures, the great protectors of our beliefs, the fuel of our passions, the champions of our beloveds, mama bears with or without cubs. we are fragile; we are damn strong. and we are most definitely exploitably vulnerable. yet, in that vulnerability, in those moments of hot water, each and every woman i know is eleanor.
i say we tea bags stick together and celebrate each other.
from my seat in 2021 sharing with you the stay strong/strong-woman song i wrote in 2002 for the album AS SURE AS THE SUN: COUNT ON YOU:
inside a what-is-now-considered-vintage liz claiborne barrel purse was a treasure. not unzipped in years, i unpacked it the other day. i found a rattle, two small children’s board books, photographs in one of those plastic wallet picture thingies, a couple expired credit cards, a slew of emery boards, faded receipts i could no longer read, old chapstick, a collection of assorted pens and pencils, a few lists, some coins and two tiny mystery keys, a few notes from my girl, cars on scraps of paper drawn by my boy, and a card in the envelope it was mailed in. every now and then you stumble upon a treasure you forgot you had.
my sweet momma was famous for her handwritten letters; most of our family would easily recognize her handwriting, even in a crowded handwriting sampling, even years after last seeing it. this little card in my old purse was clearly something i carried around for some time. it was a note of reassurance, a note with great empathy, a note of encouragement. she mailed it early in january 1989, just a few months after i moved to wisconsin. still in the middle of homesickness and adjustment, though – as i realize now – she must have been feeling loneliness as well, she wrote to me. and she penned six words that i remember her repeating throughout my life:
“i know you can do it.”
those words – just six – can make all the difference.
momma was a glass-half-full type. her fervent cheering-on was a solid part of her nurturing. she fostered support with easy acceptance of failure, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” she didn’t list to the negative, nor did she wallow in it. in all her life, from early in marriage my dad MIA and then a POW in world war II, to losing her first baby within a day of her birth while my dad was imprisoned and she knew nothing of his whereabouts, to losing her grown son to lung cancer, to standing by my dad in his own lung cancer, a myriad of rough patches, to being left alone with my dad gone to face a double mastectomy at 93. no matter the challenge, she faced it down. she knew she could do it. and, despite any enormity, she left you with no doubt. even though her heart was thready and vulnerable, her positive spirit was contagious, her strength a force in the world.
these times – the pandemic and all it has wreaked, personal physical injuries or illnesses, job trials, isolation and loss of too much and too many to list – have cued up a range of mountains for each of us to scale. my mom’s “good morning merry sunshine” couples with her “live life, my sweet potato.” lines of counterpoint for melodies in life that are askew, her words brace against the storm. my sweet momma did not give up and she did not expect you to either. “you got this,” would be her brene brown shortcut message. she stuck with it all and rode each complicated wave, each complexity, each twist. she lives on in my daughter tearing down a run on a snowboard. she lives on in my son setting up a beautiful new place with his boyfriend. she lives on in the love her granddaughters and grandson bestow upon their children. she lives on in me.
in these times, with all its obstacles daring us to succumb, i can hear her. “i know you can do it,” her voice whispers to my heart.
it is doubtful – even maybe unthinkable – that this same post from a recent CNN article, a quote by Katherine Heigl, would read, “i may have said a couple things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to ‘HE’S ungrateful,’ then that escalated to ‘HE’S difficult,’ and that escalated to ‘HE’S unprofessional.'” and why is that?
when is the last time you experienced gender bias? when is the last time you experienced gender discrimination? when is the last time ‘preferential treatment’ wasn’t referring to you? when is the last time someone thought it was ok to speak condescendingly to you? when is the last time you were the target of harassment? when is the last time you were the recipient of inappropriate diminishment at work? when is the last time your employer made it clear to you that you were dispensable? like katherine heigl, when is the last time you were told you were ungrateful? when is the last time you were told you were difficult? when is the last time you were told you, as a professional, were unprofessional? if you can answer these questions without a great deal of memory-culling, you are likely a woman.
so, why is this? why did a powerhouse actress have to endure this branding? why does any woman? in this article about ms. heigl, she stated, “the more i said i was sorry, the more they wanted it.” she continued, “the more terrified and scared i was of doing something wrong, the more i came across like i had really done something horribly wrong.”
endless and looping. created by a male-dominated system to hold powerful women, women-who-speak-up, women-who-make-a-difference, women-who-push-back, women-who-point-out-inappropriateness – in check.
and it still – even in 2021 – works.
in the cambridge english dictionary, gender bias is simple: “unfair difference in the way women and men are treated.”
according to a report by the united nations, in 2019 women held merely 28% of global managerial positions. astoundingly, this percentage 28% is nearly the same as in 1995.
wikipedia gives shape to gender bias: “leaders are expected to be assertive, so women who act in a more collaborative fashion are not viewed as leaders, but women who act assertively are often perceived as too aggressive.” what??!!
jennifer lawrence, in an article for harper’s bazaar said, “”i’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! … i don’t think i’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. it’s just heard.”
how many times have you tried to have your voice heard? how many times have you reached out or responded in a nice-nice voice, the “adorable” voice (ala jennifer), in an effort to not escalate a situation? how many times have you alerted others to a predicament, yet they did not do anything to help? how many times have you been silenced, by the shushing of higher-ups, the lack of mature questions and answers, a conversation back and forth like all good chinwags, like all good and professional collaborations, or worse, the retaliatory actions of a superior? how many times have you been disregarded and scared?
meryl streep, interviewed in 2011, said,”no one has ever said to an actor, ‘you’re playing a strong-minded man’. we assume that men are strong-minded, or have opinions. but a strong-minded woman is a different animal.” why?
jennifer lopez railed, “i’ve always been fascinated about how much more well-behaved we have to be than men.”
michelle obama, during an interview in 2018, said, “keep fighting for gender equality, even if it makes people uncomfortable.” referring to the uptick of open and candid stories from the #metoo movement, she added, “the world is, sadly, a dangerous place for women and girls. and i think young women are tired of it. they’re tired of being undervalued. they’re tired of being disregarded.”
ariana grande, in her fight against patriarchy, is quoted, “the incredible double standards that we [women] face on a daily basis, in the industry and just in the world, it’s shocking.” she stokes hope, “i have a long list of things i’d like to change … i think, judgement in general. intolerance, meanness, double standards, misogyny, racism, sexism. … that’s what we need to focus on. we’ve got work to do.”
oprah winfrey is quoted, “i was once afraid of people saying, ‘who does she think she is?’ now i have the courage to stand and say, “this is who i am.”
my amazing and beautiful daughter, a professional coach and instructor, carried a tourist’s skis up a mountain the other day. she was also carrying her snowboard and i imagine the extra baggage was a bit cumbersome, but she recognized that this other woman needed a bit of help. she arrived at the top of the mountain to hear a man making fun of this woman’s husband for not carrying her skis. he referred to my girl as a “little snowboard instructor”. i can see her rolling her eyes from here, over a thousand miles away. she wrote on her IG that “girls gotta support each other when (they) can.” but, the icing on her gender-cake post?
she added, “also, i’m a strong little snowboard instructor, SIR.” yep. she is.
now we all need to be katherine or jennifer or meryl or j-lo or michelle or ariana or oprah and maybe we, too, will be heard. or maybe their words will help us all on this never-ending gender-journey. women helping women.