It has been one year since I posted the first entry on this blog. I feel like I am in such a different place now, that I considered making this my last entry. Instead I have decided to use this milestone as an opportunity to pause on the trail. This is the third time this year that I have come to a full stop to assess where I have been and where I am going. This morning I received a new comment from a woman who had just happened on my first entry while she was doing research on-line. Her words about mid-life expressed my current feelings perfectly. Describing her own situation she wrote, “What at first felt like loneliness and quiet desperation is slowing evolving into a sense of freedom and much needed solitude”. A lot has changed for me in one year. I have been moving slowly along this path and I am no longer where I was when I started. I began in a foreign land feeling alone and angry and curious all at the same time. The territory I am in now no longer feels foreign. I no longer feel angry or alone, though I am still curious. I have not been here before but my female ancestors have, and I can feel the cells in my body responding to places inside of me that are deeply and unconsciously familiar and comforting.
When I began writing about my experiences as I started life over after 30 years of marriage, I was not aware of the nature of the journey that I was on. I began writing with the belief that there was something wrong with me or that I had done something wrong that caused me to end up so completely alone and so completely disconnected from myself. A part of my journey this past year has been about retracing my footsteps to discover where it was that I got lost.
I see now that it is not just me who was lost – women in our culture loose track of who they are all of the time. My marriage feels like a microcosm of our struggle as women to hold onto, respect, and honor our feminine selves in our patriarchal society. The description of our society as “patriarchal” feels like old news that is not worth mentioning, but it is a reality we must acknowledge, and remember. Our culture and our cultural values are dominated by men and determined by men. That is simply the truth. The question is how do we withstand the pressure to become like men in order to be taken seriously in this world? How do we hold onto who we are at our very core as women?
Eight years ago my son came home from high school with a look of shock on his face and told me he had just learned that he had privileges in his life simply because he was a white man. His school does a very thorough unite on both gender and race in 11th grade and he had just had a direct experience of his position in society both as a Caucasian and as a man. He struggled with that new awareness for a long time. He wanted to, but was incapable of throwing off his privilege.
You can walk away from privilege if it comes from being born into a family with money. You can walk away if you are born into a family who holds an elevated position in society. It is almost impossible to walk away from the privilege that comes from being born white and male. However, it is not impossible for us to walk away from, and turn our backs on, ourselves as women. We walk away from ourselves all the time to be accepted by men or to be like men. We have forgotten in our desire to be treated as equals, that it is possible to be different and equal at the same time. Like the children of immigrants, we have rejected the culture of our mothers to fit into a world that does not value the feminine. We find it difficult to forgive our mothers for not preparing us for the world that we must survive in. Like my Russian Jewish ancestors, we have lost an integral piece of who we are in the process of trying to be accepted. In the process of fitting in, we have rejected our mothers, their stories, their wisdom and ourselves. This rejection of the feminine has been going on for centuries. The essential essence of what it is to be a woman, our feminine nature, has been lost a little more completely with each generation. Like Tibetan refugees, Native Americans, and Jews in the Diaspora, we are struggling to hold on to our unique history and heritage. When we look at our heritage through the eyes of men we see weakness and ineffectualness and devalue ourselves. If women were an indigenous people anthropologists would be gathering around us right now to do research in an effort to record the last traces of our unique culture and language before it becomes extinct forever.
It is impossible to be in a public place without seeing women yelling at their kids. Women feel pressured about time, and they feel alone with the responsibility to look after their children. I hear them asking their children to sit, to stop, to be quiet, and to listen. The children want to run, and yell, and explore. I hear the mothers raising their voices. I can see the stress in their faces as they reach to grab their child by one arm. When my children were young and I was trying to do everything, I was one of those women. How did we loose our most basic instinct to care for and shelter our young? How did we come to accept the stress, impatience, and anger of mothering as normal? We are angry in part because we have lost touch with ourselves and the old ways and are not even aware of it. It has been too long since we have slowed down and listened to our own rhythms and moved with the rhythms of nature, of our nature. It has been so long since we have spoken with our native tongue that we are not even certain that one ever existed.
Last weekend a group of women gathered together in my home for a workshop I gave with a friend called “Marmalade and Memories”. For two days, we made marmalade, sat around a table drawing, bumped shoulders with each other over a stove while cooking a communal lunch, and shared stories of our mothers, our grandmothers, and ourselves. The workshop ended with a shared meal under a tree in the soft warm breeze of a summer afternoon. We sat under that tree for hours sharing stories, and eating food that we had each chosen to prepare because of its connection to an important memory. At one point a strong wind came up and for just an instant wrapped itself around us. I like to think that at that moment we were joined and embraced by the spirits of our mothers, aunts, and grandmother who had come to sit and share stories with us under the tree. We connected that afternoon through time to generations of women who have come together over the preparation of food to tell stories and share their lives. For one afternoon we each reclaimed a piece of ourselves. It was a magical day of stirring the pot, meandering through memories, sitting with our ancestors, and most essentially slowing down enough to hear the quiet whisper of our old ways.
In the beginning, I thought that the story I was exploring was one of my own making. I thought the commonality that made my experiences worth sharing was that I, like so many divorced middle aged women, was coming out of a long marriage and needed to start my life over. I know now that my marriage was only one piece of the process that disconnected me from myself. The other night my daughter and I went out for Sushi. The chef behind the Sushi bar was a woman. At the end of our meal we told her how lovely and unusual it had been to be served sushi by a woman. She told us that she was one of only a handful in the world. Traditionally women cannot make sushi because our hands are too hot to handle the cold fish. In many traditions hot hands are an indication of healing energy. The meal was expensive but well worth this one tiny bit of information to help me see again that women and men are different. I loved the experience of being served sushi by a woman, but in the future I would rather not have a woman’s warm hands handling the fish. Like an unsolvable math problem, we may be equal but we will never be the same as men. Understanding this has changed the nature of my journey. One year in and the path has opened up and become breathtakingly beautiful. It is still often an uphill climb but the way feels clearer now and there are more cool places beside creaks and streams where I can rest. It is a long unmarked meandering trail back to find the forgotten parts of myself and the wisdom and ways of women. I still have a long way to go.