Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Age of Softness and Feather Lightness

I went to the river to catch my breath and breathe in deeply.  To inhale the briny scent, this cologne of life churning forth, in peace and gratitude.  Pulling tightly those currents against, as I anticipate currents flowing with ease ahead.  I exhale them all fully accepting this day and all that it offered and all that it did not.  I felt lighter in my step approaching the trestle, a feeling I have not had of late, or perhaps one that has started to reemerge with the coming of spring.  I am flip-flopped and chapeau adorned…or hipster sun-hatted.  My cancer repellant.  Weighted with a kit bag of sorts, a glaring hunter orange and camouflaged backpack.  Some back country drug store purchase to remedy the need for a daypack on one trip or another.  It is at least functional if not a fashion statement.  Inside is a small assortment of pencils, a journal, an iPad, earbuds, and a book.  Safety.  Something to do.  Something to rest my restless mind on, or weigh me to the earth, so that I might not be caught in the swell of the river currents.

The early evening is beautiful. Sunny.  Warm.  I approach the river lightly, with a quick step and a growing calm.  I am happily surprised to see on the edge of the narrow strip of green parkland near the boat landing, a slight and familiar figure. 

Emma, who is 9.
Thoughtful and occasionally,
or more often when comforted,
of great spirit 
and always 
delight-filled wonder. 
Beautiful, she is,
and unaware
of that not yet known 
power in her allure. 

She is that perfect age when a girl, some, can still be simply child, bold in all her potential.  Innocent.  Open to moments unfolding.  All things possible.  Not yet fully formed, and finding her way.  That age of softness and feather lightness, of scrappy and stalwart both, of bursts into giggling and still, as easily, tears. At times perhaps, terrified of the largeness of the world.  Emma who is 9 and small.

She is tying delicate pieces of driftwood together with a grass reed lace preparing to set sail.  Her older sister is supervising from a safe distance away.   I wave and Emma's smile widens gently, safely, in seeing me in this unexpected place.  She continues working her small fingers around her makeshift boat as she says hello.  I have the pleasure of learning from her, and also being one of her teachers. We are both surprised to see each other here, close to my home, far from our school.  Her sister is perhaps 14, beautiful, refined, delicate.  I imagine she was always sure of her feminine self, even as a very young child and yet, as I approach, she sits upright and ready, protective.  Strength emanating from this small framed child woman, evidence of a fierce, great love between these girls.

I leave them to their time, by this river that I love and find my place on the nearby floating dock.  Inhaling deeply.  I am comforted by witnessing this continuity of life, of sisters, of family and daylight stretching into night, of the freedom of summer approaching.  Of childhood and innocence and brief moments, memories of setting sail my own driftwood boats and pre-girlhood angst that has accompanied finding my own way in a world at times too large, or worse even, too small.  A world that demands from girls and women, expectations that don’t meet or provide the fairy tale endings sold on the premise of feminine conjecture.  Sold still.  Held out.  Voiced, loudly and veiled, masked or transparently presented with little choice for rightful command of all things possible.

This week’s events in the news provided dinner conversation from my son, 18, beautiful of spirit, handsome, fierceness deep within and mostly quieted.  Strong and growing.  Open to moments unfolding.  Finding his way in a world at times too large, and worse, at times too small.  As we eat, he asks if I have watched the news and heard about the most recent shooting.  I had been away in the mountains free from news. I have heard only small parts of this latest story of senseless killing. The media frenzied launching of disturbed and diabolically despairing teen men toward god-like status that follows is much more senseless.  Distressing and harmful. 

I have chosen to not look closer for as long as I can.  There is some information I can’t allow in.  It comes in always, anyway, in spite of my desire to shield and protect or simply avoid.  He asks, next in this same conversation if I have heard the lyrics to a song by Beyonce, Flawless.  He is offering a kindness in bringing this up.  He is attempting to reassure, his feminist mother, small and at times terrified in this world when squarely confronted by the reality of what it still means to be a girl and a woman. Knowing that it means unequal, less than and even unworthy is not easily ignored or avoided.   I tell him I think I have heard the song, but not closely. I am moved to listen carefully at his kind offering.

I am pleased to hear the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie inside the song, woven through the lyrics of Flawless.

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls,
"You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man."
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Over the past few years I have been becoming more aware of my place among women.  Maybe this is the place I have been most afraid of.  This, a place I have always felt less safe in than among men.  For those reasons perfectly captured in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speech, and so many more, my place among women has been too large and undefined.  It has felt threatening.  I have held myself up against a standard of what it means to be a woman and feminine that was impossible for me to ever attain.  A standard that I can no longer afford to ignore or pretend is possible, or even desirable.  I stayed too long in that place of childhood, of all things possible.  Or at least I had tried against the harsh realities to protect, or deny a childhood lost.  I breathe in gratitude for where I am now.

The river provides a light show of glimmering waves and reflections, of movement. My kit bag acts as comfort, a prop to set purpose, it allows for flexibility and the option to leave it untouched. I need these security items less and less.  I am able to sit for longer moments, still.  Less terrified.  I meditate on the dock and breathe in the briny scent of life churning.  I turn, hearing the gleeful yells of Emma alerting her sister of the red sailed boat approaching.  Her mother, now beside her, catches my eye and waves in this place among women, churning with life and many things possible.  

They walk off and I stay a while longer.  I take out my journal, and begin again to write, inspired.  As I am walking home I wave to Emma's parents, enjoying dinner on the patio of a local restaurant.  My smile widens at the close of a day filled with softness and feather lightness.  Hope, for all things possible.