Sisters at the Well

In 1997 when I visited Rome, I had a transformative, informative experience. In the center of one section of town there was a stone well. It was at the heart of the neighbourhood. And it was here that the women came together to work the stains, dust and dirt out of their family’s garments. It was here that women used the narrative woven by wagging tongues which maintained civil order. Women warned one another what would happen should the undisciplined urges be followed. A tongue lashing was not trivial.
Gossip is a powerful manner of structuring mores and habits which are the foundation of any society. The cultural threads that make the fabric of society were woven, mended and attended while the women worked together on their laundry.
Side by side, they rewarded or castigated certain forms of behavior. While a woman repeatedly rinsed, and twisted her husband’s clothes, she could hear what would happen if she dared to indulge the secret flirtation she felt toward another man.

The heart of the sisterhood, the public laundry.

The heart of the sisterhood, the public laundry.

Alliances were formed. Problems were worked out. Questions could be asked and answered by those with more life experience. The repetitive actions of the hands, arms and backs were strenuous and soothing. There was a place where connection was customary and expected.
Today, we have lost the power of the women at the well. All too frequently the closest we get to one another is via text or sitting without speaking next to another in a coffee shop.
Or it is an artificially arranged, special occasion when women plan a networking meeting for some pre determined goal. But the habit of the women meeting at the river or at the public laundry allowed for the comfort of contact in a way we no longer experience today.

 

women meeting at the river

women meeting at the river

Women do better in all aspects of their lives when they are in contact with other women. The terms ‘connectivity’ and ‘social capital’ are used in sociological studies which show the benefit of women having frequent, anticipated interaction with other women. These women are healthier. They live longer. They are more cheerful. They are more likely to discover alternative methods of solving problems and thus thrive more easily. They meet challenges with a more relaxed, creative mind because they know they can seek advice.
And last of all, they are more light spirited. Because who doesn’t like to tell outrageous stories while doing repetitive, necessary daily drudgery!!

And, lasty, when society is mirrored back to us from advertising and media, women feel overwhelmed with choices, confused about the very manner of being a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend and a sister. The background anxiety is like the sound of violins in a scary movie.

How do I fit in? Where is my place in the world? Who am I as a woman?

The old, restricted cultural choices are rapidly disappearing; however, women still need their sisters to mirror back to them who they are to be in the changing world. We need to work it out at the well, or the river. We need support and advice.
I think society is much the poorer since the central meeting place for women is no longer a feature of daily life. But thank goodness, we no longer have to do laundry by hand. In addition, we have made progress by allowing greater choice and freedom in discovering what it means to move into the world as a woman. And for that I am deeply appreciative.

I just wish there were some middle ground upon which women could meet face to face in order to bond and prosper. Meeting at the well is no longer for the purpose of restricting our choices and locking us into a place in society. Now it would be an occasion to discuss and expand our individual version of who we wish to be. The companionship, advice, feedback and habitual contact is still necessary, however the world changes.

 

Paris Attacks: after witnessing terrorism on my street

This is my experience: I grew up when the Korean War was going to destroy the world.
I grew up through the years when the cold war would “end all life on earth”. I was shown films of nuclear bombs and trained to crouch beneath my desk turtled at the word trigger of “flash” which the teacher would randomly yell.

 

Old City Dubrovnik

I sat at the high school lunch room table as the Cuban missile crises occurred and we dry mouthed our sandwiches as nuclear death was 15 minutes away. The enemy missile ships were in place and the missiles lifted on target. Our port city was a major target we had been informed.

To sit at the table and watch people killing others during the Viet Nam war  was my experience. We ate horror with our dinners nightly.

I watched the 9/11 towers collapse and people curl around the TV screens which broadcast the message of end days.

As long as I have been alive there has been a vicious enemy created fear. As long as I have been alive there has been a current of edgy doom energy flowing.

What I can say because of this life is that the real fear we all face is that of our own death. What I know is that the media, the politicians broadcast that we have no hope. The message is and has reoccured that end days are here.

How different is that from the groups of people who have gone to stand on a tall mountain because the Rapture is upon us? How different is that than the belief in Medieval times that others hold the devil’s energy in their hearts?

If we could but just understand that there is no avoiding death, there is no avoiding the knowledge of the fragility of life, we would stop allowing the flow of fear to take us hostage.

In these times the single question is: How do we live?

Do we allow ourselves to be manipulated? Or do we know with certainty that we hold power in life.
We can be the conduit to intensify fear, or we can refuse to grab onto that current. We can ground ourselves knowing that there will be death but right now we are fully alive.

performance

Our job is to be present in our own lives. Our job is to drop the masks, the defence mechanisms, the armour, the need to protect and we must walk into the world meeting others with compassion.

I have lived through the end of so many worlds.

 

And when the cult runs to the mountain top to avoid “the wrath”, I refuse to join.

There is a prayer that says, “I will fear no evil.” At this time in my life, I know there is no evil. There are only people who have had their hearts destroyed.

Let us choose to not be among their number.
Cherie Hanson

Losing the way. Is it necessary?

I was born into a war zone. The chaos and random, unpredictable violence along with the lack of a sense of protection left me in a world in which I believed that “the work of her hands” would allow me to enter the gate. Only through effort would I ever be free.

 

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I climbed upon the skinny horse of striving and kicked me heels into her sides.
All of my adolescent reading was about real people who had emerged from adversity through the virtues of stoicism, stamina and able strategy. Marie Curie, Sacagawea, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Maier fascinated me.

 

Golda Meir, Prime Minister, Israel

Golda Meir, Prime Minister, Israel

To be able to create the self triumphant using discipline, focus and momentum was my waking dream.
I earned two degrees, took three minors because a choreographer and a dancer in the three and a half years of undergraduate school.
I was driven, fired up, hungry for knowledge and it carried me. It carried me until it did not.
All systems failed in a spectacular fashion when my body developed cancer then rheumatoid arthritis. I had whipped my self with the stick of my goals.

 

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I was not at home in the physical connection with myself. And so I failed again and again until I finally knew.
As I lay on the bathroom floor in the hospital with a twisted bowel, I prayed it would just stop. I prayed I would just stop. I had endured enough.

 

all is effort and confusion

all is effort and confusion

Work no longer worked for me. Badges and degrees and certificates and plaques with recognition and accolades no longer worked for me.
None of it could kill the pain.
It was while I was baby curled on that floor that I could feel the c old truth. I knew that I had no clue.
I had done art therapy, group therapy, one on one therapy, dance therapy, journal writing and it left me outside alone.
I had walked like a vampire under the full moon, under partially lit trees, outside the picture life windows of others. I was alone. I was outside my body, outside my spirit, outside of society. I was a vagrant soul.
All doors closed and it was then I knew that I did not know and so I fell into love.
I sat meditation to save myself. I sat with Gabor Mate and with shamans and with mystics. And what I discovered was myself.
What I discovered was that no matter how many assaults I had experienced first from others and then from myself, my super power was that I could love. No matter what, my heart could find a way to love my mother, to love my father and that is why I did not perish.
I could find a way to love like one stepping from rock to rock crossing a wild water river. My love for my brother, my love for my children, my love for my students, my love for my friends. One each of these points of balance I could stand for a while and be safe.
It sustained me so that I did not perish.
And it changed everything. It changed my life in ways I could not anticipate. I began again.

And as I said, “I don’t know,” I fell in love. I fell in love with the silence in my house. I fell in love with a peaceful body not pushing, not striving. I fell in love with the bird choir in my Maple tree.
I got off of the dying, scrawny horse whose ribs were showing and I sat.
I sat in circles, I sat in groups, I sat alone, I sat in not knowing.
Within a year my body begin to trust me. It began to heal.
Five years ago I had Rheumatoid Arthritis and all of my testing showed me to be operating as a fifty year old.
Because my body knows it is safe with me now, it has healed. I have no signs of R.A. I have the bone mass density of a 20 year old and medical tests indicate that I am average for a 30 year old woman.
What I have learned is that no attack, no scar, no broken bone, no onslaught of injury has ever, in truth, touched me.
My spirit is loved and supported. I am here to be a source of love, to see and create beauty and to speak words that heal. I was born into a disaster zone and it has not touched me.
Because I can love.
It is by allowing the not knowing that I have not perished but instead have flourished. I have become curious. What will next arrive?

I don’t know.