I can’t remember when I learned that my birthday, March 8, falls on International Women’s Day. I must have been pretty small, and I recall thinking, “Huh. That’s cool. I should do something to celebrate.”
Then two decades went by. Today, my 32nd birthday, was the first birthday I celebrated IWD in any meaningful way. It turns out that today, March 8, 2013, marks 100 years since the occasion was moved to the date of March 8 following the 1913 late February event.
IWD emerged between 1908 and 1913 following unprecedented tumult in societies around the world. Sound familiar? Today feels much the same, though for educated women like myself living in modernized societies, I don’t deal with life-or-death working conditions. I have the right to vote. Though I love and want to share my life with a particular wonderful man, I am beholden to none. And though it seems a precarious freedom at times in the South, my value to my community does not depend on my capacity to bear children.
Today, I’m mindful that many women around the world live in deplorable conditions, are subject to the whims of violent or controlling men, or lack basic human rights. I recognize that the challenges in my world are more spiritual than physical in nature. Compared to what other women of our world face, it seems a privilege that the challenges in my particular world include figuring out whom to love and how best to love them.
Three years ago, in the spring of 2010, my three-year marriage was about to unravel. By September, I was living alone. It was the most emotionally difficult time of my life. Then in December, I met a friend of a friend who wanted to write a book. It would be based on a year of emails among six women who had lost a spouse either to sudden death or to divorce after an affair.
This meeting changed my life.
I became the editor of the book, and over the next two years, I worked in the evenings and on weekends to turn over 103,000 words of emails into a 75,000-word narrative non-fiction story of hope and healing after loss. Through the process, I gained confidence. As my heart steadied, I slowly “grew into” myself while I enjoyed a special window into the journey of these six brave people.
As a newly single woman, I read about other women – single mothers – who were making it on their own. Their struggles were not mine exactly – for example, I don’t have children. But their heartache was familiar, along with their desire to love and live fully. Like me, they were women emerging from a great loss into their stronger, deeper selves. In that way, they were the same as all of us, male or female, or “prefer not to say.” We are all hurtling through this world, hurting each other and ourselves, wondering how to do better.
We are all trying, really, really hard.
Today – March 8, International Women’s Day – our book is complete. It’s a story by women, about women, for women whose hearts may be hurting and whose feet sometimes have trouble finding the path. Today, Sue Mangum and I are ready to begin sharing her dream…our book…and six true stories with the world.
Happy Birthday, International Women’s Day! This one’s for you.
This afternoon I was stretching in the bedroom of a friends’ house where I’m pet-sitting for the weekend. While the older dog Sadie napped nearby, it took only a few minutes for the younger beagle, Belle, to figure out that I was on the floor.
Belle has spent much of her time since I arrived yesterday watching me. She figured out immediately that I’m a grazer, likely to be eating food at any given moment, so I don’t blame her for watching my every move. When I sat on the floor, to Belle that meant I was available to pet her. My parents’ 2-year-old terrier, Roscoe, thinks it’s time to wrestle and nips at my ankles and wrists when I’m on his level (roughly knee-high). Any attempt at a calm Yoga session in the morning turns into puppy playtime. In my parents’ home, set at the edge of a swath of state-owned forest, furnished with my dad’s custom-built woodwork, I’m happy to indulge Roscoe. He’s always been available for puppy play, but I know that someday soon, he will be a jaded adolescent dog, content to lay in a corner. So I always play.
The house I’m in this weekend reminds me of my parents’ in lovely ways. It has the warm tones of wood throughout and an indoor-outdoor space that the dogs traverse all day. It has the unmistakable permanent feeling of family, of being a place where people have chosen to settle down while children and pets, like Belle and Sadie, grow older.
Whenever I’m around other people’s pets, I’m impressed by how easily the animals adapt to me (and in this case, my boyfriend). I don’t know how they decide we won’t harm them, though I assume it’s something to do with how we smell. (It’s comforting to know that I don’t smell angry or cruel). But beyond that, I’m sure we keep a different rhythm compared to their human owners. Shouldn’t they act more confused? But Belle, Roscoe, and their kind don’t require much beyond food at the right times, time every day spent outside, and companionship.
They don’t really demand it though. They wait, observe, and remind with a look or whine if food or water is forgotten. When it’s delivered, they react with rapture. “Appreciate” is an understatement for dogs’ enthusiasm for the basic necessities. When you fill their food dish, take them for a walk, or scratch their bellies, they simply love you. I feel embarrassed at how much dogs seem to love me for doing the most basic of caregiving tasks. A part of my brain says, “Is that all it takes to make another creature happy? What does anyone need a PhD for?” But it’s in their nature to love that way, and thank goodness. Dogs have helped many humans, otherwise at the edge of their sanity, remain attached to the daily gift of existence and of habit. I’m sure of it.
In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks describes the ideal learning experience as a series of excursions into a novel place, back to a safe and secure base. For dogs, it may be a source of sustenance and kindness; for babies, that base is a comforting, stable parent. Brooks says that adults have the same need to explore and return, explore and return. Habit and break from habit.
I’ve spent my adulthood at universities, away from my parents’ home. It would be a euphemism to describe the past few years as a “learning experience.” In a decision that felt more like an earthquake, I decided not to pursue a tenure-track position in academia, got divorced, and began dealing with a series of health mysteries that, while not terminal, still take up huge amounts of my time and energy. I have spent the last year learning to rest. Often I have imagined myself in my parents’ peaceful wooded home, taking a break from all the questions and worries swirling around in my head about all these changes.
I have also realized that the same questions and worries will be there waiting whenever I return to my working life, as a professional. If I stayed at my parents’ long enough, they would arise. They are there because I’m a human being, who has a brain and a body and the things that a brain and a body produce: thoughts, feelings, worries, questions. What I’m working on now is a new set of habits, and I’m not embarrassed to say they’re habits that Belle and Roscoe, who are dogs, exhibit as part of their nature.
Observe. Be available. Appreciate. Love.