The events of the day and the brutal culture we live in make my heart feel heavy and sad. What is played out in the media and in our communities and institutions makes me angry for what has been and what is and at the same time hopeful for what can be. I pray for anyone who has felt dismissed or silenced in any way, who has been trampled or trod upon by unchecked power.
My mother was a brilliant woman. She graduated summa cum laude from Duke University. She was also a product of her generation and of the South. From an early age I learned, often just from her posture or expression, that women who spoke up for themselves or fought for themselves were diminished in some way. It felt nearly as punitive and costly as being a “loose” woman.
I remember watching as a female member of our congregation – a friend’s mother and a prominent lawyer’s wife – was shunned when she took a stand for equality for women. That’s when I heard my mother say under her breath: “She’s so hard.” The stakes seemed so high that I felt terrified for this woman. I watched as she stood tall and made her way to the communion rail with dignity, while people looked on with dismay. I was in awe of her courage and fierce determination.
By the time I was 29, I sat across from my mother in a local restaurant. I was in the scary and exhilarating process of making significant life changes. Newly divorced, I would be moving across the country to pursue my dream of being a writer. It felt incredibly risky. The costs were high. If not for the adrenalin-infused excitement of pursuing a dream, I likely would have succumbed to self-doubt, to shame, to the real or imagined judgements of other more restrained and reasonable folks.
Before we ordered, my mother lowered her menu and caught my gaze with a directness that was unsettling. “I’d give anything if I’d done at your age what you are doing now.” She spoke quietly but clearly. And then she raised her menu back up and said no more about it. It was a quick but powerful gift, an assurance that honoring myself was not just important but essential. My mother helped me gather a sense of myself that perhaps eluded her. My prayer, now that she’s gone, is that she too found a semblance of healing and wholeness in that moment.
Since that time, my mother’s words “she’s so hard” have been reframed from a place of judgement (harsh, severe, unfriendly) to one of strength and resilience. Being a hard woman today requires perseverance and effort. It requires persistence and the companionship of other human beings who can identify with being dismissed or diminished for simply honoring who they are.